When the ‘water’s edge’ standard disappears

WHEN THE ‘WATER’S EDGE’ STANDARD DISAPPEARS…. If our political system made more sense, this would be an astounding scandal that would dominate the discourse.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday during a meeting in New York that the new GOP majority in the House will “serve as a check” on the Obama administration, a statement unusual for its blunt disagreement with U.S. policy delivered directly to a foreign leader.

“Eric stressed that the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule in Washington,” read a statement from Cantor’s office on the one-on-one meeting. “He made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other.”

This just isn’t normal. Laura Rozen called the meeting itself “unusual, if not unheard of.” But it’s what Cantor said that’s astounding.

We’re talking about a powerful member of Congress engaged in foreign policy, vowing to a foreign government to oppose the administration’s policies regarding that government. Ron Kampeas from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news agency said he can’t remember any U.S. official ever doing this. “[T]o have-a-face to face and say, in general, we will take your side against the White House — that sounds to me extraordinary,” Kampeas said this week.

It is that and more. Cantor not only met in private with a foreign leader to undercut the foreign policy of the elected American president, he proceeded to brag about it.

Also keep in mind, a few years ago, Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled to Syria and met with Bashar al-Assad. At the time, none other than Eric Cantor personally accused Pelosi of possibly violating the Logan Act, “which makes it a felony for any American ‘without authority of the United States’ to communicate with a foreign government to influence that government’s behavior on any disputes with the United States.”

As Adam Serwer noted yesterday, “Based on Cantor’s own standard, he’s just committed a felony.”

In 2007, John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, insisted, “I would simply hope that people would understand that, under the Constitution, the president conducts foreign policy, not the speaker of the House.”

OK, but can we apply that same standard to the House Minority Whip?

Remember, Republican standards in this area seem to vary widely based on the president’s party.

This is going back a bit, but Glenn Greenwald had an item last year that seems especially relevant now.

Here’s what happened in 2006 when Al Gore gave a speech at a conference in Saudi Arabia in which he criticized Bush policies towards the Muslim world — as summarized by The New York Times‘ Chris Sullentrop:

“As House Democrats David Bonior and Jim McDermott may recall from their trip to Baghdad on the eve of the Iraq war, nothing sets conservative opinionmongers on edge like a speech made by a Democrat on foreign soil. Al Gore traveled to Saudi Arabia last week, and in a speech there on Sunday he criticized ‘abuses’ committed by the U.S. government against Arabs after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A burst of flabbergasted conservative blogging followed the Associated Press dispatch about the speech, with the most clever remark coming from Mark Steyn, who called the former vice president ‘Sheikh al-Gore.’ The editorial page of Investor’s Business Daily accused Gore of ‘supreme disloyalty to his country’. . . .”

TigerHawk does the best job of explaining why speeches like this get some people so worked up:

“There is simply no defense for what Gore has done here, for he is deliberately undermining the United States during a time of war, in a part of the world crucial to our success in that war, in front of an audience that does not vote in American elections. Gore’s speech is both destructive and disloyal, not because of its content — which is as silly as it is subversive — but because of its location and its intended audience.”

The Wall St. Journal‘s James Taranto accused Gore of “denouncing his own government on foreign soil” and quoted the above accusation of “disloyality.” Commentary was abundant all but accusing Gore of treason for criticizing the U.S. in a foreign land.

And that was just Gore criticizing. This week, Eric Cantor met privately with a foreign head of state to promise to undermine the foreign policy of the United States.

Remember when American officials were supposed to think foreign policy issues stopped at water’s edge?

This is a legitimate scandal worthy of far more attention. When dealing with foreign policy and climate change, Republicans believe in trying to deliberately sabotage the position of the U.S. government. The same is true of U.S. policy towards Iran, and in the case of New START, possibly even U.S. policy towards Russia. Now it’s true of U.S. policy towards Israel, too.

It’s obviously not unreasonable for Americans to debate whether the Obama administration is pursuing the correct course on foreign policy, and I fully expect members of Congress from both parties to demand accountability of the White House. People can and should speak out when they disagree with the administration’s approach to Israel, Iran, Russia, or any other country.

But Cantor’s move is something altogether different. Just a few years after he suggested it was literally criminal for an American official to talk to a foreign leader and work against the sitting president. Now, Cantor has done just that.

Where’s the outrage?