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November 06, 2006

We Win: Then What?
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Whether progressives triumph in one or two houses of Congress tomorrow, they will immediately face tough questions about what to do next on the thorny foreign policy questions that have dominated the campaign.  Here are ten quick pieces of advice:

1. Don't Overstate the Influence of Congress Over Foreign Policy Making - Foreign policy is the responsibility of the executive branch.  Even in the majority, progressives will not be at the helm and shouldn't pretend to be.  Particularly given the hard-headedness of this administration (Dick Cheney's "full steam ahead" comment on Iraq yesterday epitomizes it) progressives should not pretend to enjoy more sway than they do.  For example, there's been lots of talk of a regional conference to activate Iraq's neighbors on behalf of stability.  That will be tough to make work, but especially so for an Administration that still won't admit what's gone wrong.

2. Don't Let Anyone Forget How We Got Here - The reason the American public is contemplating switching horses absent what many pundits thought was essential to progressive victory: namely, a consensus plan for Iraq, is that they have come to blame the Administration for creating an insoluble crisis.  Iraq will get likely get worse before it gets better, and a changeover on Capital Hill cannot undo most of the mistakes already made.   We need a bipartisan approach to digging out from the crisis, but should not lose sight of who got us into it.

3. Don't Expect an Easy Out From Iraq - Lots of progressives have been speaking as though some tough talk to the al-Maliki government in Iraq will get it to step up to the plate, get security under control, and allow us to exit without a complete meltdown into sectarian violence.  While I don't pretend to know to what degree the Iraqi government's failings are attributable to lack of will versus lack of competence, it seems certain that regardless, the problem will not be solved.  While it may make good campaign rhetoric, its not plausible that the government is willfully allowing their country to devolve into chaos but, with the right stern words, will suddenly reverse course and get things under control.  Short of that all scenarios are pretty bleak.

4.  Be Honest with the American Public - Half-truths got us into Iraq, but they won't get us out.  With greater control in the Congress, progressives will have the authority to unpack the Administration's statements and claims and let the public in on the truth about how the war effort is going, what the likely consequences of withdrawal will be, and what needs to be done to mitigate them.

5.  Look for a Handful of Tangible Ways to Push Policy in the Right Direction - Rather than trying to pull off a miracle in Iraq, progressives should focus on preventing the White House from digging us deeper into the whole, and on some tangible steps to address the worst of the policy lapses.  A few specifics:

5.a Lead on Afghanistan - Rapid deterioration in political and security conditions in Afghanistan is a disaster in the making, yet out-and-out crisis is still preventable.  The NATO Commander in Chief is begging for more help training troops and police and building up civil society.   The Administration has not had the bandwidth for Afghanistan to be more than an afterthought, but progressives in Congress could change this.

5.b Take a Hard-Line on Corruption and Waste in Iraq and Elsewhere - Friday's headline that the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction was being shunted from office is the latest evidence of the Administration's utter disregard for the rights of taxpayers who are funding the Iraq War, and its compulsion to protect defense contractors and lax Pentagon overseers.

5.c Support the Troops - Overblown though it was, Senator Kerry's accidental insult to the troops serving in Iraq had an undercurrent of truth to it:  our military is manned disproportionately by Americans who enjoy less means and fewer educational opportunities.  There have been numerous proposals to limit the burdens of extended deployment, reinvigorate the GI bill and improve benefits for veterans.

5.d Talk Directly to the Military - Our men and women in uniform are taking brave steps to make themselves heard in the Iraq debate.  They are the best source of information about what's gone wrong and whether and how it can be fixed.  Their support will be essential to the success of any progressive attempts at course correction.   Building up these ties will also pay political dividends in the long-term.

5.e  Iraq Damage Control - Regardless of when America's pull-out from Iraq begins, the central challenge going forward will be to minimize the inevitable chaos that reins now and will prevail in our wake.  By expediting priority reconstruction projects, pushing for a political settlement to govern Iraqi oil revenues, and advocating greater engagement by Iraq's neighbors in the stabilization process, progressives can pave the way for a smoother withdrawal, regardless of whose watch it happens on.

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If the Dems win the House I fully expect our Middle East foreign policy problems to worsen because the Dems are complicit Zionist agents salivating for war with Iran, Syria, Lebanon and any other designated Israeli enemy. There would be no relief in our misguided forced occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, which the Dems support, albeit "more efficiently." In short, there's more money to be made--what could be more American that that?

