As we've seen, Bush administration officials, Republicans and a faction of Democrats are running around Washington telling any reporters will listen to them that any proposals for Congress to use its power of the purse in foreign affairs are "weak" on national security. Yet, today, the New York Times reports that none other than Vice President Dick Cheney has accidentally admitted the opposite: that Congress merely threatening to use the power of the purse actually strengthens national security.
"Vice President Dick Cheney made an unannounced trip to Pakistan on Monday to deliver what officials in Washington described as an unusually tough message to General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, warning him that the newly Democratic Congress could cut aid to his country unless his forces become far more aggressive in hunting down operatives with Al Qaeda."
So, merely the threat that Democrats might cut or regulate aid to Pakistan is forcing the Bush administration to do what it has, until now, refused to do: play hardball on the international stage. Now, imagine the New York Times' lead if Democrats actually got up some guts and pushed binding legislation to stop funding for Bush's escalation - a position that polls show the majority of the public supports. The excerpt would read:
"Vice President Dick Cheney made an unannounced trip to Iraq on Monday to deliver what officials in Washington described as an unusually tough message to the Iraqi government, warning them that the newly Democratic Congress could cut funding for a troop escalation unless the Iraqi forces become far more aggressive in hunting down insurgents and operatives with Al Qaeda." (bolded words are the revisions)
In an op-ed I co-authored on trade with Wall Street leader Leo Hindery earlier this month, we noted that the Founding Fathers set up co-equal branches of government precisely to strengthen presidents' ability to negotiate forcefully on the world stage. That goes not just for trade but for all international issues. Presidents need to be able to cite a tough, aggressive, power-of-the-purse using Congress in order to put pressure on other countries, while preserving the diplomatic high ground.
Unfortunately, if Congress continues to only debate non-binding resolutions, you can bet that we will never, ever see the Iraq version of that New York Times excerpt. Instead we will continue to be in what Cheney himself correctly predicted in 1991 would be an unending "quagmire" - one that costs more lives and money, and that further destabilizes one of the most fragile regions of the world. But if Congress starts to see that using the power of the purse is truly the "strong" national security policy, then we could indeed see a change for the better.