U.S. President Barack Obama speaks as President Otto Perez Molina (2nd L) of Guatemala, President Juan Orlando Hernandez (R) of Honduras, and President Salvador Sanchez Ceren (L) of El Salvador listen in the Cabinet Room of the White House on July 25, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty

So much for politics stopping at the water’s edge

Updated
We talked earlier about Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who brought three television cameras, three photographers, six reporters, a political aide, two press secretaries, and far-right activist David Bossie to Guatemala for a “stage-managed political voyage.” But it appears that wasn’t the only reason for the trip.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told the Guatemalan president the surge of child immigrants flooding the U.S. border this year is a result of President Obama’s policies, not problems in Central America.
 
“I told him, frankly, that I didn’t think the problem was in Guatemala City, but that the problem was in the White House in our country, and that the mess we’ve got at the border is frankly because of the White House’s policies,” Paul told Brietbart News in an article published Thursday.
According to the report in The Hill, the Kentucky Republican sat down with Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina for 45 minutes, and the senator discussed politics with the foreign head of state.
 
“I think what’s happened at the border is all squarely at the president’s lap,” Paul said. “The problem and the solution aren’t in Guatemala. The problem and solution reside inside the White House.”
 
As a substantive matter, the senator’s position is tough to defend or even understand. President Obama didn’t sign the 2008 human-trafficking measure into law; he didn’t create awful conditions in Central American countries; and he didn’t encourage anyone to lie to desperate families about what would happen to their children. If there’s a coherent explanation for why the White House to blame, it’s hiding well.
 
But even putting that aside, since when is it kosher for U.S. officials to travel abroad to condemn U.S. leaders like this?
 
In fairness, it’s hard to say with certainty exactly what Rand Paul told President Molina during their discussion. I haven’t seen a video of the meeting and all we have to go on is the senator’s own claims.
 
But if Paul is telling the truth, he traveled abroad, visited with a foreign leader, and spent time trashing the president of the United States.
 
I seem to remember a time when there were norms that deemed actions like this unacceptable.
 
Under traditional American standards, some considered it inappropriate to criticize the president when he was overseas. More importantly, when U.S. officials were outside the country, norms called on those officials to refrain from criticizing America’s elected leaders.
 
I guess that doesn’t apply anymore? These standards were certainly in place during the Bush/Cheney era.

Here’s what happened in 2006 when Al Gore gave a speech at a conference in Saudi Arabia in which he criticized Bush policies towards the Muslim world – as summarized by The New York Times’ Chris Sullentrop:

“As House Democrats David Bonior and Jim McDermott may recall from their trip to Baghdad on the eve of the Iraq war, nothing sets conservative opinionmongers on edge like a speech made by a Democrat on foreign soil. Al Gore traveled to Saudi Arabia last week, and in a speech there on Sunday he criticized ‘abuses’ committed by the U.S. government against Arabs after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A burst of flabbergasted conservative blogging followed the Associated Press dispatch about the speech… The editorial page of Investor’s Business Daily accused Gore of ‘supreme disloyalty to his country’….”

The Wall St. Journal’s James Taranto accused Gore of “denouncing his own government on foreign soil” and quoted the above accusation of “disloyalty.” Commentary was abundant all but accusing Gore of treason for criticizing the U.S. in a foreign land.

I’ll concede that such niceties may be antiquated, and maybe no one cares about this anymore. But if presidential criticism abroad was outrageous in the Bush/Cheney era, why does it barely cause a ripple now?
 
Update: Just to flesh this out further, in 2010, then-House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) traveled to Israel in the hopes of undermining U.S. foreign policy towards Israel. At the time, this caused quite a stir in foreign-policy circles – it seemed extraordinary for an elected American official to travel abroad in order to work against his own country’s position.

Perhaps now, with the Rand Paul example in mind, the practice is becoming more common.

For even more context, note that in 2007, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met with Syrian officials in Syria. Republicans, including Cantor, suggested Pelosi may have violated the Logan Act, “which makes it a felony for any American ‘without authority of the United States’ to communicate with a foreign government to influence that government’s behavior on any disputes with the United States.”

One wonders who, if anyone, will raise similar allegations against Rand Paul.
 

Foreign Policy and Rand Paul

So much for politics stopping at the water's edge

Updated