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Profound Failure: Congressional Inability to Debate the Iraq Escalation

Posted by K.E. White on February 6, 2007

 

U.S. Congress

Today a non-binding resolution critical of the Bush administration’s Iraq escalation died in the United States Senate.

Even the support of Sen. John Warner (R-VA) could not propel the bill to the needed sixty votes.

And, therefore, the opportunity for senators to pass symbolic judgment on President Bush’s Iraq policy has vanished.

Many anti-war voices may have used the immortal words of Peggy Lee to describe this weak, non-binding resolution, ‘Is that all there is?’

But they are wrong; and the American republic, based on co-equal branches of federal government, is today weaker.

Indeed, these voices are not without support. The resolution neither pulled the American plug out of Iraq, nor promised to rein in one of the most inept administrations witnessed in American history.

But any progressive that cheers or quick adjustments to this bill’s defeat should know this vote represents a profound political failure. Not only does it represent a still fledging and inept wartime Congress, one that will haunt Americans for years to come, we have anti-war Democrats to thank for this continuing crippling condition.

I’ll start with the latter half of this perhaps controversial claim.

While the media’s first read of this story highlights unified Republican opposition, the unraveling of support may have more to do with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI).

Last Wednesday Sen. Feingold introduced his Iraq Deployment Act of 2007 that called for cutting Iraq funds within six months of its passage.

Feingold’s favored this approach since it 1) would end war quickly and 2) would exercise the constitutional war powers Congress explicitly holds—slamming the national purse shut.

But after decades of erosion to Congress’s wartime role, this approach was little more than anti-war posturing: Geared more for the 2008 primaries than the sentiment of today’s American public.

While some may agree with Feingold’s position, it 1) opened the door for Republican opposition around the banner of supporting troops already deployed and 2) did not represent a useful tool for Congress to reassert itself in wartime oversight.

Imagining how the American people will react to Congress failing to even hold a debate about the Iraq escalation.

Here’s my guess: ‘Is that all there is?’

And opponents of the administration will again be seen as members of a party without a plan.

The Bush administration could not have asked for a better rhetorical launching point for their failing plan.

But had the newly elected majority pulled off the sixty vote tally tonight for Sen. Warner’s compromise position, it would have represented a historic development in congressional-executive relation.

It would show, at a critical moment in American history, the Congress offering a strategic counter-weight to the President.

Could this momentum lead to the guarantee of active debate over half-baked national security strategies (read: the Iraq “debate” of 2003), regardless of a president’s momentarily popularity?

That is now a question relegated to history books.

But, for a few, concerns over who would be President in 2008 trumped both the matter at hand and the long-term health of our republic.

Am I holding one party to a higher standard than the other?

Absolutely.

The nation has gone through too long a period in the wilderness, and hungers progress too much to have excuses wipe legislators’ hands clean.

That is unless, following the words of Miss Lee, we should tolerate a nation that sacrifices even more to the marvelously tragic spectacle that Iraq now represents:

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And when I was 12 years old, my father took me to a circus. The greatest show on earth.
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears.
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.
And so I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle.
I had the feeling that something was missing.
I don’t know what, but when it was over,
I said to myself, ‘Is that all there is to a circus?’

 

This post also appears on Campus Progress.

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Posted in Bush administration, Congress, Democratic Party, Foreign Policy, Iraq, neoconservatism, Republican Party, Wartime Powers | 3 Comments »

America’s Responsibility? Egyptian Blogger Starts His Sedition Trial Today

Posted by K.E. White on January 19, 2007

Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman, the first blogger charged for dissent in Egypt, started hisAbdelkareem Nabil Soliman trial today.

insulting the president” owing from his Egyptian blog, in which he was critical of Soliman is facing charges of “inciting sedition, insulting Islam, harming national unity and government policies.

Look here for more information Soliman’s case, the Bush administration’s silence on the matter, a video describing his plight, and the efforts to free him.

The story, given the backdrop of a failed neo-conservative paradigm in Iraq, has opened questions about the usefulness of a “realist” approach in American diplomacy.

I. The Question that Plagues American Foreign Policy

Boiled down, the question comes to this:

Does American support for Egypt in this instance–a “stable” country with strong ties to America–show us violating fundamental American values in the name of stability.

