FOR several months, the Clinton administration has tried to gently ratchet up the pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to withdraw additional troops from the occupied West Bank, hoping that the gesture might rejuvenate the Middle East peace process.
On Tuesday, that effort was undercut in a remarkably destructive speech by U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich to the Israeli parliament.
"Israel alone must determine its security needs," Mr. Gingrich told the Knesset. "We cannot allow non-Israelis to substitute their judgment for the generals that Israel has trusted with its security. If Israel is to take risks for peace . . . it must be risks she accepts, not risks that are imposed upon her."
Mr. Gingrich also undercut official U.S. policy on another front, telling the Knesset that members of Congress, unlike President Clinton, "stand with you today in recognizing Jerusalem as the united and eternal capital of Israel." The Clinton administration, like the Reagan and Bush administrations, has refused to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital because doing so would strip the United States of any credibility with the Arab world.
Pushing for a fight
Those statements by Mr. Gingrich confirm what Israeli officials had been telling reporters: In private discussions with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Gingrich has encouraged the prime minister to confront Mr. Clinton, promising that Congress would back the Israeli leader in any showdown with the president.
A few years ago, a certain former history professor wrote a passionate article for the Atlanta Constitution in which he condemned such legislative meddling in foreign policy as dangerous, unpatriotic and unconstitutional. That professor was Mr. Gingrich.
The inspiration for the 1984 article was a letter sent by 10 U.S. congressmen to Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega, in which they criticized Reagan administration foreign policies. Mr. Gingrich, then just another Republican backbencher, said such interference posed "a real crisis in our capacity to survive as an effective nation in a dangerous world."
"This statement crosses the bounds from legitimate opposition to American policy within the United States to a deliberate communication of that opposition to a foreign government with which we are disagreeing," Mr. Gingrich wrote. "There is no modern example of so blatant an effort by one faction of American politicians to draw a foreign government into taking positions based on a calculation of how it would effect the balance of political power inside the United States.
"Any study of the writings of the Founding Fathers will reveal their deep bias against Congress and in favor of the executive branch in foreign policy implementation," Mr. Gingrich wrote.
The Founding Fathers, Mr. Gingrich wrote, recognized that "legislators made foreign policy implementation impossible if they were each free to go off on frolics of their own."
"This is not a liberal or a conservative issue. This is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. Whichever party is in the White House, whichever ideology is dominating American foreign policy, it is vital that this nation have the ability to implement a consistent, sustainable, coherent foreign policy. The only approach which will permit a successful American foreign policy is one which re-establishes the legitimate historic separation of constitutional powers and restores to the executive branch its exclusive prerogative to implement, while retaining for the legislative branch its power to appropriate, authorize and oversee."
A different time
The Gingrich of 14 years ago, his head as yet unmuddled by the scent of power, was in many ways far wiser than the man making headlines today.
Jay Bookman is an Atlanta Constitution editorial writer.
Pub Date: 5/28/98