Democrats Can Restore Bipartisan Foreign Policy With 2006 Victory
Graphic courtesy of PIPA
Today we find out that Muqtada al-Sadr, after meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki yesterday, indicated his assessment of that government by taking the southern town of Amarah. The AP reports that General Peter Pace said yesterday that Donald Rumsfeld “leads in a way that the Good Lord tells him is best for our country.” General, did the Good Lord tell Rummy how to run Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, tell Rummy to set Osama free at Tora Bora, or to consign our troops to death and misery in Iraq with inadequate equipment and too few troops? Over three years after Bush sacked Eric Shinseki for suggesting that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to take and hold Iraq, and facing the reality that 70% of the public rejects his foreign policy and a new Congress will no longer rubber stamp those failures, Bush tries a last-minute Hail Mary to show voters he isn’t inflexible.
The Pentagon is led by senior military leadership beholden to Rumsfeld and who remain silent rather than doing what is right for the armed forces they manage. But they, like Rumsfeld, will soon be dealing with a new environment in this country and a new direction in Iraq and foreign policy. Yesterday Tony Snow said the Bush Administration would basically blow its nose on James Baker’s Iraq Study Group recommendations. Today’s Washington Post reports that there is a growing consensus among those outside the administration that our Iraq policy will change after the election. Regardless of what Bush, Cheney, or Snow think or say, they will be more and more isolated by 41’s team and the rest of the Beltway’s foreign policy professionals. Such a shift would be reflective of what the country wants as a whole. A new poll finds that large majorities of the public wants the new Congress to take this country back to a bipartisan foreign policy, and to reject the Bush Administration’s militaristic approach to world crises. At a time when Bush has allowed Condi Rice more rope to work with others to solve problems like North Korea, his past militarism over diplomacy has now turned the public against his management of foreign affairs for the remainder of his lame-duck presidency.
The Post story indicates a broad bipartisan desire to dump the failing “stay the course” and “secure Baghdad” strategies after the election and to vigorously pursue alternatives, regardless of what the White House wants to do. It seems preordained that despite any White House objections to the Iraq Study Group recommendations, Congress will use the issuance of that report in January as the launching point to reclaim a strong role in foreign policy. A phased withdrawal and redeployment, as John Murtha advocated months ago, will be front and center in those discussions, as will a regional economic and security conference, a “no permanent bases/no permanent troops” commitment from this country, and a power-sharing relationship between the Shiites, the Sunnis, and the Kurds that can lead to a regional government structure. But the simple truth is that due to his mismanagement and gross ineptitude, Bush has no good policy choices in Iraq, and the best that John McCain can offer is to put in more troops, which would doom the GOP for years.
This leads to an interesting choice for the Democrats, who may find themselves in charge of one or both houses and in a position to drive the foreign policy debate for the first time in six years. The PIPA poll referenced above makes it clear that the public wants a bipartisan and moderate foreign policy based on diplomacy and leadership, and not a Congress that rubber-stamps Bush’s misadventures and bad policy choices. This creates a huge opportunity for Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to seize the center and build a consensus-based alternative foreign policy that can draw moderate Republicans in both houses and box in the Bush Administration these final two years. It is the wise course for Democrats to seize the center on foreign policy after the election and assemble bipartisan majorities in both houses that can isolate 43’s team with the support of 41’s people. Such an approach would help Democrats in 2008 and lead to a break-up of the GOP.
This does not mean that Democrats should abandon their principles and their change agenda on domestic issues. Two good pieces in this month’s American Prospect point out that thanks to Tom DeLay’s institutional changes in the House, Nancy Pelosi is actually in a position to put together a strong Democratic caucus based on party discipline that can push a change agenda during the next two years and force the White House to block this agenda. Sending the White House a major fix of the Medicare Part D program, a minimum wage hike, and a revamped energy policy calling for energy independence based on alternate sources as well as measures to eliminate congressional corruption and K Street abuses are good places to start. In addition, much policy will be driven by the oversight activities of a Democratic House and Senate looking into the abuses and misdeeds of the Bush Administration these last six years through hearings and inquiries. And this will come at a time when the GOP is on the verge of already breaking apart.
The key point is that Democrats will be a position after the election to institute oversight and their reform agenda on domestic policy, while also restoring a bipartisan, consensus-driven foreign policy. Both moves would not only drive a wedge in the GOP between the newly empowered moderates and the marginalized wingers, but also restore the public’s confidence that Democrats share their values and can effectively lead the government at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in 2009.