Democracy Arsenal’s Shadi Hamid weighs in, opting to table the fundamental question for a (perhaps justified) jab at the Bush Administration and “realists” of any party:Shadi Hamid

 

As Zvika points out in his latest post, there’s been some renewed talk about (maybe) putting pressure on the Egyptian government. Unfortunately, such talk is not coming from the “end-tyranny-now” Bush administration, which continues to show that it isn’t – and never was – serious about democracy in the Middle East. For those such as Flynt Leverett, who think that “realism has become the truly progressive position on foreign policy,” this may be a welcome development. No more messianism, mission, and – for millions of Arabs – not so much to hope for.

I hope someone can tell me how “progressive” this video is. Be forewarned that this is a clip of Egyptian authorities sodomizing a man with some kind of rod. It’s one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen in awhile. Democracy Arsenal readers will, of course, know that the US gives the Egyptian government upwards of $2 billion of aid each year. But will Democrats have anything to say about our “friends” in Egypt using our American dollars to sodomize political opponents? Don’t hold your breath. It would also be nice if one of the prospective Democratic nominees for 2008 calls out Bush/Condi on their hypocrisy.

 

II. Answering the Question–Clearing Up Our Terms

Here Hamid confuses the realist approach with a realist world view–by which I guess he means favoring short-term stability over fundamental human rights or liberal values.

 

Michael Lind—author or The American Way of Strategy – reminds us that realism is an approach, one that can be led in many directions. When Hamid assails “realists,” he assails though that use certain methods that allow Egypt the right to detain Soliman:

Michael Lind

Properly understood, realism consists merely of a set of methods [hegemony, concert of power, balance of power] used in power politics. The tools of realism can be used to promote a world based on freedom or one based on tyranny. Realism is like a knife, which can be used by a criminal to torture or kill or by a surgeon to save a life. Statesmen with radically different goals and visions of world order may be realists, in the sense that they follow the logic of realism for tactical or strategic reasons…

Properly defined, realism should not be confused with nineteenth-century German school of Machtpolitik (power politics), which held that an untrammeled state should maximize its power at all costs….American realism is a strategic doctrine that has as its purpose the preservation of the republican liberal way of life of the American people, not the maximization of the relative power of the United States. (37-38)

But this semantic reification doesn’t really answer the question at hand: does this news event show American foreign policy failing and being immoral?

Lind reminds us to add two dimensions when answering the question: time and resources.

Most would agree that America should push for a liberal democratic world, but timing can be everything.

Does allowing or feeding pro-democracy protests in Egypt help Egypt? I don’t know–but clearly, as is the case in Pakistan, the results could power to Islamic radicals or start a civil war.

III. Finding America’s Role in the World:

Should America’s limited resources be spent in this case?

Again I go to Lind for guidance:

Liberal internationalism can protect American’s republican way of life even if all sovereign states are not liberal states, much less liberal states that, like the United States, are also democratic republics. Americans have always believed that liberal states are superior in the abstract to illiberal states, and that among liberal states those with democratic republican constitutions are the best. But wise American statesmen have recognized that a liberal society requires the achievement of certain social conditions, and that the preconditions for a democratic republican liberal state are even more difficult to achieve. In the meantime time, the priority of the United States is the preservation of the post-imperial society of sovereign states, not crusades for liberalism or democracy. (253)

Of all the problems in the Middle East–the Iraq War, the Israel-Palestinian crisis, and Lebanon–would intervening in this case be a purely cosmetic move?

Conclusions

Big Picture, Please: Looking at one event cannot tell us whether American foreign policy is moral or immoral, let alone effective or ineffective.

Nuanced Strategy: Put liberalism–respect for individual rights within the state–before democracy–a form of government that may or may not be liberal.

And as to the Soliman dilemma: America should exert all reasonable pressure to alleviate the wrongs committed to this individual. But we must recognize that this evident is the result of many processes–not all of which America can be expected to control (Egypt’s domestic political situation, the threat of Islamic radicalism, and a over-stretched and largely undesired–by those in the region and now at home–American presence in the Middle East).

But should anyone who cares about this case learn more, urge Congressmen to act, let alone write the White House?

