Another side to Pelosi ‘diplomacy’ 

With even the editorial page of The Washington Post flaying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her adventure in Middle Eastern diplomacy, it is easy to lose sight of some fundamental facts about how the Constitution divides responsibility for military and foreign policy. Viewed in this light, Pelosi’s overseas travel can be seen in a more realistic light than President Bush’s critical dismissal.

The fact is the Founders greatly feared the absolute power of monarchs to wage war without having to answer to anybody, much less to an elected legislature, for the loss of blood and treasure. That fear and the closely related suspicion among colonial Americans of standing armies were among the grounds for the Founders’ insistence on a division of powers among three branches of government. As Ivan Eland of the Oakland-based Independent Institute’s Center on Peace and Liberty has noted, the Constitution assigns numerous functions critical to the conduct of foreign policy to Congress, not the president. Among these are the power to regulate foreign commerce, declare war, raise, support and regulate an army and navy, organize and maintain an armed militia and the approval of treaties of all kinds with foreign nations.

By comparison, the Constitution gives the president the title of commander in chief and designation as the government’s official receiver of foreign ambassadors. His other powers are limited and shared with Congress, including the appointment of U.S. ambassadors and high foreign policy officials and the making of foreign treaties. That the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority in Congress to approve a proposed treaty negotiated by the president with a foreign nation is an indicator of the degree towhich the Founders wanted Congress to be the dominant branch.

The emergence of an imperial presidency is among the chief and inevitable results of the acceptance of a strong central government in the nation’s capital. The president is right to claim sole possession of the duties of the commander in chief but even the commander in chief is forced by the Constitution to work with and in many respects depend upon Congress in foreign affairs. So let’s not forget that, while the Founders gave to us a constitutional culture that upholds the separation of powers doctrine, they also gave Congress the ultimate weapons in any showdown with the President or the federal judiciary — the power of the purse with the former and the power of determining jurisdiction with the latter. When Congress has sufficient will, it always wins, and that is equally true now, regardless of Pelosi’s tour on the road to Damascus.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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