Monday, September 9, 2013

Pelosi’s Dance With Assad

by Majid Rafizadeh

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shakes hands with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Damascus 

The recent conflicts in the Middle East have brought into focus ideological and political shifts in thought that some American leaders, particularly of the Democratic Party, have made. One such political figure is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Pelosi has been vigorously pushing the administration’s high officials to support President Barack Obama’s plan to strike Syria and conduct military operations against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who has reportedly used chemical weapons against his own citizens.

After a 90-minute conference call with 26 high-ranking lawmakers and members of the National Security Council, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stated, “It is clear that the American people are weary of war. However, Assad gassing his own people is an issue of our national security, regional stability and global security.”

The issue lies not wholly on Pelosi’s efforts to punish Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, though, but on the comprehensive conversion of values and ideology that the House Minority Leader has projected in a short period of time and under two administrations.

Pelosi seemed to enjoy a good relationship with Assad, when she rejected President George W. Bush’s recommendation to not meet with Syria’s dictator. In 2007, Pelosi ignored the Bush administration’s foreign policies and met with one of the most authoritarian leaders of the world— one who has ruled Syria by killings, torture and oppression. Later, though, Pelosi praised Assad by stating, “We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace.” This rhetoric, these remarks, and the trip to Damascus itself further legitimized Assad’s rule, not only domestically but also regionally and internationally.

Furthermore, Pelosi also critically opposed the war against Iraq. According to her, the war was a grave foreign policy gaffe, based on the fact that it was unilateral, and that not all diplomatic venues and initiatives were explored. She stated, “I say flat out that unilateral use of force without first exhausting every diplomatic remedy and other remedies and making a case to the American people will be harmful to our war on terrorism.”

If Pelosi’s logic and doctrine suggest that unilateral military actions should be avoided, diplomatic efforts should be exhausted and a legitimate case should be made to the American people on the use of military force, then how could Pelosi justify supporting a military strike in Syria?

First of all, the coalition for striking Syria militarily has significantly shrunk as Britain, Australia, Germany, and other Western allies have declared that they will not join United States in the use of military force against the Assad regime. In other words, the Obama administration is in fact going to war unilaterally. The coalition for war against the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was much larger and unified than the one forming against Syria. Yet, though Pelosi decided and voted against war with Iraq due to its unilateral nature, she is supporting entering into a war against Assad.

Even more, the Obama administration has neither made a strong argument, nor made it clear to the American people why the nation will strike the Assad regime. His broad explanations essentially come down to the belief that bombing Syria “may have a positive impact on our national security over the long term.” The American leadership has failed to specify how that can actually assist national security in the long term. More importantly, while the overwhelming majority of the American public is against any military involvement in Syria, Pelosi has continued to push to get authorization from Congress and approval for President Obama’s plan.

Additionally, though Pelosi opposed the war against Iraq, she was quick to support President Obama’s military plan to intervene in Libya. She stated, “The limited nature of this engagement allows the president to go forward,” adding, “I’m satisfied that the president has the authority he needs to go ahead.”

Is this change in policies, ideologies and values an “evolution of thought” according to the Democratic Party, or are they just signs of classic flip-flopping to supporting the Democratic president? This type of policy flip-flopping is not only limited to the cases of Syria, Libya and Iraq. For example, under the Bush administration, Pelosi opposed the implementation of surveillance programs of the Patriot Act. Nevertheless, she was an instrumental figure in blocking the amendment offered up by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. that aimed to restrict the power and scope of the National Security Agency’s surveillance. Last month, The Cable of Foreign Policy reported that “Pelosi privately and aggressively lobbied wayward Democrats to torpedo the amendment,” and “Pelosi’s overtures proved decisive, multiple sources said.” Pelosi stated in an interview, “People just want to be protected… And I saw that when we were fighting them on surveillance, the domestic surveillance. People just want to be protected. ‘You go out there and do it. I’ll criticize you, but I want to be protected.’”

Pelosi’s position on drones has also altered from the Bush administration to Obama’s administration. Her new, and current, position is that President Obama does not need to disclose any information about the use of drones when the administration desires to kill American citizens who are involved in terrorism. She said to the Huffington Post, “Maybe. It just depends.”

Regarding these shifting positions and reversal of stances on war, surveillance programs, the use of drones, and other foreign and domestic issues, the issue that arises is whether these overhauls of values and changing of positions are considered an evolution of thought or an actual transformations of values and ideologies. Or are policy makers just striving to be loyal to— and show solidarity with— the Democratic president, flip-flopping to approve Obama’s plans regardless of their outcome, and despite the fact that the plans may mark a total switchover from former values and positions?

Majid Rafizadeh


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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