Saturday, January 30, 2010

GOP responds to Faleomavaega

Normally, the Republican Party of American Samoa has not played hit man on local Democrats in power but the delegate’s press release bashing President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for Clinton’s Pacific trip itinerary not including any interaction with heads of island governments except Papua New Guinea was too much for them to remain silent.

It was not the Clinton and Obama bashing to which they objected but Faleomavaega’s assertion that they were only ignoring the islands the same way past presidents have. Although Clinton cancelled most of her trip because of the Haiti earthquake, she did get as far as Honolulu where she delivered a speech at the East West Center. Her text said not a word about island issues. Not one word!

Imagine Faleomavaega’s humiliation. He is supposed to be “very influential” now as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia, Pacific and Global Environment but, as his bizarre press release freely admits, he was not consulted on her itinerary, not invited to accompany her and not even invited to be in the East-West Center audience for her speech.

What got local Republicans hot was that he lied about previous presidents and secretaries having ignored the islands. The fact is, they pointed out in their press release, both Presidents Bush met with heads of island governments: Bush 41 in 1990 and Bush 43 in 2003. Moreover, the Bush 43 administration labeled 2007 “the Year of the Pacific” and hosted the heads of government at a summit in Washington over the opening of which Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice presided. And Rice held a follow up meeting with the region’s foreign ministers in Apia in 2008 to which Faleomavaega (who was in Pago Pago at the time) was invited. Sources tell us he refused the invitation because Rice declined to give him a separate speaking role at the gathering.

It would have been inappropriate for Eni to have spoken in Apia since foreign policy rests squarely in the hands of the executive branch in the U.S. constitution but as a practical matter Rice would not have wanted him to speak anyway because no one ever can control what comes out of his mouth. Given Faleomavaega’s decision to publicly criticize Obama and Clinton, State Department officials no doubt are thankful they did not have Faleomavaega play a role in this trip and when it is rescheduled don’t hold your breath that he has bought himself any prominence by his antics.

No one can figure out what he gained by that press release other than, as one commentator put it, appeal to that segment of his electorate who loves it when he “stands up to the man” and wants him to “get whitey.” It certainly won’t help get White House backing for his bill to rescue StarKist but since that was going down the tubes anyway, maybe he wanted to have the excuse of “White House retaliation” for its failure. At the same time, though, he has announced to the world just how uninfluential he is. The local Republican Party picked up on it in its release, noting that Faleomavaega was not consulted by Clinton on her trip to his region.

It all fits into a pattern. He should be at the peak of his power right now. He was an early backer of Obama and Obama still is popular with voters even if some of his ambitious agenda is not. If he has complaints about U.S. decline in the region during his 21 years in office (Peace Corps and embassy cutbacks: USAID and USIA offices and programs eliminated), he has the power to introduce legislation to reverse the trend. It is becoming obvious that the power to introduce does not equal the power to influence others to pass such bills, even though his party controls both Houses of Congress. He is simply lightly regarded.

Everyone knows he has his bags packed to travel at a moment’s notice. Yet despite being the chairman of the subcommittee overseeing both China and global environment, Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not include him in her delegation to Beijing to discuss global warming or her massive delegation to Copenhagen for the UN summit on the same issue. Despite his stated top priority being West Papuan self determination in Indonesia, Clinton did not invite him to accompany her to Jakarta. Despite his prominence on the House caucus on India, he was not invited to the White House state dinner for the Prime Minister of India—even though a couple of local socialites wandered into the event on their own without any invitation at all. And now comes this latest humiliation. Which he is at pains to make public!

Of course, his constituents know nothing of these events because the local daily newspaper, Samoa News, where his sister-in-law is one of the editors, sweeps it all under the rug. Never a word. Never a word. But perhaps she was away for a day because the paper did print the party’s release. In fairness maybe they had no choice since the GOP exposed some explicit Faleomavaega lies that he could not explain away. Looking at the reader remarks section, there was not a single comment defending him. The closest anyone came was someone who ridiculed the local Republican Party as being insignificant. Perhaps so. But their observations weren’t.

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