Monday, June 22, 2009

A Balanced Policy

It's what we've been hearing the past week from all sorts of sources, in this case from David Gregory on Sunday's Meet The Press:

To NBC's chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel:

So much debate about whether President Obama should do more than he's done. He stepped up his rhetoric yesterday, saying these are unjust actions, saying the whole world is watching. What's the critical balance here for this administration?

To Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

You know there's been quite a debate here in the United States and really around the world about what President Obama should do and should say at a moment like this. He has said over the weekend that these are unjust actions, that the whole world is watching, that Iran should not violently crack down on its people. Has he said and done enough, do you think?

Then to former Republican Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee:

Has President Obama responded the way you'd like to see him respond?

Followed immediately by this question posed to former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia:

And yet the president has held back. Is that the right thing to do?

Finally, to the roundtable and the question Gregory asks of Fortune's Nina Easton:

First, Nina, talk about the international leadership test for this president this week over Iran. Is he passing?

The proper focus would be on the policy not of the President but of the U.S. government, a product of the approach taken by two of the three branches. Obama's initial approach, criticized by Senators McCain, Graham, Grassley, columnist Krauthammer, talk-show host Limbaugh; defended by Senators Feinstein, Dodd, Lugar, columnist Will, expert Kissinger is half of the picture; the Congressional response is the other. In a vote of 405 to 1 (two Democrats voting "present"), the House reacted by expressing greater outrage at Tehran, passing the following resolution:

The House of Representatives expresses its support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and the rule of law; condemns the ongoing violence against demonstrators by the government of Iran and pro-government militias, as well as the ongoing government suppression of independent electronic communication through interference with the Internet and cell phones; and affirms the universality of individual rights and the importance of democratic and fair elections.

The President's initial response was appropriately cautious and restrained. And when either house of the United States Congress passes a resolution with but one dissenting vote (Ron Paul, in this case), we can be sure that the final statement was no rebuke to the Chief Executive. Sponsored by liberal Democrat Howard Berman of California and conservative Repub Mike Pence of Ohio, it neither dramatically deviated from U.S. policy as enunciated by the President nor reflected a shift in this nation's approach to the election and ensuing arrest. It was merely enough of a shift in tone to manifest, however inadvertently, a "good cop, bad cop" routine- the President holding out an olive branch to Tehran; Congress hinting- without any foolish commitment- of a harsher response to the regime if circumstances clearly warrant.

This was not unlike the interplay between President Ronald Reagan and Congress toward Nicaragua's Sandinista government in the Republican's second term. Then, the President, an enthusiastic supporter of the (Contra) resistance, was taking a hard line toward the (Communist) government with the Democratic-controlled Congress favoring a much more dovish approach toward the government. Ultimately, legislative action reflected both approaches when Congress, spurred by a moderate Democrat (back when the species could be constructive) passed a bill which

provided the $14 million in "humanitarian" aid directly to the "Nicaraguan resistance forces." McCurdy's bill also included the provisions favored by moderates in both House and Senate during the previous debate and promised by President Reagan in letters to both Houses: an economic embargo against Nicaragua, the removal of human rights violators from the contras' ranks, and the resumption of bilateral talks between the United States and Nicaragua. The main distinction between McCurdy's and Reagan's strategy, in the end, was one of emphasis. Both sides agreed on the need to pressure the Sandinistas by supporting the contras, but the Reagan administration preferred victory to negotiations and the moderates preferred negotiations to victory.

President Reagan's vision notwithstanding, the Sandinista government was not violently overthrown. Neither, however, did it survive. Instead, as The New York Times reported at the time, in early 1990 the regime fell in an election, which

removes the raison d'etre of the Nicaraguan rebels, the 11,000-man insurgent army that started eight years ago as a proxy for the Reagan Administration in its efforts to overthrow President Ortega.

The President pushing to the right, Congress pushing to the left: mission acccomplished. (Admittedly, the Sandinista's leader, Daniel Ortega, in late 2006 staged a comback, but in an apparently free election, which itself probably attests to the success of American policy 17 years earlier.)

This obviously is not completely analogous to the present situation in Iran. However, it does highlight the foolishess of focusing only on the President's approach and failing to consider the impact of another branch of government, dissatisfied with the Executive, on the formulation of American foreign policy. Perhaps, in its own way, it is a successful application of the Constituional concept of checks and balances.

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