Sunday, May 23, 2010

Reform of "Secret Holds" Seriously Deminted

(183/365) Shhh....Image by Sarah G... via Flickr
Unless you're an executive nominee subjected to a "secret hold" you probably do not pay much attention to what has been called “one of the most pernicious, most antidemocratic practices in government.”

But over in the North Wing, our council of elders can exercise their secret hold over any nominee for whatever reason they see fit. And they're seldom ever called to account for it.  For instance, right now, Ambassador Robert Ford's nomination to be chief of mission in Damascus appears to be stuck at the door mat. Josh Rogin of The Cable reports that "[t]welve Republican senators wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday to let her know they intend to block the nomination of Robert Ford, whom President Obama has named to become the first U.S. ambassador to Syria in five years." 

Josh writes that "The senators aren't buying State's argument that sending an ambassador to Syria is not a reward, but rather a smart way to engage and perhaps even persuade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop taking provocative actions."

You know, some guy once wrote that Syria must come out on whose side it's on. It's on Syrian side, dummy!  Any foreign government who places the USG interest before its own will not remain the government of the day for long (heard what happened over at one of the -stans?) But countries, not just this one -- need to be convinced that their interests are  aligned with the United States in many parts of the world. I've written about this before the 2008 elections here and here. I think it is useful to remember that the United States is not in a single player system, anymore.

In any case, who is going to convince the Syrian president about alignment of interests and whatnot if the United States does not even have the President's personal representative in Syria? You expect the deputy ambassador to convince President al A. of such and such things when the embassy could even get face time over there?

Just think how much face time the other side has racked up in Damascus by now and all it's hearing from the US side is noise.
Back on secret holds -- Steve Aftergood of Secrecy News recently posted that "a long-term, bipartisan effort to eliminate the Senate custom of using “secret holds” to anonymously block pending legislation or nominations was scuttled just as it was on the verge of approval last Thursday after Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) attempted to insert an unrelated amendment at the last minute." (See Reform of “Secret Holds” Derailed in Senate | May 17th, 2010).

He also added in his post that "A spokesman for Sen. DeMint told the Washington Post that it was not his intent to block the reform of secret holds, but only to get a vote on his own measure, and that he too supported an end to secret holds."


A commenter asked what was the amendment about, and Steve Aftergood writes: "DeMint’s amendment was intended “To require the completion of the 700-mile southwest border fence [with Mexico] not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act.” This is a matter of controversy, unrelated to the question of secret holds."

Oh, by goat's heavens -- now I get it ....Mexican border fence ... secret holds .... Mexican border fence .... secret holds .... they even rhyme, if you say them backwards...

Related Links:
CIR: Senator's pursuit of border fence kills attempt to reform secret holds
WaPo: Senate's attempt for more open government may fail again, thanks to Sen. DeMint

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