I just re-read the header--"SECURITY AND PEACE INTIATIVE." Really? Is there an advocate for peace present? Please stand up and be recognized. I haven't seen a peace advocate recently.

This strategy is far too passive Suzanne.

Up until now, the Presidency and both houses of Congress have been controlled by the Republicans. So clearly there is no one else for the public to blame for the mess in Iraq.

Starting tomorrow, that all changes. Republicans will begin shifting and sharing as much of the the blame as they can, from the very moment the new Congress is sworn in. If Democrats support some Presidential decision in Iraq, they will share the blame when it doesn't work. If they fail to support the President, they will be blamed for a stab in the back if the President's policy fails - as it almost surely will. Either way, if they allow the President to continue to call the tune, they will pay the price.

So I don't think it will be adequate for Democrats to lie low and remind the public that Republicans got us into this mess, and that foreign policy is the job of the executive branch anyway (which by the way is not true; the constitution establishes abundant congressional powers in the conduct of foreign policy.) The public is rip-snortin' angry about Iraq, and in a mood to hate on any national politicians, of whichever party, who are perceived as part of the problem. They are throwing out a bunch of the old guys because they want something done about Iraq - now. Whoever is standing in the way is going to get shredded.

The Democrats are just going to have to face this challenge head on. They are going to have to claim an immediate public mandate to fix the Iraq problem. They have to roll the dice, act aggressively to seize the policy-making initiative, respond to the public mood, and wrest control of Iraq policy away from the executive branch. And they are going to have to act decisively and unilaterally to do something regarding Iraq that is a demonstrable improvement over the Bush handling of the war.

They should send delegations to meet with leaders of other countries. They should have nummerous public hearings, not just on the corruption and incompetence of the Bush administration and its handling of the war, but as part of a visible pro-active effort to assume the chief responsibility for the overall management of Iraq policy. They need to move new foreign policy leaders like Jim Webb up quickly and put them front and center. If they don't take the Senate, they need to recruit support from moderate Republican Senators like Chaffee and Hagel, and make it clear that the public has voted decisively for a change of course, and that Republicans who block the new Democratic mandate will be tarred as obstructionists and blamed for their criminal "stay the course" idiocy. Even more conservative figures like McCain, who have ambitions for higher office, will ditch the executive branch and get with the program once they see which way the wind is blowing.

This is a very tall order, and a high risk strategy. But I'm afraid the choices are between acting aggressively and decively, or getting trampled by history. If Iraq is worse in 2008 than it is today, nobody will even remember that the Republicans are the ones who created the mess. The Democrats will then be the new bums then, and the public will throw them out.

The democrats don't even have to wait for the new Congress. Their top Congressional "stars" should hold a press conference tomorrow night, and claim a mandate for a change of course. While the president continues to have the constitutional responsibility as Commander-in-Chief, the vote should be interpreted as the public's decision to in effect relieve Bush of command.

By expediting priority reconstruction projects, pushing for a political settlement to govern Iraqi oil revenues, and advocating greater engagement by Iraq's neighbors in the stabilization process, progressives can pave the way for a smoother withdrawal...


I'd like to hear more about "advocating greater engagement" for Iraq's neighbors. Are you willing to offer Iran anything? Syria? Asking Turkey to become more involved is certain to upset the Kurds.

BTW Dan, it's an interesting plan, but passivity has probably won the Dems this election, and I don't see them changing their "strategy" now. (They didn't when they lost.)

We also need to seriously clean up the election system. This is the 4th national election in a row in which the issues are apt to be less of a deciding factor than the GOP screwing with the voting system. I'm getting pretty sick of it, myself.

Boy, for a peace initiative you folks sure have a sober--gonna have to sweat out this war a couple more years-- attitude. Like everything else that can only work as a mass movement OUTSIDE the two corporate run partes, you get sucked into the democratic party vortex and the next thing you know your peace movement becomes just that--a tortise-like movement, slowly working, within the system, towards peace...sometime...somewhere...someday.

Um, howler, ALL peace movements have been slow affairs. Sorry to disillusion you. Working outside the system is a necessary component, but it's just as *slow* as working inside the system -- and it's best when people are doing *both at once*.


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