Yes.

But let’s hope that these same people will also think about the complicated issues at hand, form their arguments soundly and rationally vote for our leaders in future elections.

Forging any foreign policy, let a lone a “progressive” one, is a tall order–requiring time, energy, and hard work on some of the world’s most troubling and thorny dilemmas.

Posted in Conservativism, Iran, Iraq, Republican Party, Soliman, Terrorism, Wartime Powers | Leave a Comment »

The Fight for the Conservative Soul: Are We on the Cusp of a Two Progressive-Party System?

Posted by K.E. White on January 17, 2007

In the wake of the 2006 election cycle, the Republican Party’s soul is up for grabs.

And the battle to define it may prove to be just as important to the progressive cause as the performance of the new Congress.Michael Gerson

Below you will find sections from deuling articles by Michael Gerson, former chief speech writer of President George W. Bush, and Jurgen Reinhoudt, a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.

The lines seem clear: old school conservatives of the Goldwater variety, verses a milder, and seemingly progressive Chafee-sque party cadre–or, far less charitably, of the Podhoretzian neo-conservative ilk.

While a relatively minor war of words, the deeper conversation these passages represent may prove politically–and progressively–profound in the 2008.

From Gerson’s Christmas-day feature in Newsweek:

Campaigning on the size of government in 2008, while opponents talk about health care, education and poverty, will seem, and be, procedural, small-minded, cold and uninspired. The moral stakes are even higher. What does antigovernment conservatism offer to inner-city neighborhoods where violence is common and families are rare? Nothing. What achievement would it contribute to racial healing and the unity of our country? No achievement at all. Anti-government conservatism turns out to be a strange kind of idealism–an idealism that strangles mercy.

But there is another Republican Party–what might be called the party of the governors. It is the party of Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, who has improved the educational performance of minority students and responded effectively to natural disasters. It is the party of Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who mandated basic health insurance while giving subsidies to low-income people. Neither of these men embrace big government; both show convincing outrage at wasteful spending. But they have also succeeded in making government work in essential government roles–not a small thing in a post-Katrina world.

The future of the Republican Party depends on which party it wants to be–the party of purity, or the party of the governors. In that decision, Republicans should consider: any political movement that elevates abstract antigovernment ideology above human needs is hardly conservative, and unlikely to win.

Reinhoudt’s retort–from his article, When Christian Socialists Attack:

Gerson claims he is concerned about compassion and charitable benevolence. If he is, let him look at the glowing dynamism and strength of the American civil society, which is so strong only because the U.S. government (unlike European governments) is still relatively small. The civil society is the social glue that holds a society with individualist economic policies together: it is the informal network of neighborhood associations, churches, charities, and philanthropic institutions that help good causes and those in need. The strength of American civil society, worth more than $260 billion in 2005 (about $500 billion if you include the estimated dollar value of volunteer time), shows us that compassion and human kindness do not vanish in a free-market system…

Gerson writes that small-government conservatism is “a political movement that elevates abstract antigovernment ideology above human needs.” In assuming that human needs will go unmet but for government intervention, Gerson falls victim to an old socialist fallacy. Frederic Bastiat, the great French free-market economist, wrote about this philosophical fallacy in 1850:

Socialism, like the old policy from which it emanates, confounds Government and society. And so, every time we object to a thing being done by Government, it concludes that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of education by the State–then we are against education altogether… We object to an equality which is brought about by the State then we are against equality, etc… They might as well accuse us of wishing men not to eat, because we object to the cultivation of corn by the State.”

Reinhoudt should have given greater focus to the substance of Gerson’s article (the status of American civil society)–he instead opts for stereotypical and superficial views of the American and European welfare states (for those interested, the scholarly work of Jacob Hacker proves quite helpful).

But ideological debates are often immune to such criticims: They view facts through a highly emotional lense, emphasizing the hope for a radical, untested future over today’s imperfect reality.

In either case, this war of words is significant: being long-lasting, and boasting loyal adherents on each side.

Is this a real and consequential Republican divide? Or merely clashing appearances of the same conservative ideology?

Republished from Campus Progress.

Posted in American Enterprise Institute, Michael Gerson, Republican Party | 1 Comment »