Friday, February 22, 2008

Faleomavaega disses own government on foreign soil

Following World War II, Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenburg (R) as chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations coined the phrase "partisan politics stops at the water's edge" to signal Republican cooperation with the Truman administration in the building of a post-war world to combat the spread of communism. The axiom that American politicians not criticize their own country's policies while traveling abroad has largely been honored in the years since, especially by those politicians who are in leadership positions.

So you can imagine the surprise and disappointment U.S. diplomats must have felt when they woke up to a story on New Zealand's Pacific Radio News website on February 19 headlined "US CONGRESSMAN REINFORCES VIEW WHITE HOUSE DOING LITTLE FOR PACIFIC." The story says that during his four-day visit to New Zealand the previous week, "U.S. Congressman Eni Faleomavaega says he's more convinced the White House is doing little for Pacific nations." He went on to praise New Zealand and said the U.S. could learn from New Zealand's example.

Besides being a cheap shot designed to curry favor with Kiwi Politicians and pander to Kiwi public, what is particularly troubling about the Democrat Congressman's criticism of the Republican administration is that the U.S. hosted in Washington a summit of Pacific heads of government last May, with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice making a specific point of declaring the meeting to be the opening of the "Year of the Pacific" for the U.S. Faleomavaega played a prominent role in the Washington program, hosting a meeting on Capitol Hill, sponsoring a reception, emceeing the Pacific Night program and bringing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the event to speak to the heads of government.

What makes his criticism such a cheap shot is that he is now the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Global Environmental Affairs. Yet, except for a couple of hearings that gave him a platform to continue his ranting and raving about the Bush administration, there is little evidence that he has done anything to help put meat on the bones of the "Year of the Pacific." After all, Congress is a coequal branch of government and, with his party in control of both houses, he has had every opportunity to propose and shepherd through the process legislation that would accomplish the goals he espouses for U.S. involvement in the region. If you want to criticize, show you have influence by getting a bill passed and then let President bush sign or veto it. If he vetoes it, then you have a basis to criticize (albeit hopefully not while traveling abroad).

Instead, the delegate has contented himself with moving a resolution condemning Japan for its treatment of Korean women during World War II, backing a resolution condemning Turkey for conducting a genocide of Armenians nearly 100 years ago, opposing U.S. sales of F16 fighter jets to Taiwan, interfering in internal elections in the Marshall Islands, poking his finger in the eye of the Indonesian leaders over its refusal to relinquish control over its provinces on the island of New Guinea, and praising the leadership of the late Vietnamese dictator Ho Chi Minh.

And, of course, travel, travel, travel and more travel. The delegate seems to have forgotten he is no longer in his years in the wilderness as a junior, back bench, opposition, non-voting delegate with little power and few responsibilities. Those circumstances gave him the opportunity and latitude to spend as much of his time as his electorate would tolerate to travel and criticize. And as the ample record demonstrates, he has done plenty of both over the years, especially during the period Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress.

Now he has a different imperative as a front bench, majority party subcommittee chairman. He has the opportunity to show leadership on the issues he says he feels so passionately about. So far he has squandered it. Clearly, he has more fun when he can burst into a room, toss a turd into a punch bowl and quickly leave.

His constituents are tiring of his act.

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