Meeks Message From Capitol Hill
Whatever holiday you celebrate - Christmas, Chanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Eid - the season of "joy to the world" is a great time of the year. The focus is on children. Families come together. Individuals and institutions are inspired to give to those in need. Strangers greet each other. Passersby hum Christmas carols. The holiday theme of "peace on earth" rings in the air. We extend good will toward every man, woman, and child on the planet.
Wouldn't be great if this spirit lasted year around? Unfortunately, that won't happen. Even during these days of "comfort and joy" every time we turn on a television or radio we witness a troubled world: War in Iraq. Bloodletting in Baghdad; a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan; clashes between Israel and the Palestinians; things getting out of hand between Palestinians; assassinations and demonstrations in Lebanon; tension with North Korea; troubled relations with Venezuela; critics of the administration elected all over South America; a Holocaust denial conference in Iran; conflict between Somalia and Ethiopia; a descent deeper into genocide in Darfur; sharpening disputes between Russia and a number of former Soviet republics; and terrorist threats at airports, seaports, and bus depots.
At holiday gatherings, constituents come up to me and say, "Congressman, you're on the International Relations Committee, what in the world is going on in the world?" "Why are so many countries angry at us?" "Why are so many people angry at each other?" And, in a variation of the same theme, "Why are so many people who are mad at each other so mad at us?"
Constituents also want to know what are the Democrats - now that we have the majority - going to do to about America's unpopular standing in the world.
The first thing Democrats will undertake when the 110th Congress convenes on January 4 is to promote peace among Americans. We've been divided against each other for the last six years by the deliberate doings of Karl Rove, President Bush's senior advisor. As I stated in last month's column, Democrats - both in how the House and Senate conduct their business and in terms of initial legislative priorities - will work to create an atmosphere of bipartisan cooperation and strive to enact legislation that tends to the urgent needs of the overwhelming majority of the American people.
I can assure you that Democrats will also be assertive and innovative in regard to America's relationship with the rest of the world. First of all, the Democratic Congress will change the atmospherics surrounding American foreign policy. This starts with forcing the Administration to change course in Iraq. President Bush went against world public opinion, the United Nations, and the international community when he invaded and occupied Iraq. That he did this on the basis of flawed intelligence and completely false premises has isolated us, undermined our credibility, and aroused so much distrust and anti-American anger around the world.
Secondly, for two decades we have boasted that we are the world's only superpower, but so far this decade we have failed to articulate and undertake a foreign policy befitting that status. Instead of modesty we have been arrogant. Instead of being an honest broker we tilted the tables. Instead of building an inclusive global consensus we constructed narrow coalitions. Instead of reaching out we turned inward. Instead of listening to what other countries had to say we lectured them. The result has been a loss of influence and leverage.
Thirdly, the manner in which we have conducted the war against terrorism (torture, extraordinary rendition, mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the Iraq diversion) undermined the solidarity the world extended to us after 9/11.
These are big obstacles but I'm very hopeful that the 110th Congress will contribute to helping overcome them. I know the Democratic chairs of the House and Senate committees and subcommittees that oversee foreign affairs, military policy, diplomacy, global trade, aid, international organizations, and human rights, very well. All of them reject the go-it-alone approach that has gotten us into so much trouble in so many places. I am confident that the new House and Senate leaders and the new committee chairs will actively engage the world, visit other nations, take the opinion of allies into account, and maintain a healthy dialogue with both the public and private sector leaders of other countries.
I'm hopeful that openness to alternative approaches to foreign policy, diplomacy, trade, international institutions, and global issues will create room for Democrats and Republicans to forge a bipartisan consensus on the main contours of how the United States relates to the world going forward. I am also very hopeful that the new direction in foreign policy that the new Congress will provide will encourage America's best ambassadors - the American people themselves - to have greater and more intimate contact with peoples and countries across the planet, sharing the values and aspirations of the American people, and in that way contribute to peace on earth and good will toward humankind.