Friday, January 15, 2010

Faleomavaega attacks Obama, Clinton

Maybe it was just his way of diverting media attention to his decision to join the Communists in Cambodia in celebrating the invasion by Communist Vietnam 31 years ago to restore the Cambodia Communist party to power. Or maybe it's just because he has a political death wish. We are reminded of Ann Richards's observation about George H.W. Bush at the 1988 Democratic National Convention: "Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." Of course, "poor George" went on to win the White House and his son completed the revenge by defeating Richards's bid for reelection as governor six years later. But, no matter. Faleomavaega keeps rolling on to victory after victory, aided by Samoa News, where his sister-in-law is a top editor. The only real media outlet keeps Eni's blunders out of the paper.

This time it wasn't just an emotional outburst of the moment but an actual, carefully thought one (one assumes) press release headed a mild "Faleomavaega welcomes Secretary Clinton’s visit to Pacific, but expresses disappointment." Naturally, Samoa News carried the release and dutifully used the headline he supplied. But other media outlets around the world were not duped. The story written in New Zealand by the respected regional journalist Michael Field (and carried by many New Zealand newspapers) was headed "American Samoa congressman attacks Clinton" while a Washington, DC newspaper devoted to congress headlined "Democratic lawmaker condemns Clinton's fly-by diplomacy."

"Clinton's Pacific itinerary criticized," headlined the Honolulu Advertiser, while Radio New Zealand headlined characterized it as "Clinton visit a snub to most Pacific leaders." So, what exactly was it that Faleomavaega said that drew such wide-spread media attention from Washington to Wellington? Let his word speak for themselves directly from his press release:

Faleomavaega said he is "very disappointed that some 15 Pacific Island nations are being ignored and marginalized once again. For years, I have been outspoken about U.S. foreign policy towards the Pacific region because the only real foreign policy that the U.S. has with the Pacific is with New Zealand and Australia. . .My point is underscored by the fact that Secretary Clinton will be meeting with Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea while excluding some 15 Pacific Island leaders who could have gathered in one location to meet her. . . [C]onsidering that President Obama was born and raised in Hawaii and understands the challenges and needs of the community, I thought these small island nations, however small, would finally be given the time, consideration and respect they deserve.”

“I am truly disappointed that President Obama, whom I supported and endorsed from the beginning of his presidential campaign, did not weigh in upon learning that Secretary Clinton’s first visit to the Pacific region excluded all Pacific Island nations except Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea. At a minimum, the President or the Secretary could have easily called for a summit of Foreign Ministers from the island nations to meet in Samoa, Hawaii, or even New Zealand. That this was not done shows a lack of sensitivity for the region and sends a message that some 15 Pacific Island nations are not an important or integral part of our U.S. foreign policy objectives.”

“This is the wrong message to send . . . The U.S. cannot afford to take for granted the sacrifices Pacific Island nations have made on our behalf. While New Zealand refuses entry to U.S. nuclear ships, many Pacific Island nations fought side by side with the U.S. throughout WWII. The U.S. also used the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) as a nuclear testing ground, exploding more than 67 nuclear bombs, including the first hydrogen bomb ever detonated. Although the U.S. has not fully compensated the RMI for the damage we did and the contamination we left behind, the RMI is still our ally.”

“But how long will it be before Pacific Island nations begin to reconsider their relationship with the U.S.? China, Taiwan and Iran are increasing their presence in the region while the U.S. cannot even bother to re-establish USAID presence. Given that most Pacific Island nations continue to support U.S. interests at home, abroad, and in the United Nations, it is my hope that the U.S. will return the favor and support the Pacific Island community.”

“China takes the time to meet with Heads of State from small Pacific Island nations and the U.S. should do the same because it is no longer enough to continually fly-over the region. Pacific Island nations deserve something better than fly-by diplomacy. While it is very doubtful that Secretary Clinton can adjust her schedule at this late date, at the very least she can make it a top priority to meet in the near future with the some 15 Pacific Island leaders she is excluding on her first trip to the Pacific region. Such a meeting would be a step in the right direction after more than 50 years of U.S. neglect."

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out why there would be media interest. Faleomavaega, in a single piece of paper, pretty much destroyed any shred of effectiveness he might have enjoyed during the next three years by publicly attacking two of the most powerful leaders of his own party holding public office: the president and the secretary of state.

Not only that, he has issued a press release to the world acknowledging what we have been saying consistently since this blog was established: he has NO CLOUT OR INFLUENCE IN WASHINGTON. He admits he was not consulted on Clinton's itinerary and obviously was not invited to accompany her, despite her trip being to the region he considers his back yard and over which his subcommittee has jurisdiction.

"For years, I have been outspoken about U.S. foreign policy towards the Pacific region," says Faleomavaega in his press release. For 21 years that he has been in Congress, to be exact. And what has gotten for his efforts? Looks like nothing. During his watch, the U.S. has closed embassies, USAID missions and USIA offices all over the region in scaling back their presence. In the early years he might have blamed it on having no influence with the George H.W. Bush administration or being too junior when Clinton was in the White House for two years when his party also controlled Congress. On election night 1992 he was quoted as saying his party had won it all and had no excuses if they didn't deliver. But despite not delivering he goes on and on in office. The next 12 years he could argue he was in the minority then two more with another Bush in the White House.

But since January 20, 2009, he has had a president of his own party who he supported early, as his press release notes, his party controls both houses of Congress, he has allies in key positions of leadership, he is very senior and he chairs the subcommittee that has jurisdiction over all the issues he has championed. One can credibly argue that he will never be more influential than he is today. Or more precisely, one should argue that he never will be more influential than he was the day before he issued this disastrous press release.

And yet, what has he gotten, even before the release? Nancy Pelosi and George Miller pulled the rug out from under him on minimum wage and have rebuffed every effort he has made to halt additional increases. Hillary Clinton did not invite him to accompany her on her visit to Indonesia last year, despite the fact that Indonesian policy towards West Papua has been one of his signature issues. Nancy Pelosi did not invite him to join her congressional delegation to China to discuss global warming despite his subcommittee having jurisdiction both over China and global environmental issues. Pelosi didn't even invite him on her massive delegation to Copenhagen for UN global warming talks.

Why? Because he is a loose cannon, as his recent visit to Cambodia once again underscores. You never know what will come out of his mouth. Certainly, he would have been available for travel. He has never seen an overseas trip he would pass up if invited. In fact in one commentary back in American Samoa there was curiosity as to where Eni would be this week. Would he still be winding up his Asia tour. Maybe head to Saipan for the governor's inauguration. Maybe head to Honolulu for Hillary Clinton's speech (unlikely after blasting her). Maybe down to Pago Pago for the ceremonial opening of the legislature. That's where he was when Pelosi surprised him by applying the minimum wage to American Samoa. But no, he actually was in Washington for the opening of the second session of Congress. Our betting it was mainly to change clothes and get out some resh tropical shirts to wear on a congressional fact finding delegation to Haiti. Want to place odds on him being among the first to go?

Unless, of course, he doesn't get invited.

Keep on moving, Eni. Don't hold your breath that your ASPIRE bill will get anywhere near Obama for signature. It probably won't get past the subcommittee. Rahm Emanuel comes from Chicago where they play real political hardball. He is not happy with your press release blasting the leader of your own party. Eni, you are toast. Stick a fork in you--you're done.

Too bad the people who vote you into office are never told.

No comments: