So much for water’s edge

SO MUCH FOR WATER’S EDGE…. There was a point — I believe it was a time known as “2001 through 2008” — at which Republicans believed it was the responsibility of the president to oversee U.S. foreign policy.

Now, it stands to reason that these same Republicans, forced to endure life under a Democratic administration, would be critical of the president on international relations. Likewise, it makes sense that the GOP minority might even present an alternative, telling the public how they’d do things if they were in power.

But Eric Kleefeld noted yesterday the way some congressional Republicans have taken it upon themselves to simply start pursuing their own foreign policies, whether their efforts undermine the positions of the United States government or not. Kleefeld pointed to examples that will no doubt be familiar to regular readers:

* Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is visiting Honduras in order to support the recent military coup against a leftist president, which has been opposed by the Obama administration and all the surrounding countries in the region.

* Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) will be going to the upcoming climate change conference in Copenhagen, bringing a “Truth Squad” to tell foreign officials there that the American government will not take any action: “Now, I want to make sure that those attending the Copenhagen conference know what is really happening in the United States Senate.”

* House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) traveled to Israel, where he spoke out against President Obama’s opposition to expanded settlements. He also defended Israel on the eviction of two Arab families from a house in east Jerusalem, which had been criticized by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

* Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) boasted in June that he told Chinese officials not to trust America’s budget numbers. “One of the messages I had — because we need to build trust and confidence in our number one creditor,” said Kirk, “is that the budget numbers that the US government had put forward should not be believed.” Since then, he has declared his candidacy for U.S. Senate.

This just isn’t normal, and it’s certainly not constructive. The notion that politics is supposed to stop “at water’s edge” has been a principle long embraced by American officials in both parties. We simply can’t have right-wing lawmakers signaling to the world that the United States has two competing approaches to dealing with the world at the same time.

Now, whenever I bring this up, I get emails from readers reminding me that Speaker Pelosi met with Syrian officials in early 2007. Why, I’m asked, was that perfectly acceptable, while DeMint, Inhofe, Cantor, and Kirk draw criticism?

It’s really not that complicated. In DeMint’s case, he’s chatting with coup leaders heading a government that isn’t recognized by any country on the planet. Syria at least has a recognized leadership.

But more important, Pelosi was part of a bipartisan delegation that, according to a Republican House member who accompanied the Speaker, “reinforced the administration’s positions.”

In other words, Pelosi and the CODEL weren’t acting against the positions of the U.S. government, and didn’t criticize U.S. policy from foreign soil. (I’d add, by the way, that a month after the Speaker’s trip, Bush’s Secretary of State engaged Syria in bilateral talks.)

Congressional Democrats during the Bush era never took steps that were remotely similar to what we’re seeing from congressional Republicans now.