Mon, Apr 09, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Congress, White House's foreign policy tug-of-war gets bitter


US foreign policy and the US role in the Mideast have become prizes in a tug-of-war between a White House passionate about clinging to its authority, and a hostile congressional majority already focused on next year's US presidential race.

The strained exercise in checks-and-balances, while vital to US political life, is not without its dangers however, experts warn.

Republican President George W. Bush and his Democratic foes in Congress started their two-year exercise in power-sharing in January pledging they would work together. But any good will was short-lived and the two main US parties now are battling it out, and affecting how the other acts.

They have clashed bitterly over a US troop withdrawal from Iraq, which the Democrats want to impose on Bush for 2008, and over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Syria.

When Democrats try to force a pullout from Iraq "they cross over a line" since the only president is commander-in-chief, Vice President Dick Cheney told ABC TV.

"He's the one who makes the decisions about the use of military force, how they're deployed, when they're deployed, what purposes they're deployed for ... [while] they are trying to usurp the ability of the president to make those basic decisions," Cheney said.

As to Pelosi's overseas outreach, former US UN envoy John Bolton told Fox TV "you know, we have a system of separated powers. The speaker's a very important office, but it doesn't conduct or articulate our foreign policy."

"Having such an official go to a place like Damascus can only send the wrong signal. At best, this is naive. I think much more likely it'd be very counterproductive. We'll have to spend weeks trying to peel back the misimpressions that are created," Bolton said.

Pelosi and the Democrats argue that they are well within their prerogatives, that voters handed them a mandate to bring troops back from a highly unpopular war, and that the US should be able to talk with other countries, even with their enemies.

They often refer to recommendations made by the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel of prominent people who in December issued a report on ways of moving forward in Iraq.

"The idea diplomacy is a bad idea is a unique idea for this administration," said Senator Christopher Dodd, a Democratic presidential hopeful.

"I mean, in previous administrations Republicans and Democrats -- Ronald Reagan, while he was calling the Soviet Union `the evil empire,' was sitting down as well and doing arms control agreements. Richard Nixon went to meet with Mao Zedong (毛澤東); can you imagine George Bush doing that in those days -- this president? So I think he's dead wrong about this," Dodd said.

The president "has now, for the first time in his presidency, had to understand that there are three branches of government," Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

"The founding fathers set up three branches, independent, each having the same power as the other. So the president has ignored the legislative branch of government for six years. He hasn't had to deal with them. They've been Republican-dominated and have given him anything he's wanted. That's not the way it is anymore ... And this Congress is saying, `We need to change direction in the war in Iraq,'" Reid said.

The White House and Congress butting of heads is anything but new. There have been plenty of controversial issues in the past, including the Vietnam War, the Iran-Contra affair, and aiding the Iraqi opposition to former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, which Congress imposed on president Bill Clinton's administration.

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