Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Foreign Policy Obstruction in the 114th Congress

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It's simple to be outraged at Washington, D.C., Congress and the President. Both parties have proven the capacity for making average Americans outraged nearly daily. Instead of becoming another incessant, shrill voice against the newly elected 114th Congress, I intentionally decided to remove myself from the fray for a few months. Maybe, the posturing by both sides would actually diminish. Wishful thinking, perhaps. That is my actual intention here, after all, to be a voice for progress for the American people. 

What has unfolded has been unfortunate; largely unproductive; definitely obstructive by both parties, sometimes for principle, mostly for political theater; potentially dangerous interference into foreign diplomatic efforts; and absolutely posturing for the 2016 presidential election. And, it's only early into 2015. There have been very minimal bipartisan efforts that have been stitched together, some of which are very notable if these do ever become law.

The 114th Congress has been involved in three major areas in 2015. Considering the state of foreign affairs, I’ll discuss those first, followed by the domestic congressional responsibilities. Then, I’ll explore the investigative and oversight functions of Congress heading into the 2016 presidential election cycle. 

Foreign Policy

There are many foreign policy situations that the Obama Administration has been wrestling with: Russian involvement in Ukraine and Crimea;  the rise of the Islamic State throughout the Middle East and spreading into North Africa; the collapse of the Yemeni government due to both the Shiite Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and the AQAP; ongoing turmoil throughout central Africa from Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab in the Horn of Africa. The challenges are daunting. Add in the ongoing P5+1 talks with Iran over their nuclear weapons program and the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and there is not a simple situation or solution to be found anywhere in the world.
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Congress certainly has roles to play in these conflicts. The key is to not create additional problems for the White House. This all, of course, depends on perspective. Many believe they are fulfilling their constitutional role and function by challenging the Executive Branch on every decision and action. Others, however, use every foreign policy challenge as a political weapon to use against the President and his party and have done so for over six years.

Speaker Boehner invited Netenyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress just weeks before Israel’s national election, unprecedented timing, certainly. He has spoken before Congress before, and against talks with Iran, against Obama’s foreign policy and made his positions very clear anywhere he could find a microphone, a camera or a twitter feed, yet, Speaker Boehner was intent to make a very public statement to the most extreme elements within the Republican party while simultaneously interfering in the Israeli elections. I could discuss how many times Netenyahu has spoken incorrectly about regional affairs, but this is about the 114th Congress. 

Of course, Obama critics claim and are investigating Administration use of $350k of taxpayer money they say was used to interfere in these elections. (http://www.wnd.com/2015/03/) Both White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest and State Department Press Secretary Jen Psaki addressed the allegations, as can be seen here. This money, they claim, was spent over the course of a year as a grant to an organization within Israel. (http://thedailybanter.com/2015/03/)

Also of note, 47 Senators signed a letter (http://www.cotton.senate.gov/) before running out of D.C. ahead of a snowstorm to the hardliners in Iran to educate them on American civics and interfere in the P5+1 nuclear negotiations in Geneva. In retrospect, a few of those Senators have regretted that potential mistake. This is another example of political theater to sabotage the Obama administration’s foreign policy efforts not to mention the efforts of our allies in the negotiations. Also, an odd move to discuss strategy with American enemies. However, some of what was discussed in this letter were not all lies by the part of these 47 Republicans, just a very strange, unprecedented move to weaken the hand of American negotiators and strengthen the hand of hardliners in Iran who don’t want a deal by showing disunity and disharmony in D.C. Who didn’t know that, already though? http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/

What has the 114th Congress not accomplished with regard to foreign policy? A resolution for authorization of use of military force against ISIS/ISIL/IS. Many Republicans have been on the airwaves daily blasting President Obama’s lack of a strategy in this war yet months into this congressional session cannot pass an authorization for the use of force. This is an extreme example of irresponsible rhetoric and the ignoring of the congressional duties listed in the U.S. Constitution regarding declaration of war. If Congress was so concerned about the Constitution and their responsibilities, as they so often claim on TV, radio and social media, they would be debating an authorization for military force. 

Finally, we may have a compromise bill passing the Senate soon regarding the negotiations regarding the Iranian nuclear deal. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/15/) This passed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a 19-0 vote April 14th. It’s a compromise deal between committee chair, Bob Corker, and ranking member, Ben Cardin, that allows the Senate a vote on any agreement reached with Iran. 

In fact, it requires the President to submit the agreement to the Congress five days of it being signed. It allows the Senate to approve or reject the agreement, which the President can override with a veto. If 67 Senators do not override, the agreement will stand. The Senate bill, S.615, is 24 pages long. Basically, it allows the President to have control over the negotiations, gives the Congress some plausible say in the agreement, but ultimately the President, without an extremely bad deal, will have his way. 

In Summary
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Congress has felt out of the loop with the Obama Administration, many on the Hill have said, especially about Iran negotiations. Considering whenever they have been told anything about the Iranian negotiations (or much of anything else) they immediately move to discredit and sabotage the work of our allies and diplomats, it seems understandable to keep some distance between Geneva and Congress. Perhaps, if the opposition party wasn’t so oppositional to Obama, which now tends to be oppositional to American interests, there would be more cooperation and trust, but I must admit that this distrust is definitely two ways. 

After two failed wars and no seemingly coherent solution to the broader terrorism problems waging across Africa and the Middle East, the two parties seem more about posturing for the next election using failure and chaos to do so. 

Yes, Bush invaded a country on false pretense. Yes, Obama withdrew U.S. troops from that country as Bush had planned before he left office without a Status of Forces Agreement. Obama is keeping an American military footprint in Afghanistan. That doesn’t seem to be as one note as others claim to make him out to be, but instead Obama’s critics rail against him for that decision as well. 

None of these foreign policy challenges, mountains and volcanos, really, will be solved before 2016. Maybe, the 114th Congress should reconsider being so obstinate and obstructive to Obama, instead, refocus and work with this administration. Let us debate military authorization and strategy against these terrorists and extremists. 

What is the best approach? Maybe, we need more than just bombs and boots. We’ve already done that, remember? We spent $6 trillion that we didn’t pay for . . . we lost over 5,000 of our American service personnel in these wars against terrorism. 

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Perhaps, a more thoughtful, thought through strategy is the best way forward, for America and for these regions. 

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am tired of American-failed policies, both home and abroad. We can do better. We must do better. The two parties making political posturing out of every decision hasn’t done us a damned bit of good. It has made a few companies a lot of money and given a very few a great deal of influence.

We need policies for America that not only benefit our own country but that also benefit the people of the countries where we wish to influence, with our money, influence and our power. We are the indispensable nation, not because we can have our way, but because our way is a great and good way. When we work together, it is great. That is what we must work to reforge in America, our common goodness.  

Ultimately, there are still some adults left in Congress. Despite the self-created crises, or in spite of them, America continues to move forward and remains one of the brighter economies in the world. This increases our strength, our power and our influence. The world may be more dangerous, uncertain and chaotic, but America remains relatively stable despite a very disruptive, inefficient, ineffective, obstructive, and obstinate government.

The country remains strong despite it’s government. We need to hold all of our government accountable. Stop the blaming. It has gotten both parties into power, certainly, but it has moved the country only inches forward and feet backward. America is about being better than we are because we are the best together. That’s why the world needs us as much as we need the world. 

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