With the departure of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a critical voice on foreign policy will be lost. The House is not thought of as a central player in foreign policy, but under this president Congress has become a critical counterweight to his pattern of retrenchment, capitulation and reality avoidance. Certainly there are other responsible GOP leaders on national security, but Cantor’s departure also shifts responsibility to a key Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) who has teamed with Cantor on important initiatives, including Iran sanction.
What can we suggest to Hoyer? Here goes:
Carry no water for the White House. The president’s foreign policy is a train wreck and his political influence is waning. If in the past some deference was owed (e.g. delay of sanctions, biting one’s lip on his hostile language toward Israel), none is required now. Both for his own reputation, for the good of the House and for the nation’s and West’s own security, Hoyer should exercise his own, generally sound, judgment.
Forget the polls. Foreign policy is not a strong suit or interest of most voters. When polling questions are asked, one tends to get contradictory responses. Voters think America is decline, disapprove of the president’s handling of Russia/Ukraine, but then want to stay out of the situation. Go figure. What we know is that the public, if told about the necessity for U.S. action, will respond to bold and cogent leadership.
If a Democrat follows President Obama into the White House he or she will appreciate what you have done. Iraq is spinning out of control. Vladimir Putin is on the prowl. Iran is becoming by default a nuclear threshold state. These are huge problems that will leave Obama’s successor very little room to maneuver. Whatever Hoyer can do now to preserve U.S. credibility, maintain U.S. military readiness, close the gaps between the U.S. and its allies and deter further aggression by our foes will spare the next president some angst.
Think of your own legacy. Is the greatest claim to fame for a longtime congressman “Cut military spending to the bone” or “Let the president make a rotten deal with Iran”? Surely, holding together a bipartisan triage team to salvage what is left of US. influence is something one can look back on as a genuine accomplishment.
What does this mean specifically? In the short run there must be bipartisan commitment to saving Iraq-Syria from becoming a jihadist state. Iraq was not a war of their liking, but Democrats have the same interest as Republicans in preventing its disintegration. That will take aid and potentially limited military action. If Democrats don’t support it, or worse, vigorously oppose it, they will have a disaster on their hands that will make President George W. Bush’s errors look puny. It may be a bitter pill, but Democrats have to support a responsible course of action or risk creating a haven for more 9/11-type attacks.
In addition, there should be a bipartisan effort to enhance military readiness. Exacting oversight needs to be conducted to keep the administration honest and on track with promised objectives such as disabling Iran’s nuclear arms. Expansion of the Magnitsky Act beyond Russia to other repressive regimes is a worthy goal. A bipartisan energy policy that will achieve energy independence and put the screws on Iran, Russia and other oil-rich foes is a must. Through resolutions, the power of the purse and the bully pulpit, Congress can counteract the president’s worst instincts (e.g., treating Hamas as a legitimate part of the unity government). In many ways the House Foreign Affairs chairman (Ed Royce of California) and ranking member (Eliot Engels of New York) are a model of cooperation. That now must extend to the entire House, and Hoyer is the only realistic leader to ensure this happens.
Good luck, Mr. Hoyer. You and the country will need it.