by Dr. Angelika Brinkmann
On November 2, 2004 a much-disputed Election Day exit poll indicated that 'values'had been an extremly influential factor for a large number of voters in the presidential election.
On November 3, 2004 House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said “ Certainly Democrats are faith-filled. Certainly, we love our country, and we are very patriotic. But somehow or other that did not come across.”
In March 2005, Republican House and Senate leaders held emergency sessions and proposed bills aimed at reconnecting feeding tubes. The Senate approved the bill by unanimous consent of both parties, but only 100 of 202 Democrats returned to vote on the bill, with 53 voting “no”.
Ever since that election influential voices have advised the democrats to reprofile themselves especially with respect to their rhetoric. While it was true that a large number of voters claimed to be most significantly influenced by moral values, another survey showed they were affected by concern over terrorism as well.
So Democrats were well advised to stress their national security expertise and economic message as well as to emphasize moral issues and spiritual values.
On November 7, 2006, U.S. Citizens elected a new congress. In a landslide, Democrats took over both the House and the Senate.
In the 2006 race, special attention was paid to state legislature races as well and this for several reasons :
State legislature is a “breeding ground” for future members of congress and for governors. After the number of women for the state legislature dropped in 2000, 'Emily's List' was founded; a political action committee to recruit and train candidates for State House and Senate seats, dedicated to generate more Democratic office holders.
Congressional gridlock: Many issues/problems (e.g. Stem cell research, abortion) cannot be dealt with politically in Washington so they are redirected back to state level.
Normally, once every 10 years congressional districts are redrawn. But in 2002, Republicans in Texas engineered a controversial mid-decade redrawing of the state's congressional map which resulted in an extra five House seats for the GOP.
Sting or Duel?
On January 10, 2007, President Bush revealed his new plans for the war in Iraq. His address indicated not so much a change of strategy but of pace. He outlined a “New way forward” thereby referring to the report of the Iraqi Studa Group (ISG ) issued in December 2006 and titled “The way forward – a new approach” (http://www.usip.org/)
Following are some key elements of his speech:
In order to put more pressure on Iraqi government, Bush is demanding progress, but without threatenig penalties. The ISG recommends to set benchmarks for Iraqi progress, but without threatening and to cut U.S. support unless these benchmarks are reached.
To give an additional 1bill$ in U.S. economic aid. This is less than the ISG recommendation of up to 5bill$ per year.
He also wants to send a carrier strike group to the region and disrupt supply
lines to fighters
Send an additional 21500 U.S. troops in order to enable the Iraqi government to achieve nation-wide security by November. This presents the sharpest contrast to the ISG recommendations which suggest to withdraw most U.S. combat troops by March 2008 as Iraqi forces take over security operations.
Except for the troop increase none of these ideas is new. It still does not look like the President has accepted the realities in Iraq. Whereas in 2003, Congressional Republicans generally stood behind the President, they are now divided. It does not look like the President is willing to admit to the controversial politics he set in motion. He admitted that the administration had miscalculated the amount of troops needed and therefore sent too few troops. But like so many times before, he portrayed retreat as unthinkable, describing the war as a critical part of the larger struggle against the war on global terrorism.
In his State of the Union address of January 23, 2007, President Bush faced
a different type of Congress than last year. For the first time in history,
he could say 'Mme Speaker', meaning Nancy Pelosi,the first Democratic House
Speaker in 12 years and the first woman in the history of the U.S. Congress
in that position. For the first time in his presidency, Democratic majority
of both Houses filled the chamber.
But part of his speech, especially on Iraq ,sounded like a repetition, even though it is under bipartisan attack in Congress and opposed overwhelmingly by a public that expresses increasing impatience in the polls. Neither presidential candidate for republican or democrats would want to go into an election year with a status quo, so Bush is running out of time. By the end of this year, the public and republican office holders will want some proof of success. But even Bush's strongest supporters admit that success will take time and initially increase U.S. casualties, which probably will take away the little support that is left within the American public. At too many occasions, the president offered his credibilty on plans for victory and assured the public he was convinced of success that turned out to be yet another disappointment.
Money Makes The World Go Around or Brave New World?
With the 2008 budget President Bush requests $624.6 billion in defense spending
and marks the first time he has offered an estimate of how much the wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq will cost a year in advance.
