Who does Nancy Pelosi represent? The Democratic members of the House of Representatives or the people of San Francisco? New York Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently voiced the opinion that Pelosi appeared to be the most progressive choice available to lead House Democrats in the upcoming congressional term when the party’s leader will presumably assume the position of Speaker of the House – or re-assume it, in the case of Pelosi. And since no challenger to Pelosi ever actually emerged, it’s hard to fault Ocasio-Cortez’s assessment. On the other hand, Pelosi’s response to President Trump’s recently announced intention to withdraw American troops from Syria is just the latest instance of the House Democrats’ leader taking a foreign policy stance out of sync with the expressed views of her base.
Taking issue with Trump’s claim that U.S. military goals had been achieved, Pelosi’s official statement argued that “It is premature for the President to declare a sweeping victory against ISIS when, just a few weeks ago, our military led more than 250 coalition-conducted airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria.” While time will tell whose military assessment is the more accurate, we should not miss the point that Pelosi apparently considers those “250 coalition-conducted airstrikes” to be something she stands behind, or at the least considers an acceptable activity. Apparently perceiving no problem concerning the legal basis for this intervention, she concludes by declaring that “The American people deserve a smart, strong and strategic Syria policy that keeps America safe, protects our interests and advances peace in the region.”
Pelosi has cast some good foreign policy votes and some bad ones, but has in no way adhered to the antiwar profile set by the groups she supposedly answers to.
It just so happens that the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee has weighed in with its take on what might constitute “a smart, strong and strategic Syria policy” in a April 26, 2017 resolution that called upon Pelosi and the city’s other congressional representative, Jackie Speier, to cosponsor Oakland Representative Barbara Lee's HR 1473, “The Prohibit Expansion of Combat Troops Into Syria Act,” which aimed to limit any future Syrian deployment of troops or military contractors to "rescuing or protecting members of the United States Armed Forces from imminent danger." At a point when there were approximately 900 American troops already in Syria, the Central Committee, which is the official voice of the city’s Democratic Party, declared that "the route to peace and national security does not lie in undertaking ‘just one more invasion.'"
No such co-sponsorship was forthcoming. Nor was this the first time that Pelosi would be unmoved by the expressed will of her base: In November, 2008, 60 percent of the city’s voters backed a ballot question specifically declaring it city policy that its "elected representatives in the United States Senate and House of Representatives should vote against any further funding for the deployment of United States Armed Forces in Iraq, with the exception of funds specifically earmarked to provide for their safe and orderly withdrawal." Nor would it be the last: At their most recent convention, in February of this year, the California Democratic Party adopted a platform advocating “ending air strikes in Afghanistan, ... a timetable for the withdrawal of all American military forces and military contractors” and opposing “further appropriations for such operations,” with the usual caveat of “those necessary for safe and orderly withdrawal of our troops.”
Over this period, Pelosi has cast some good foreign policy votes and some bad ones, but has in no way adhered to the antiwar profile set by the groups she supposedly answers to. Indeed in the most recent budget debate earlier this year, she declared that “In our negotiations, Congressional Democrats have been fighting for increases in funding for defense.” This despite the well known fact that this country’s military expenditures were already the size of the combined total of the next seven largest national military budgets – while the streets of her city were teeming with encampments of the homeless.
Ever since Pelosi entered the congressional leadership of her party, the nature of the representation she offers has been an ambiguous thing. Does she answer primarily to the House Democratic Caucus? If so, as noted above, she may be considered to be doing a reasonable job, there being many Democrats more progressive than her and many less. But at least as far as foreign policy matters go, although there may be many districts where a representative with her voting profile might be considered progressive in comparison to that of a likely Republican alternative – districts in, say, Nebraska or maybe even Orange County, California – the record would seem to show that her San Francisco district is not one of them. So far as military interventions go, we surely don’t appear to be the constituency that matters to her.