Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Change is NOT On Its Way

My thoughts, in today's International Herald Tribune, as to why no great midterm course corrections are in store should the Democrats take one or both of the houses of Congress ...

An excerpt here:


Sure, the results will determine who gets to call hearings, fill staff positions, oversee budgets, influence presidential appointments and claim a greater share of the attention of the media and lobbyists.

And yes, Democrats have been quite vocal in criticizing how the Bush administration has carried out foreign policy, particularly with regard to Iraq.

But when the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean, says, "The president's freedom agenda has been replaced by the era of incompetence," he doesn't enlighten us as to whether the freedom agenda itself is flawed as a foreign-policy strategy, or whether it is a good and sound approach that has just been poorly executed by the Republicans.
That's a major difference - with major implications for the direction of U.S. policy - and it is not being discussed.

Observe the pre-election campaign. Are politicians having a serious conversation about the costs and benefits of expanding NATO further to the east? About how to deal with a resurgent Russia if we can no longer count on its weakened, debilitated condition of the 1990s to ensure reluctant compliance with U.S. directives? About the way China is reshaping the landscape of East Asia and is increasingly playing a more activist role around the globe? About the desirability of "spreading freedom" in the Middle East?

Are Democrats providing substantially different answers than those given by the Bush team? No, they aren't. Simply compare the statements of Senator Hillary Clinton with those of Senator John McCain and you will see a nearly identical approach to world affairs.

Even with regard to Iraq, there is less debate than meets the eye. With the exception of the few calling for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal, most Democratic proposals seem like kinder, gentler versions of what the president is advocating.
I am not sure precisely how a phased, conditional withdrawal (the consensus Democratic position) differs from President George W. Bush's criteria that "when Iraqis stand up, we stand down."


The full text of In foreign policy, don't hold your breath is available in today's IHT.

Afraid I have to stronlgy disagree. There might be certain points of convergence between Democrats and Republicans on certain issues but the two parties are very far apart on many issues. Would Al Gore have launched the war in Iraq? Wouldn't Democrats be focusing on cooperation as the lodestone for fighting the war on terror? And I think it makes a big difference that Clinton was able to get NATO unanimity for dealing with the Kosovo crisis as opposed to the transparently manufactured "coalition of the willing" for Iraq.
Nick, did you see Harold Meyerson piece in WaPo today? He argues that Dems would move on phased withdrawal for Iraq, energy independence, and other matters where they could put pressure on Republicans to change course. So a different perspective than the one you have.
A Dem victory in midterms will force Bush and Republicans to scale back and to be more amenable to compromise, which I think would be a major step forward.
Nick, I agree with your points. I read Murtha's op-ed in the Post on Sunday. At one point, he says this:

We Democrats are determined to restore our nation's military strength, refocus on the real terrorist threat, bolster security safeguards at home and reestablish the credible standing we once had in the world. That is not defeatist. It is a call to formulate and execute a winning game plan for the War on Terror.

Sounds great, but what does that mean in practice? What specific policies? Details, details ...
Re-read HRC's speech about why she voted for the war resolution in 2002. Certainly made sure to cover all of her bases!
Nick, a problem is that there is no single definition for "Democrats." There are party activists and grass roots folks and some in the House who definitely want major changes in foreign policy; and there are Democratic elites in New York and Washington and in the Senate who don't. The question is who gets to determine policy?

I think that the fate of the Lamont candidacy will have a major impact on that discussion.
Sounds like a Naderite rant--no difference between twiddle-dum and twiddle-dee, right? That's what got us Bush in the first place.
It seems to me that Nick makes a very fair point here. The changes that others refer to are tactical rather than strategic. A phased withdrawal in Iraq will still leave huge instability in the Middle East. Energy independence is a laudable aim, but probably unrealistic. A policy of more constructive and active engagement with rising powers like China, India and Russia as well as US allies in Western Europe, where the United States really listened and did not just preach would be a good start.
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