Also in his State of the Union address Bush called for a balanced budget by 2012. This comes as a surprise after turning the Clinton ra surplus into six straight years of deficit. Interestingly enough, he wants to see the budget balanced after he has left office probably knowing that this will be the time when the majority of baby boomers start their retirement. Obviously, this process will lead the federal budget deeply into a huge deficit. But he is not calling for a major scale back on tax cuts or a fresh look at health care. He is not offering a look at tough choices with regard to climate change or any other of these issues.
He is making a statement. But his balanced budget approach comes at a time when the retirement costs of baby boomers, combined with medical costs (Medicare/Medicaid) and Social Security will send spending through the roof. Those programs already account for 40% of all government spending.
It would have been brave on the President's part to actually make a projection into the year 2012, the Social Security surplus (the amount by which Social Security tax receipts exceed Social Security spending), meaning the true size of the federal deficit, will be about 64 billion dollars. It will definitly plummetl to a deficit by 2018. At the same time, Medicare spending will increase by 158 billion, to 817 billion dollars.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke summed up on the situation by telling a Senate
committee that any short-term improvement in the fiscal outlook should be
regarded as “the calm before the storm”. That storm is going to
strike most everybody, especially the middle class in the form of reduced
benefits, rising taxes, maybe both.
The time is now to tackle these problems with a balanced budget in mind for 2012.
Not only for a few dollars more
With the “emergency war funding bill”, voted on March 23, 2007, Congress opted for an additional funding which adds 1.2 bill$ to the president's request to fight al-Quaeda and the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as $3.5bill to improve military and veterans' health, to end e.g. the problems uncovered at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It also sets a deadline for troop withdrawal for August 31, 2008.
Much can be said about turning bills into a spending-spree but the most crucial aspect is the unflexible timetable. This is an invitation to enemies of all kinds to focus any strategy of their own on this particular date. So far, House and Senate have set different deadlines and requirements, but the general goal of both is to have most U.S. combat troops out of Iraq before election day 2008. Even though both chambers may agree on the same date it is rather unlikely that the president's announcement to veto such a bill can be overriden.
Whereas the 'cut and run' approach has proved to be ineffective, the president's
veto may buy enough time to find out whether his 'troop surge' is working.
The U.S. commander inm Iraq has said he expects to start seeing results by
late summer. If the plan fails, there is no alternative but withdrawal. Should
the plan succeed, it will also buy time to plan a withdrawal/retreat that
plays to the advantage of the U.S..
Instead of threatening to veto bills the president could point out that the benchmarks he set out for Iraqi leaders in January are written into both funding measures:
Taking charge of security throughout Iraq by November
ensuring that oil revenues are shared by all Iraqis
holding provincial elections this year
setting up a process for amending the Iraqi constitution
The newly appointed general to command the troops in Iraq, David Patreaus, promised a basic change of strategy. He needs time to prove he is on the road to success.
So, at the very momen that progress may be on the way, Congress wants to weaken General Patraeus and his troops by setting an inflexible and arbitrary deadline. A premature withdrawal without considering the real situation in Iraq, despite the opinion of the militay commanders in place, would weaken the U.S.' own security and reliability as a decision-making power. It was wrong to start this war in the first place, but as sure as there is no guarantee for success as has been before, a deadline for withdrawal will result in failure. The U.S. and Congress should aim to keep options open in Iraq for progress. Two minusses do not automatically result in a plus.
Unlike in previous years postponing solutions into the far future, one would have liked to hear a confession that the war in Iraq was wrong; instead, to name jbut one issue, a acknowedgement that his tax cuts and the Medicare drug plan let to an increase of the budget deficit would have been reasonable. As a 'bonus' the president could have promised to revisit his tax cuts and to definitely improve the controlling of expenses. As long as there is more short-term hurray than long term doubts, the state of the Union remains shaky and the future a mystery.
On February 5, the president proposed the customary five-year budget, showing
declining deficits every year and a surplus in 2012.
Some say that more than five years after 9/11, the U.S. is safer than it
was. Well, that is a matter of perspective of course. A lot of Homeland Security
initiatives remain a mix of unfinished inititatives, misplaced spending and
It looks like Democrats, much like Republicans, think the Federal Government can protect everyone against every threat where setting priorities is the only way to protect the most people against the most likely threats with the most serious consequences, all within the resources available.
