Domestic disputes played out abroad
It used to be said in the United States that politics stopped at the water's edge. A similar convention pertained here: a dim view was taken of politicians who tried to score party political points while travelling abroad. Such a united front, however, is hard to maintain if foreign policy is the chief bone of contention in domestic politics, as it has been in the United States since the mid-term Congressional campaign last autumn.
Now that Democrats have taken control of both Houses of Congress, elected on a wave of popular hostility to President Bush's pursuit of the war in Iraq, the depth of the cleavage on foreign policy is clear. Congress seems increasingly to be pursuing a policy that is quite different from that of the Bush administration over the past six years.
Last week, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, led a congressional delegation to Syria, saying that dialogue with Syria was key to solving the crises in Iraq and Lebanon. This is not how the Administration sees it. It accuses Damascus of sponsoring Hizbollah in Lebanon and allowing, if not encouraging, Arab fighters to cross into Iraq. Mr Bush explicitly rejected the recommendation of James Baker and his Iraq Study Group, that the US needed to talk to Syria and Iran.
上周，众议院的议长Nancy Pelosi带着国会代表团访问了叙利亚，声称和叙利亚的对话将成为解决伊拉克和黎巴嫩危急的关键。然而白宫并不这么看，白宫指责大马士革给真主党提供了帮助，即便不是怂恿，也是允许了那些阿拉伯战士通过其领土进入伊拉克。布什先生也明确拒绝了James Baker和他的伊拉克研究委员会关于和叙利亚及伊朗展开对话的建议。
Now, Bill Richardson, a former US ambassador to the UN, the state governor of New Mexico, and an outside presidential hopeful for 2008, is in North Korea. Unlike Ms Pelosi's trip to Syria - which Mr Bush condemned as undermining US efforts to isolate Damascus - Mr Richardson's mission has the tacit approval of the White House. It is hard to believe, though, that his meetings will be restricted to the task officially announced - the recovery of the remains of US servicemen killed during the Korean war.
As a former US energy secretary, Mr Richardson has the expertise and experience to discuss nuclear issues. He has the standing necessary to be treated by the North Koreans as a serious envoy. The hope must be that he will return with positive news about North Korea's intention to meet the 14 April deadline for closing down its main nuclear power plant and readmitting UN nuclear inspectors.
These two trips by leading Democrats may have been treated differently by the White House, but both constitute reversions to the Clinton-era preference for engaging difficult regimes. It is hard to gauge whether Mr Bush is as annoyed with Ms Pelosi, or as supportive of Mr Richardson as the official word suggests - after all, guile and deniability are useful political tools, too. What cannot be gainsaid is that abroad, if not yet at home, the Democrats' election victory is starting to make a welcome difference.
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