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Confrontational Congress on Collision Course

by J. F. Kelly, Jr. [writer] 4/11/07

Flush with mid-term election victories, Democratic victors are not content with control of the legislative branch but are aggressively attempting to encroach on the powers of the executive branch as well. Whatever gave them the idea that the voters had this in mind? Voters may have expressed comfort in the past with limiting concentration of power in one party by having Democrats control one branch and Republicans another. But that doesn’t mean that they will be happy with overlapping roles. They should be especially uneasy about the legislative branch usurping the executive’s responsibility for the conduct of war and foreign policy because that could pose great risk in a dangerous world environment.

J.F. Kelly, Jr.

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

Congress already has its hands full trying to get its own work done without taking on some of the president’s duties, what with such frequent distractions as vacations, foreign travel, criticizing the president, blocking presidential appointments, campaigning for reelection or higher office, etc. And judging from opinion polls, the public doesn’t think too highly of the way Congress does its own work.

Like most large entities that function through numerous committees and subcommittees, Congress is not very efficient in terms of output. Its individual members are focused primarily on their constituents in the state that elected them and less on the nation as a whole. It is an organization structured mostly for debating and deliberating rather than for managing and executing. The real challenge in governing is in the implementation process and Congress isn’t much into that. Relatively few of its members have any substantial experience in running anything besides a committee which is why presidents tend to come from the ranks of governors, and sometimes generals, who have had some executive responsibilities and experience.

With the nation at war against the forces of terrorism, the Congress appears to be conducting its own war against the president and his advisors. There is, of course, always a certain amount of healthy tension between the party in the White House and the opposition party in control of Congress who may disagree with presidential policies. Some overlap of functions is harmless enough but there are two which necessarily must remain exclusively within the purview of the executive, to wit: the conduct of war and the conduct of foreign policy. Congress can provide all the advice it wishes to but the conduct of these functions is the responsibility solely of the president, assisted by his secretaries of state and defense as well as his advisors, diplomats and military leaders. Congress cannot do this job for the president nor can the president delegate these responsibilities to the Congress. In these areas, the country must speak and act with one voice or serious harm and misunderstanding can occur.

Military campaigns cannot be run by committees.  Congress is a committee of 535 members. They aren’t equipped or structured to do this, nor were they elected to do so, each of them having been elected by the voters of only a single state. The actions of this Congress in presenting to the president a military appropriations bill containing mandatory withdrawal deadlines was nothing less than an attempt to influence the conduct and outcome of a war.  It would place unacceptable restrictions on our commanders in Iraq. It would set timetables for troop withdrawals even as surge troops are being added.

Knowing full well that the president would veto a bill containing such restrictions on his constitutional authority, not to mention the shameful insertion of pork projects into the bill to gain support from members who otherwise would have voted against it, Congress then adjourned for vacation. It did so knowing full well that funding for the troops might be delayed as a result. Then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose job it is to preside over the House and to represent the people of her San Francisco congressional district, flew off to the Middle East, not on some innocuous congressional fact-finding boondoggle, but to conduct diplomacy. In the process, she conferred with the chief of state of a nation which supports terrorism and facilitates entry into Iraq of insurgents and arms used against our troops.

It is said that most Arabs do not fully understand democracy. They associate it with weakness and indecisiveness as opposed to the strength they associate with dictatorships and strong central governments. In democracies like ours, with active and powerful opposition parties, what we see as healthy internal debate and criticism, they see as divided government, limiting presidential power to act.

Ms. Pelosi’s intrusion into the complex area of foreign relations in the Middle East reinforces the Arab view of weak American leadership, constrained by political divisions, unable to speak with one voice. It encourages our enemies to exploit this weakness by playing off one side against the other. It erodes the president’s standing in the world as a strong and decisive chief of state, which, of course, is reflective of Ms. Pelosi’s less than subtle political agenda.

In her clumsy attempt at shuttle diplomacy, she also apparently misread Israeli Prime Minister Olmert’s intentions and relayed to Syria’s Assad an inaccurate message to the effect that Israel was receptive to negotiations with the Palestinian without preconditions. This is not the first time that members of Congress from both parties have intruded into the area of foreign relations but it should be the last. Americans of both political parties should be embarrassed and outraged by her actions which embolden our enemies and harm our international interests. CRO

copyright 2007 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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