During today's Petraeus-and-Crocker congressional showcase, Representative Solomon P. Ortiz (D-Texas) asked the esteemed witnesses what they felt about increasing our diplomatic engagement with the Middle East's regional powers. Ortiz supports our initial efforts at diplomacy, but would like to see vastly more of it used in the region.
General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker signaled their approval, but Ortiz stopped them short to follow up: are we engaging players in the region diplomatically, he asked. I know you support it, he said, but are we actually doing it?
I called Ortiz up to ask why a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee doesn't know if the United States is using diplomacy as part of our war effort. He told me it has to do with the administration and the secrecy it has repeatedly used, often with no good reason, over the last six years. Perhaps they are supplying the House Foreign Affairs Committee with more information on the subject, he said, but they certainly aren't giving us any.
Ortiz has been in Congress a long time. Elected in 1982, he's served with four presidents. He said he has a hard time remembering one who was less inclined than George W. Bush to treat Congress as a separate but equal branch of government.
So if any Republicans give you the old line about Republicans running government more efficiently, tell them that the House Armed Services Committee doesn't know the extent to which we are using diplomacy in the Middle East. That should fix their misconception.