Posted on April 09, 2007 in Washington Watch

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has now returned to the U.S. after completing a five nation tour of the Middle East. With visits to Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, she and her bipartisan delegation broke new ground, ruffled a few feathers here in the U.S., but won praise across the region.

Her critics have been unfair, missing the significance and timeliness of her mission.

In addition to her official meetings, the visit was most notable for its positive contribution to U.S. public diplomacy, so desperately needed in the Arab world. For example, bringing Reps. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress and Nick Rahall, the dean of the Arab American delegation in Congress sent positive messages of inclusion. Pelosi’s spending Palm Sunday in Jerusalem with Palestinian business leaders, learning from them about the hardships of living under occupation was deeply appreciated; as was the delegations’ afternoon visit to the Souk Hamadiyya in Syria. It sent a message to the Syrian people that there are Americans who care about engaging with their country and its people.

In Saudi Arabia, the scene of the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives sitting in the chair reserved for the head of the Saudi Majlis Ash-Shoura was a sign of respect for that institution, while also sending a message about the empowerment of women. The signs in the streets welcoming her, and the positive reception given to her mission in editorials across the region are a clear indication that despite the damage done by this Administration to America’s image, a deep reservoir of goodwill toward our country still exists.

Not everyone was happy, however.

Vice President Cheney, calling from an undisclosed location into the Rush Limbaugh show had harsh words for Speaker Pelosi’s visit.

“I’m obviously disappointed,” he said. “I think it is in fact bad behavior on her part. I wish she hadn’t done it.”

While his criticism and that of conservatives may be understood as sour grapes, the failure of liberals and the mainstream media to come to the Speaker’s defense or to understand the importance Speaker Pelosi’s goodwill mission is inexcusable. From my initial conversations with those whom she met on her trip, Americans owe a debt of gratitude to Speaker Pelosi. Her behavior is something we can all learn from.

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