What’s appropriate for a foreign leader to say in Congress?

Speaking of U.S.-Mexico relations, I see that some lawmakers weren’t happy that Mexican President Felipe Calderon criticized Arizona’s new immigration law in his speech to Congress yesterday: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said that Calderon’s statements about American laws were out of bounds. "I don’t think we should have some foreign leader come in here and ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Speaking of U.S.-Mexico relations, I see that some lawmakers weren't happy that Mexican President Felipe Calderon criticized Arizona's new immigration law in his speech to Congress yesterday:

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said that Calderon's statements about American laws were out of bounds. "I don't think we should have some foreign leader come in here and criticize the statute of a state, where they are implementing a federal law on a state basis," Hatch said of the Arizona immigration law.

He also chafed at Calderon's call on the U.S. to revisit the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. "We don't need someone coming in here and telling us how to handle an explicit clause of the Constitution," Hatch said. "I like President Calderon. I know him, I like him, he has a very difficult job. But it was inappropriate to say what he said."

Speaking of U.S.-Mexico relations, I see that some lawmakers weren’t happy that Mexican President Felipe Calderon criticized Arizona’s new immigration law in his speech to Congress yesterday:

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said that Calderon’s statements about American laws were out of bounds. "I don’t think we should have some foreign leader come in here and criticize the statute of a state, where they are implementing a federal law on a state basis," Hatch said of the Arizona immigration law.

He also chafed at Calderon’s call on the U.S. to revisit the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. "We don’t need someone coming in here and telling us how to handle an explicit clause of the Constitution," Hatch said. "I like President Calderon. I know him, I like him, he has a very difficult job. But it was inappropriate to say what he said."

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), whose state shares a border with Mexico, rejected Calderon’s assertion that the Arizona law allows racial profiling. "It was inappropriate for President Calderon to lecture Americans on our own state and federal laws," Cornyn said.

The senators are certainly entitled to voice disagreement with Calderon on this or any issue, but I think they doth protest too much about the "appropriateness" of what the president said.  American leaders — inlucing senators — lecture foreign governments on their laws all the time. Do they senators also think it was inappropriate when the Vice President stood up in the Bosnian parliament and said the country must join the E.U. or "descend into ethnic chaos that defined your country for the better part of a decade." (Well…  maybe that one was actually a little inappropriate.)

In any case, these senators are no shrinking violets when it comes to calling out foreign governments on human rights violations. They’re free to disagree with Calderon but they seem a little oversensitive when they assert that they shouldn’t have to listen to him.

This wasn’t Muammar Qaddafi, it was the president of Mexico. Two allied democracies should be able to have a grownup discussion about important issues — including the Mexican military’s appalling human rights record — without the unecessary umbrage-taking. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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