Victor Davis Hanson

The president establishes American foreign policy and is commander in chief. At least that’s what the Constitution states. Then Congress oversees the president’s policies by either granting or withholding money to carry them out — in addition to approving treaties and authorizing war.

Apparently, the founding fathers were worried about dozens of renegade congressional leaders and committees speaking on behalf of the United States and opportunistically freelancing with foreign leaders.

In our past, self-appointed moralists — from Charles Lindbergh and Joe Kennedy to Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson — have, from time to time, tried to engage in diplomacy directly contrary to the president’s.

But usually Americans agree to let one elected president and his secretary of state speak for the United States abroad. Then if they’re displeased with the results, they can show it at the ballot box every two years in national or midterm elections.

But recently hundreds in Congress have decided that they’re better suited to handle international affairs than the State Department.

The U.S. Senate late last month passed a resolution urging the de facto breakup of wartime Iraq into federal enclaves along sectarian lines — even though this is not the official policy of the Bush administration, much less the wish of a sovereign elected government in Baghdad.

That Senate vote only makes it tougher for 160,000 American soldiers to stabilize a unitary Iraq. And Iraqis I spoke with during my recent trip to Iraq are confused over why the U.S. Congress would preach to them how to split apart their own country.

Then, last week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution condemning Turkey for genocide against the Armenian people, atrocities committed nearly a century ago during the waning years of the Ottoman Empire.

If the entire House approves the resolution, the enraged Ankara government could do everything from invade Iraqi Kurdistan — in hot pursuit of suspected Kurdish guerrillas — to curtail U.S. over-flight privileges and restrict use of American military bases in Turkey.

This new falling-out could interfere with supplying our soldiers in Iraq. And it complicates a myriad of issues, from the NATO alliance to Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

The speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, earlier this year took another hot-button foreign-policy matter into her own hands when she made a special trip to reach out to Syria’s strongman, Bashar Assad.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.