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The Pelosi-Harman Fault Line

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Nancy Pelosi and Jane Harman have been on a collision course for some time. They are both very tough-minded, opinionated, media savvy Democrats on the rise, and they have been knocking into each other for some time while still feigning mutual admiration.

None of us -- or them -- come with a perfect package of policy views and perspectives. I admire Nancy Pelosi a great deal, but her views on China concern me, and her tendency to promote loyalists and friends at the expense of "experts" is very GW Bushian and disconcerting.

That said, I'm impressed by Pelosi -- even with her decision to support Jack Murtha which I believe was pre-cooked with Hoyer's understanding. Those who think it was an incredible misstep turned out to be more accurate than I because I failed to see how the media would turn this decision into a measure of Pelosi's power to manipulate her caucus. I also failed to see that Pelosi could be duped by the media in trying to make the Murtha campaign a real, rather than a politically contrived, one.

On the Harman side, I feel that Jane Harman could pull a "Nixon Goes to China" move by becoming one of our nation's first major Democratic leaders to market a new narrative about the need to establish a "new equilibrium of interests" in the Middle East, one that involves regional deal-making with all parties and that could if we were extremely lucky generate a new virtuous cycle of cascading events that get us out of the zero sum games in the region.

That means Jane Harman must articulate the possibility that a new regional order in the Middle East that advances peace with Syria, leads to the creation of a Palestinian state, and embraces many elements of the Saudi-backed Israel-Middle East peace plan "could" be harbingers of a more secure Israel as well.

Jane Harman could play a major role in reframing our engagement in the Middle East by throwing into the garbage the belief that any progress on Palestine or other grievances in that region require net sum losses for Israel.

Harman's support of the President's warrantless wiretap program was wrong-headed, and I have heard her recant those views. Perhaps too little too late -- but she's extremely smart and 'gets' intelligence. I don't agree with some of Harman's views, but I think her overall judgment on national security issues and what needs to happen in Iraq are pretty good.

My one real problem with her is a blindspot when it comes to the important necessity to develop a new narrative regarding Israel, its neighbors, and the terms of American engagement in the Middle East. She can fix this. She should do it now.

Harman on the "smarts" scale so outweighs Alcee Hastings on the Intel Committee that Pelosi runs the risk of being seen letting personal rivalries undermine competence and expertise in the Democrats' already shaky national security portfolio.

Harman understands satellites, sensors, WMD issues, and the ways of modern warfare as well as possesses considerable facility with international affairs. She has amazing technical competence. She comes off as abrupt and self-indulgent on occasion, but I have frequently been impressed by her grasp of detail and her articulation of tough choices.

Jane Harman is in line to Chair the House Intelligence Committee and was given back her seniority by former House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt after a failed run in the California governor race. Whether this was a correct move or not by Gephardt, it was done -- and Pelosi would be making a mistake, in my view, to undo the Gephardt commitment.

There is another issue lurking out there -- and that is whether Harman and others marshalled a campaign via AIPAC to lobby Pelosi to stay in her job. I have no knowledge whether this occurred or whether it violated the law if it did.

I did first hear of Pelosi's plans in mid-September 2005 and wrote about them here.

The Department of Justice reportedly has opened an investigation into this -- and while its not known whether the investigation is "active" or "inactive," it seems certain from calls I have made that if the "alleged" investigation is indeed in place, active or not, "it has not been closed," at least according to one observer following this matter closely.

It is also remarkable that when queried about the lobbying/AIPAC claims, Congresswoman Harman immediately hired former Bush administration Solicitor General Ted Olson. That's a big gun, the kind that you hire to intimidate all-comers.

So, while I personally believe -- given what I know today -- that Jane Harman would make a much better House Intelligence Committee Chair than the impeached former judge and current Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings, there are issues that Harman should expeditiously resolve.

But the measure of whoever takes the helm of the Intelligence Committee -- and there may be options other than Harman and Hastings -- must be "competence" in the intelligence arena. Otherwise, the Bush administration will run circles around the House members entrusted with serious oversight responsibilities.

-- Steve Clemons is Senior Fellow and Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note