One wonders why the president did not ask the American public more directly for support as was done in WWI and II. In WWI, one poster pictured bread and read: 'Save a loaf a week – help win the war.' Anyone who has seen the recent movie titled 'Flags of our fathers' by Clint Eastwood will, remember the 'tour of duty' of those soldiers who raised the flag to encourage people to buy war bonds.
Today, there is widespread scepticism as to the new approach both with Democrats
and Republicans. Some think the plan relies too much on Iraqi officials and
forces that have proved to be unreliable. Others are concerned the administration's
actions won't match its rhetoric.
Redeployment does not mean defeat, only if one is not capable of defining what the 'winning' situation would look like. Going into Iraq one had the wrong perception so under these circumstance redeployment or any other change of plan that acknowledges these different circumstances is a win.
This is not only supporting the troops in Iraq but also the families at home who would want their relatives back.
If a new way forward also means a better one, remains to be seen. One word
that has been missing throughout the adminstraion is to actually sit down
at one table with Iran and Syria (two countries having been shunned before)
and discussed the situation in Iraq. So, obviously, according to former deputy
secretary of State, Richard Armitage, the administration “has come to
the conclusion that there are limits to military power and that in diplomacy,
it is often more necessary to talk to your opponents than your friends.”
The question is how to find the best opportunity to disengage from Iraq in a way that best serves U.S. interests, in other words: how Goliath treats David affects the attitude of the latter.
A look back in wisdom
The president's plan is not forward looking but what is the alternative,
where is a better plan?
Wheras the president failed to stand up to the reality of the situation in Iraq, his critics do not admit to the complexity of the situation either.
In 2002, a majority of Democrats voted to hand President Bush the authority
to invade Iraq. At that time, war management issues did not play a decisive
role. Now, being in charge of both the House and the Senate, it is not enough
to say No or just pull out the troops. As with going into Iraq, leaving requires
a careful management strategy. Democrats have to come up with an explanation
as towhy a withdrawal would not lead to the catastrophe Bush and some of his
allies insist it would.
Al-Qaeda terrorists have not been in Iraq before the war, but now they are. The sectoral Terror between Sunni and Shiites that had been restrained by Saddam rule is now loose and could lead, without proper management, to a 'failing state' with the Kurds in the north forming their own state eventually.
Congress has a range of options and has to sort out in the coming months the degree to which it wants to confront the president. Foreign policy is made both by the executive and the legislative branch. The president has great latitude as the Commander in Chief, but Congress has the power to declare war and the authority to fund it or not. This is referred to as the famous “checks and balances”. Congressional opion leaders will have to deliberate whether they want to use their budgetary power to try to block the troop surge.
This is not without precedent. Starting in 1974 Congress used funding limits to restrict U.S. troop strength in Vietnam and speed an end to that war. In December 1974, Congress limited U.S. personnel in Vietnam to 4000 within six months and 3000 within one year.
In June 1983, Congress required then president Ronald Reagan to seek statutory authority to expand troop presence in Lebanon. In June 1984, Congress capped U.S. forces assigned to NATO Countries at 324.000.
But there is also the danger of challenging a president at war times. The immediate question arises: Is there a lack of patriotism? No, since it is up to Congress to question the president's strategy and if they deem it too risky, they are obliged to find a new one. As divided as the public, Congress debates when to bring home the troops, and how to force the president to make it happen.
Some ideas as to this issue: Trying to end the war in an instant won't work, so focussing on bringing the troops home over the next year should be concentrated on. The strongest opponents automatically reject that proposal because they claim voters with their decision in November sent the message to end the war immediately. As a result, Congress could cut funding at once or attach tough conditions to a key funding bill. But that may be misinterpreted by the public and ignore reality and it could miss an opportunity to change the course in Iraq that would best serve U.S. and the interest of the world at large.
The U.S. changed its goal before:
In Vietnam, it shifted from retaining an independent South Vietnam allied with the U.S. to withdrawing the American troops in such a that it enabled the South Vietnamese to continue fighting the war.
This is an example were a new set of goals replaced prior ones. In other circumstances, an existing set of goals will be replaced by only vague ideas about the preferred new direction. A period of intermediation follows.
