Tag Archives: Arthur Vandenberg

What about the ‘water’s edge,’ Mr. Secretary?

The late great Republican U.S. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg coined the maxim that “politics stops at the water’s edge.”

That was his way of saying that in the pursuit of foreign policy, we shouldn’t quibble over partisan matters, that we’re all Americans regardless of political affiliation.

I want to extend that notion a bit farther. Secretaries of state shouldn’t engage in partisan politicking while they are representing U.S. interests abroad, either.

Listen up, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, I’m talking about you!

Pompeo is going to speak to the Republican National Convention tonight while he is in Jerusalem, ostensibly talking to Israeli leaders about this and that … such as crafting a comprehensive Middle East peace.

What the hell is he doing talking to the RNC about a partisan political matter, such as re-electing Donald J. Trump?

I know there’s nothing illegal about what Pompeo will do. Legality, though, doesn’t make it right. Thus, the secretary of state speaking to a partisan convention about a political matter just doesn’t pass the proverbial smell test.

This, I submit, is just one more time-honored tradition that Donald Trump has managed to destroy.

Foreign policy no longer a bipartisan effort

It once was thought that “politics stopped at the water’s edge,” meaning that Democrats and Republicans locked arms when facing the rest of the world, setting aside their partisan differences.

A couple of events this week have demonstrated that the late Republican U.S. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg’s words of wisdom no longer apply.

Event No. 1: Mike Pompeo received a partisan vote of confirmation by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee to become the next secretary of state. The full Senate now figures to confirm Pompeo, with only a couple of Democrats crossing over to cast affirmative votes.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who had been thought to be a “no” vote on Pompeo, changed his mind after receiving assurances from Donald Trump about Pompeo’s view regarding the Iraq War, which Paul opposed.

Event No. 2: The president is going to play host this week to a state dinner honoring French President Emmanuel Macron. But here’s the catch: Trump didn’t invite a single Democrat to the White House gala, which is starkly against presidential tradition.

Presidents of both parties traditionally reach across the aisle for these state dinners, which feature sumptuous menus, lots of fine music, toasts and expressions of good wishes.

Not this time, which happens to be the president’s first such state dinner since taking office. What’s more, Macron is head of state of our nation’s oldest international ally. After all, France fought side by side with us while our forebears revolted against Britain’s King George III.

As for the upcoming secretary of state vote, I feel compelled to remind everyone that the office of nation’s top diplomat needs to come in with a semblance of a mandate from the legislative branch of government. It sends the world a message that we remain united in the cause of furthering our nation’s interests.

Former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry, for instance, all received unanimous or near-unanimous votes of confirmation by the Senate.

Politics must end at the our water’s edge. It’s not just a quaint notion. It’s real and it’s vital in the conduct of foreign policy.

Forget the 'water's edge' stuff about foreign policy

It’s safe to suggest that the time-honored belief that partisanship ended at “the water’s edge” has now been inundated.

House Speaker John Boehner went to Israel this week and declared that the “world is on fire” and that the United States is doing too little to put it out. He offered a blistering critique of U.S. foreign policy while standing in the capital city of one our nation’s staunchest allies.


It’s a new day. Or perhaps it’s a continuation of an old way of thinking.

I don’t know which it is.

I do know that wherever he is, the late U.S. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg is spinning in his grave.

It was Vandenberg, R-Mich., who criticized politicians for venturing overseas to criticize U.S. policymakers, coining the “water’s edge” definition of bipartisanship.

I’ve always thought it was wise to speak with a single voice, especially when politicians venture abroad to discuss foreign policy matters. Yes, I know that this affinity to blast presidents of the “other party” goes both ways and that Democratic pols have dissed Republican presidents as well as the other way around.

The speaker of the House, though, speaks with forked tongue when he warns of the world going up in flames and then promises to keep speaking out against the president of the United States — even as the world burns.

“I wouldn’t have believed that I would be involved in as much foreign policy as I am today,” Boehner said in Jerusalem. “And it certainly isn’t by choice. It’s just that the world is on fire. And I don’t think enough Americans or enough people in the administration understand how serious the problems that we’re facing in the world are.”

Is the speaker unaware that he well might be fanning those flames when he says such things?


Irony taints Obama critics

There’s a certain irony attached to the criticism that keeps pouring in from the right regarding President Obama’s handling of the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

They gripe that the president is feckless and ineffective in his handling of the crisis that has seen Russian troops roll into Crimea after Ukraine ousted its pro-Russia president.

The irony? It is that the criticism itself undermines the president/commander in chief as he seeks to work out some kind of response in conjunction with our allies.


Didn’t we hear similar concerns about the left’s continual carping during President Bush’s two terms? Russia sent troops into Georgia in the final full year of Bush’s presidency, which caused a lot of hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing. The left was wrong to undermine President Bush’s efforts — and the right is wrong to do the very same thing to President Obama.

It was the great Republican U.S. senator from Michigan, Arthur Vandenberg, who coined the axiom about politics “ending at the water’s edge.” He meant that partisan critics of presidents ought to hold their fire when the president is acting in his role as head of state during an international crisis.

This is precisely what Barack Obama is trying to do now as he works with our allies to find some kind of diplomatic solution to Russia’s meddling in what should be a solely internal matter to be decided by Ukraine.

The carping from the right is emboldening Russian president/strongman Vladimir Putin and it isn’t helping end the crisis.