Congressional delegations to foreign countries—”codels” as the poor State Department officers tasked with escorting the solons and their posses around various foreign sites call them—are the bane of a diplomat’s life, and newspapers love to trash them as wasteful boondoggles taken on the public dime. Take this snarky Washington Post “In The Loop” piece on upcoming delegations to China, Korea, Taiwan, and India:
The House is off next week, and that means, even in an election year, members will be required to travel in search of elusive facts.House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) is leading a group taking off Friday for a week in Taiwan and South Korea, looking at three days in Seoul and three in Taipei. . . .This is not a particularly Loop-recommended trip. Ros-Lehtinen runs a pretty tight ship. And while spouses are going along—as well as some staff—there will be endless meetings.A much better bet is a 10-day jaunt, also leaving Friday, led by House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.), to China, South Korea and India.This is a “bipartisan, fact-finding mission,” a committee spokesman e-mailed, “to learn global solutions that could increase America’s competitiveness in the classroom and the workplace.”This sounds very good. The Taj, the Great Wall. . . .“Members will also seek a greater understanding of the region as it relates to trade policy and our broader national security,” the e-mail said, “through roundtables and meetings with cabinet-level officials” plus “visits to schools, universities, and business centers.” Excellent. No square tables.
It’s true that these sorts of trips can sometimes double as vacation tours for congressmen and women and their families. But think about it: Don’t we want congressmen to know something about the issues they vote on? Don’t we want them to understand critical foreign policy concerns? Via Meadia on the whole thinks that we do. But do we want lobbyists or foreign governments paying for or arranging their travel? We think not.This leaves congressional junkets as the only way to go. Via Meadia would actually like to see more of them, with more members of Congress and government participating. Yes, they cost money and yes, like every government perk, they can be misused. When we hear about Polynesian codels to “investigate” snorkeling conditions in the South Pacific, we will sound the alarm. But America’s future is increasingly tied to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. If senators and members of congress are ready to go over there, get briefed by U.S. diplomats (who generally give very good and clear briefings, by the way), meet foreign officials and politicians, and perhaps most important of all get out of the official bubble and nose around foreign cities on their own for a bit, getting a sense of how people live and how things work overseas, then Via Meadia wishes them a bon voyage.