In case of a major new orientation, the representation of the policy problem itself may come under examination, in which case a problem may no longer be declared a problem. Thus, the major (basic) postwar security problem for the United States shifted at some point from containing the Soviet Union to promoting coexistence.
The Democrats could accept the fact that Bush's surge plan is underway and will be very difficult to stop.
There are various possible approaches:
A phased withdrawal coupled with a rapid handoff to the Iraqis
Specific date to find out whether the surge is working
A closer look at the benchmarks the president set, among them taking primary responsibility for security throughout Iraq by November
No matter what difficulties policymakers may find with the existing policy, if they cannot find a means to reduce the problem then change is unlikely. There are two basic approaches to this problem:
1.There can be changes in policy intended to address the problem.
2.There can be changes in the definition of the problem.
Usually, the most often found approach is a change of policy. Sometimes, policymakers explore ways of changing the conduct of the policy while retaining the original goals. A more drastic change occurs, if the goals of the policy themselves are rejected.
It is important to establish plans for what will follow upon the surge. Thereby the U.S. will be given a chance to leave Iraq on its own terms. Democrats now have an opportunity to push policy in that direction, unless they want to come up with alternatives. The focus should be on the military funding bill that goes into effect on Oct1st. It should be used to support three tasks the ISG prescribed:
to train Iraqi troops
to help to secure Iraq's borders
to target al-Qaeda inside Iraq.
The president always states that the U.S. commitment in Iraq is neither open-ended nor unconditional, but so far his politics do not follow suit.
In many cases in foreign policy, an authoritative consensus involves more
than one policymaker but no matter what the number, policy changes cannot
occur and proceed until such consensus has been found. Major shifts in international
political and economic systems can pose significant requirements for the modification
of foreign policy.
Since the mid-80s we have entered a period of human history where not only the rate of change is accelarting in political, social and economic arenas of domestic and international life, but where we are entering an epochale divide.
A New Hope or The Long and Winding Road
During the Cold War, when the U.S. had a coherent strategy to maximize its
own power, the Soviet Union was always there to counter much of that power
with its own initiatives and responses. The Cold War created patterns of mutual
dependence. The U.S. was needed by its allies for their protection but itself
constantly needed the active cooperation of its allies.
But now that the Soviet Union is no more, and Russia tries to follow in its footsteps, there is no equilibrium at all.There had been high hopes that Russia would become part of the club of democracies, but with his critical remarks at the recent security meeting in Munich, President Putin delivered a provocative speech, accusing the U.S. of being an arrogant, dangerous power that is provoking a new nuclear arms race and instability in the Middle East.Russia's oil and gas have given him the economic clout to do so with little fear of retaliation.
For a brief period of time, there was only a multidimensional U.S. supremacy, but the determined pursuit of a power-enhancing global strategy, meaning effective domination by the U.S. is an idea intolerably oppressive for everyone else.
The result as can be seen already is a huge global anti-American sentiment
which turned the U.S. into a potentially sole global superpower. Coalition
building against the United States did acquire influence of a military dimension.
A different kind of global equilibrium marked by 'third party' interests out
of reach at least for now by the U.S..Its inflexible foreign policies of the
past few years did result in further diminution of influence in the Arab region.
Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci once wrote: There is actually a crisis when the old is dying and the new cannot be born. The goal should not be short-term intervention, but long-term pacification.
Events in Iraq may well accelerate dramatically over the next few months
or within a year. The disintegrating economy threatens people at all societal
levels. Damage from the war, the sectorial violence and a self-destructive
attitude have created an unsustainable situation. Only a massive infusion
of relief aid along with continuing economic aid, can sustain it in the longer
term. A rush redeployment of troops with an inflexible timetable is an unsuitable
procedure to accomplish progress.
Political developments in Iraq -as well as in Iran- have profound implications for the U.S. and the Arab region. For that reason, time is overdue to start regular consultations with Iran and Syria at the cabinet as well as subcabinet levels. The United States and its allies need also to keep focussed on the longer term challenges. In particular, one needs to encourage interaction between the private sector and nongovernmental organizations and to seize every opportunity to build interdependence and to foster sports, cultural and other changes.
In short, the United States and other allies need a comprehensive strategy that goes beyond deterrence and non-proliferation and through this strategy, continue to offer the current regime and its successors an opening from the one-way street in which they – and thus the rest of us – are now moving along.