Congressional Republicans and the Problem of Partisanship in Foreign Policy

Last Wednesday, soon-to-be House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican with strong partisan credentials as the House Minority Whip, had a meeting in New York with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with the Israeli Ambassador to the United States and Netanyahu’s National Security Advisor.  During this meeting, Cantor assured Netanyahu “that the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule in Washington.  He made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other.”

That quote is from Cantor’s own press release on the meeting.

The meeting has already gained infamy both among numerous American politics junkies and many with an interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict, at least from a non-Likud perspective.  Adam Serwer, blogging for The American Prospect, noted that Cantor apparently committed a felony on terms he had previously invoked, a position readily seconded by Andrew Sullivan, while the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank more-circumspectly but no more-approvingly quipped that “it must be reassuring to all sides that Cantor will serve as a vital check on peacemaking efforts.”

Eric Cantor put in serious time for his party and is one of a handful of top Republican Representatives who can claim a large share of the credit for their party’s historic performance in the recent midterm elections.  But back in spring 2007 he issued fighting words when he suggested (in a hedging way) in the National Review that then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit with Bashar Assad in Syria violated the Logan Act, which makes diplomatic engagements with foreign governments a felony for those not authorized to do so.  In short, he suggested (on the authority of unspecified others) that Speaker Pelosi had committed a felony.  1 week ago, his office released a statement declaring that he had just given assurances to the Israeli Prime Minister that the Republican majority in the House would protect “the special relationship between Israel and the United States.”

Many of our public figures believe in a special relationship between Israel and the United States.  I don’t think many would argue that includes a Congressional leader’s prerogative to make policy commitments to the Israeli Prime Minister–not the least when the President has asked Netanyahu to suspend settlement construction in East Jerusalem for 90 days to clear the air for further negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.  Cantor has just expressed to Netanyahu in no uncertain terms that, if he should run out the clock without striking any further agreement with President Abbas, he could count on the Republicans in the House to “serve as a check on the Administration,” that being his ability to use aid or diplomatic leverage to keep Israel engaged in talks–the sort of pressure that could actually give Netanyahu political cover to commit to an agreement.  Does that sound like a felony to me?  Why yes, actually, it does.

So far, this is just another glass raised to a point already made, with added emphasis on the point that Cantor’s unnecessary partisan intervention could actually have an active role in undermining the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which warrants a serious look at prosecution.  The Liberal Ironist would like to add, however, that this point is not made out of partisanship but commitment to the integrity of US foreign policy, solely.  I was equally unhappy with Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Syria back in 2007.  I liked the idea of exploring the possibility of improved relations with Syria (and found Cantor’s invective for “legitimizing” and “emboldening” a “a ruthless thug” granting “unyielding support for terrorism” a bit hypocritical, considering good US relations with several other governments in the region).  That said, foreign policy is the rightful prerogative of the Executive Branch except insofar as Congress has to take legal or financial consequences of policy, or that the Senate has to ratify treaties or appointments.  The interpretation and Constitutional legitimation of the law, for that matter, is the rightful prerogative of the Judicial Branch.  Matters such as foreign policy and the law were intended to be, can be and should be free from ordinary politics.  Speaker Pelosi stepped out of bounds in April 2007, and soon-to-be Majority Leader Cantor just did the same in last Wednesday’s meeting with Netanyahu.  This time, it may have consequences for millions of Israelis and Palestinians.  I’m not naive to say that they both should have put their country first; I think it’s naive to say otherwise.  Normally, partisanship is one’s right as an American, but Cantor’s too-friendly gesture should lead to round condemnation at least.


One thought on “Congressional Republicans and the Problem of Partisanship in Foreign Policy

  1. Pingback: The General Assembly Vote on Palestinian Observer Status | The Liberal Ironist

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