April 9, 2007
Jimmy Carter: The Democrats' PhilosopherBy Amy D. Goldstein
It was no coincidence that former President Jimmy Carter praised House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) trip to the Middle East last week. After all, Pelosi and her fellow congressional Democrats are simply implementing Carter's political philosophies once again.
During his tenure, Carter tried to change the very nature of the presidency from Commander in Chief for domestic and international security to a symbolic figurehead. In essence, many of his beliefs and actions favored the idea that Congress is the seat of all legitimate power in the United States. Today, congressional Democrats have embraced these philosophies and are attempting to implement them. Three examples should suffice.
First, as outlined in an excellent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, former Assistant Attorney General Douglas W. Kmiec, who served in the Justice Department's office of legal counsel from 1985-1989, writes of Carter's attempt to make that department an independent agency. He writes,
Luckily for the United States, Bell understood that this proposed legislation would be unconstitutional. Indeed, according to Kmiec, Bell based his response to Carter on Supreme Court precedent, in Myers v United States (1926). Chief Justice William Howard Taft's opinion states that much of the law that Congress enacts generally empowers the Executive, and that when presidential appointees implement these laws, "they are exercising not their own but (the president's) discretion." In essence, each political appointment, whether a cabinet secretary, an attorney general, a U.S. attorney, or anyone else is charged with enacting the president's policy. If that appointee does not discharge his or her duty as instructed by the policy-maker in the Executive Branch - the President - that is grounds for dismissal.
Kmiec concludes that while Congress, in this case the Senate Judiciary Committee, has the authority to investigate as to whether there was improper influence in a specific case (which would be a crime), dismissing one, several, or all of the U.S. attorneys due to inadequate policy implementation is "political direction" and is squarely within the President's constitutionally outlined role as the head of the Executive Branch.
However, it seems that Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) believe that the President does not have the authority to give and enforce policy direction to his political appointees in the Justice Department. This line of thinking resonates with Carter's attempts to re-define the very same Executive Powers during his administration.
Similarly, Speaker Pelosi's spring break trip also echoes the failed Carteresque Middle East foreign policy. Carter's insistence on soft speaking and no big stick had terrible consequences, encouraging Islamic revolutionaries to invade the U.S. Embassy in Iran and take and hold hostages for 444 days. These American citizens were only released when a new president brought deterrence back to the White House.
Carter claimed he "facilitated" peace between Israel and Egypt. But Carter's policies had little or nothing to do with this initiative Sadat took. Sadat knew that Egypt could not better Israel in a military conflict (they had lost twice), and without moving away from the idea of eliminating Israel, Egypt would never be able to develop its economy or better its domestic or international situation. No Arab leader has ever repeated Sadat's example because there was no persuasive Carter doctrine to encourage it.
For President Carter, the recognition was enough. Pelosi seems to have understood this lesson of lopsided Middle East diplomacy quite well. After visiting Israel, she traveled to Damascus to bring Syria's leadership the message that Israel was ready to engage in peace negotiations - full stop. She did not mention pre-conditions, such as Syria halting its support of anti-Israel terrorists or complying with UN resolutions. She did mention that Israel would give up the Golan Heights in exchange for peace.
In response, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vociferously reiterated that Syria must first stop its support of Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and four other anti-Israel terrorist groups before Israel would engage in talks.
As the top-ranking Democrat in the country and second in line for the presidency after Dick Cheney, Pelosi's high-profile trip was designed to undermine the Executive's foreign policy prerogative. The constitution specifically gives foreign policy power to the President. Speaker Pelosi is overstepping her constitutional role by taking this excursion.
Just as President Carter failed to understand the impact of symbolism and the importance of projecting power in the Middle East, so too did the Speaker. Simply by making the trip to Syria, she undermined the Administration's strong line on Lebanese sovereignty, the coalition's effort to curtail Syria's facilitation of terrorists and insurgents infiltrating Iraq through its border, and the international effort to isolate Bashar al-Assad until he and his regime fully cooperate with the United Nations investigation into the assassination of Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri.
In addition to this hat trick, as the first woman Speaker of the House, Mrs. Pelosi managed to strike a blow to the women of Syria by donning a head scarf or hijab on her outing in Damascus. Forget that she wore a short skirt, photographs in Middle Eastern newspapers focused on the symbolic submission of the American woman to Arab and Islamic culture represented by her silk scarf.
With this one gesture, Speaker Pelosi has given a gift to Islamic fundamentalists everywhere. It demonstrates that all women, no matter if they are a housewife in Kabul, a student in Teheran, or the most powerful member of the American Congress, are only women, with a lower status than men. It demonstrates that civil liberties and human rights for women are subject to sharia law. And, it demonstrates that the American leadership will give legitimacy to the laws and policies of a repressive regime.
And, President Carter praised her for all of these things.
Americans rejected President Carter's political philosophy once before, choosing instead Ronald Reagan's strength and clear understanding of right and wrong. However, Carter did not fade away. He remains an important influence among the Democrats. We are seeing evidence of this more and more in the 110th Congress, through the legislative, investigative and expeditionary action of its leadership.
The road to Damascus was once the setting for a vision that led to the conversion of Saul of Tarsus to Paul, Apostle of Jesus. Last week the Speaker of the House saw a mirage on this road, for today's road to Damascus is not one that leads to peace, but one that leads to repression, terror and death.
Let's hope that Americans will see the dangers inherent in the Democrats' current path, both for our domestic balance of power and the hope of freedom and true peace in the Middle East.