Nancy Pelosi must realize that her chances of remaining Speaker of the House of Representatives after the November elections are slim. If the Republican Party wins control of the House, Pelosi probably would find no point in remaining as the leader of a minority party. At the age of 82, she might believe that the time is right for turning over party leadership to a younger leader, such as Rep. Hakeem Jeffries from New York, 30 years younger than Pelosi.
Pelosi, the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Armenia since the country’s independence in 1991, has no obvious national security reason for the trip to the Caucasus. Her travels are politically motivated only seven weeks before the congressional elections. Her district in San Francisco has the country’s largest community of Chinese-Americans, and California is home to very influential Armenians, so domestic politics is the key to her travels. Pelosi’s delegation to Yerevan included two Armenian-American representatives from California.
In any event, Pelosi’s travel to the world’s worst trouble spots creates significant confusion regarding official U.S. policies and politics. In flexing the flabby diplomatic muscles of the U.S. Congress, Pelosi is engaging the international community without any obvious coordination with the White House or the Department of State. The notion that anyone from the House of Representatives could have an impact on U.S. foreign policy or diplomacy is particularly ludicrous. Unfortunately, her trips seemingly amount to a last hurrah.
Pelosi’s trips will do nothing to calm the waters of three of the most difficult regional conflicts in the global community. Her trip to Kyiv several months ago was a political stunt, it served no political purpose. Her trip to Taiwan has created additional chaos for the Sino-American relationship as well as for the people of Taiwan. China pursued its most threatening military exercises against the island during and after Pelosi’s visit.
And now she has touched down in Armenia, which can only complicate the individual efforts of both the United States and Russia to resolve a difficult conflict. By choosing to visit only one side in these conflicts (e.g., Ukraine, Taiwan, and Armenia), the Biden national security team will have to clean up after her. The fact that President Joe Biden couldn’t prevent these trips, particularly the provocative one to Taiwan, only highlighted the political weakness of the president. Chinese leader Xi Jinping presumably took note of that fact.
Going to Yerevan was particularly reckless because violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been percolating once again. In the late 1980s, the Azeris blockaded rail lines leading into Armenia, and Armenia declared that Nagorno-Karabakh (a disputed region in Azerbaijan that is inhabited mostly by ethnic Armenians) would be integrated into the Armenian economy.
As a result of the first war between Armenians and Azeris over the Nagorno-Karabakh, the Karabakh Armenians demanded transferring from Azerbaijan to Armenia. The conflict escalated into a full-scale war in the early 1990s, which became a low-intensity conflict in recent years. Russia played the key role in arranging a tentative armistice in November 2020, which established a cease-fire agreement that returned to Azerbaijan most of the territories lost during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War. In the recent imbroglio, Russian President Vladimir Putin once again played the key role in arranging a cease fire.
Russia typically has been Armenia’s protector in these confrontations in the Caucasus, but Putin’s senseless war in Ukraine has weakened Moscow’s efforts to get involved in conflict resolution, let alone encourage Yerevan to defend itself against forces from Baku. Pelosi’s unfortunate intervention on behalf of Armenia was at odds with quiet U.S. efforts to reach a cease fire. Moscow introduced peacekeepers in the region to revolve the conflict in 2020, but Putin’s hand is weaker this time around. Russia’s preoccupation with Ukraine complicates Putin’s ability to stabilize a regional crisis on his volatile southern rim in the Caucasus.
Pelosi has also complicated Biden’s role by calling on the White House to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. The terrorist designation would complicate any possible efforts to address a resolution of the war in Ukraine or the current imbroglio in the Caucasus. The United States should be looking for ways to effect greater cooperation with Russia in order to advance conflict resolution around the world; arms control and disarmament efforts; and easing the consequences of the climate and Covid crises. The terrorism designation would also lead to secondary sanctions that would drive up global prices and worsen an inflationary situation that could lead to an international recession.
As a result of Pelosi’s meanderings, we now have the worst tensions in the Taiwan Strait in nearly 30 years; greater Ukrainian expectations of expanded U.S. largesse; and a threat to the fragile truce in the Caucasus that Putin has tried to engineer. Can we look forward to more travel from Pelosi to the tense Central Asian border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, where 100 or so were killed in fighting over the past weekend; to the West Bank; or to Northern Ireland, which is facing renewed tensions? So many crises; so little time.