We Democrats should've been unapologetic last week defending Speaker Pelosi because the truth was on our side: She had a right to go. And she was right to go. The coordinated attack on her trip to Syria was as inappropriate as it was irresponsible. And when that happens to one of our leaders, we should all damn well stand up and be counted in our support, or else we hand partisan operatives on the other side a dangerous victory.
The history on this is clear; Republicans use any opportunity, no matter how contrived, to attack any Democrat who is in a position of leadership. Believe me, I know. It's a concerted, ongoing effort to leave the Democratic Party without leadership on the issues, without voices unsullied by "controversy." They thrive on destroying our leaders - we can't let them. Especially when we've got the moral high ground.
And on this one, as on so many other "controversies" manufactured by the GOP, the facts are clearly on our side. Arlen Specter has been to Damascus 16 times since 1984. The president and the State Department were both informed of Speaker Pelosi's trip before she left and made no objection. This was an ambush for political gain-- sad but not surprising.
It's especially galling to see this from Republican Congressional members who were so recently led by Dennis Hastert (R-IL), who once went to Colombia to tell military leaders there to "bypass the U.S. executive branch," as Think Progress reported. Even today, we see that one member of the leadership of Rep. Hastert's caucus, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), attacks the trip, saying that "the Speaker legitimized and emboldened a ruthless thug" and that she "broke bread with terrorists." They've got the talking points down pat - do they also apply to the Republicans who traveled to Syria? Or to James Baker who thinks engagement should be America's policy?
It's in this wild Republican rhetoric that we see the second purpose of these attacks, after the smearing of one of our leaders. They are attempting to demonize diplomacy. We need to stand up. We shouldn't be surprised that an administration that treats dialogue as a reward rather than a process would stoop to this. But, as Americans, we need to stand up and demand better.
As I said in a statement I released during the height of the attacks on the speaker, America would be stronger if the White House started listening to Speaker Pelosi, James Baker, and countless others who understand that effective foreign policy requires talking with countries who aren't our friends. We have the standing as a country to approach other countries from a position of strength; our leaders should have the strength of character to do it.
But, time and again, not only does this administration fail to demonstrate that strength, they try to demonize those who do.
The administration forgets that conversation is not capitulation. Until recently, it was widely accepted that good foreign policy demands a willingness to seize opportunities and talk even to sworn enemies.
Talking to other countries is part of how we test their intentions in front of the world - and when they don't take constructive action, it's how we isolate them rather than them isolating us.
From Kennedy talking to Khrushchev to Nixon going to China to Reagan holding summits with Gorbachev, America has never shied from engaging with countries with which we disagree. This is such basic thinking that it seems self-evident. But, after years of a disintegrating foreign policy, it's obvious we need to get back to such basics in our political conversation.
For only with a return to true diplomacy, with a show of confidence by our nation in its ability to talk to any country, can we begin to find solutions to the mess the Bush administration has made of Iraq. And only by all Democrats standing up and defending Speaker Pelosi, and defending diplomacy, can we show the news media, the American people, and the rest of the world, that we believe in a better way.