‘Careful’ and ‘Responsible’ foreign policy flusters GOP

“…we have a phased redeployment, where we’re as careful getting out as we were careless getting in…”
– Sen. Barack Obama, during the 2008 presidential campaign, referring to his plan for withdrawal from Iraq, in an interview with Politico before the Potomac Primaries, Feb. 11, 2008.

“As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end, for the sake of our national security, and to strengthen American leadership around the world.”
– President Obama, announcing the end to the Iraq War, with all troops coming home by the end of the year, Friday, October 21, 2011.

No aircraft carrier. No glorious banner. Just a man announcing the resolution of a campaign promise, standing at the podium in the White House briefing room. What a refreshing change. Less than three years after taking his oath of office, President Obama announced today that not only he, but the nation he leads, our nation, “keeps its commitments.”

By doing so, he said, “the United States is moving forward from a position of strength.” That goes not only for the Iraqi theater, but also on the wide and brightly lit stage of global politics.

For his political opponents, though, all the president’s victories are framed as failures. It doesn’t matter how measured the delivery, or how much these foreign policy resolutions raise America’s stock in the eyes of our global partners, the GOP is ready to throw mud on it.

Getting bin Laden was a failure for Obama because he rejected “harsh interrogation techniques;” helping a NATO mission to get rid of Gaddafi was, according to former UN Ambassador John Bolton, a “massive strategic failure;” and today’s announcement has been greeted by Republican presidential primary candidate Mitt Romney as an “astonishing failure” of negotiation with the Iraqis, who could not get their parliament to agree on taking out the trash, much less protecting US troops from war crimes charges that would obviously be against our national interest. Romney actually called the president’s efforts at securing an agreement “sheer ineptitude.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) at least attempted to point out that it’s the Iraqis who failed, here, while he also blamed his former opponent. “It is a consequential failure of both the Obama Administration,” he said, “as well as the Iraqi government.”

We are no longer welcome in Iraq, and no amount of blood-lust pride is worth the arm twisting it would take to make their government work the way we would like. It was their deadline to meet, under the agreement negotiated by the Bush Administration, and they could not meet it. But the GOP and other right wing war machine have adopted the anachronistic, imperial view, that as long as we’re in charge, and we have guns, things will go our way. Might makes right is a basic tenet of their thinking, whether they’re talking about foreign policy or domestic issues. As conservative über-blogger Andrew Breitbart ranted in September, “We outnumber [liberals] in this country, and we have the guns.”

Breitbart, of course, is wrong. Guns don’t rule. People do. He is influenced by the same Second Amendment radicalism as the politicians, who operate under the influence of the diesel fumes and gunpowder smoke their perpetual campaigns must inhale to live. They are like ostriches on a pipe dream, still unwilling to accept that in our shrunken world, we can no longer be lulled by 1950s style, commie-behind-every-tree, mom and apple pie, Madison Avenue icons, nor can we be bullied into believing what is best for captains of industry is best for us.

President Obama talks with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq during a secure video teleconference in the Situation Room of the White House, during which he informed the Iraqi president of the decision to withdraw all forces by the end of the year. Oct. 21, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Iraq was Bush and Cheney’s war of revenge. It was a war to put money in the pockets of big government contractors, like Haliburton, Kellogg, Brown & Root, and Blackwater. The failure to reach terms with the Iraqi parliament affects them as much as the troops. Should they continue to work for the State Department, they would no longer have any kind of diplomatic protection. Ironic, perhaps, because it is precisely because of Blackwater’s alleged overreaction in a Baghdad firefight, in 2007, which killed 17 Iraqi civilians, that blew away any chance of criminal immunity for America’s military, or the contractors who work for them.

“The tide of war is receding,” in our major foreign involvements, Obama reiterated, today. But as long as our Congress remains as dysfunctional as the Iraqi parliament, the ship of state will remain painfully aground, here, for there will be no reciprocal rising tide to lift us. Welcome to the economy, a new kind of quagmire.



The modern Republican – an American problem

The new Republican party is an albatross of ideological intransigence. It is an anchor that lists the ship of governance as far to the right as it can, until it starts to take on water. The threat not to raise the debt limit, that enables the federal government to pay our debts, has pulled the starboard deck rail far enough below the water line, that Standard & Poors has already said it may not wait until we miss the August 2 deadline to downgrade the nation’s credit rating.

Recognizing “the dynamics of the political debate on the debt ceiling,” S&P explained, after putting the United States on its CreditWatch list, Thursday, “there is at least a one-in-two likelihood that we could lower the long-term rating on the U.S. within the next 90 days.”

While we wouldn’t exactly be in the junk bond category of countries like Ireland and Portugal, the Los Angeles Times said downgrading the U.S. credit rating would mean “America would be considered less creditworthy than Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Norway and Australia.”

Even if the president and Congress reach an agreement, the nation’s credit rating may still be brought down, the ratings agency said, “if we conclude that future adjustments to the debt ceiling are likely to be the subject of political maneuvering to the extent that questions persist about Congress’ and the Administration’s willingness and ability to timely honor the U.S.’ scheduled debt obligations.”

That could be read as a direct reference to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s controversial plan to raise the debt limit in stages. Indeed, it’s the politics of taxation and government spending that got us into this mess to begin with.

Democrats in the 110th Congress were so afraid that voting to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire on the wealthiest Americans would cost them the 2010 election, they did nothing to attack the deficit. They allowed themselves to be painted into a corner during the lame duck, which forced the president to compromise with the stubborn Republicans, which he did, without much of a fight.

highway to high roadIn doing that, President Obama taught the elephants in Congress that if they hold the line, he will cave. On the other hand, he’s the one who is showing flexibility by putting entitlement programs on the table when the GOP won’t even talk about revenue increases, and he expects voters to notice that. “I think,” he said in Friday’s press conference, “increasingly the American people are going to say to themselves, you know what, if a party or a politician is constantly taking the position ‘my way or the highway,’ constantly being locked into ideologically rigid positions, that we’re going to remember at the polls.”

The GOP may be telling the president to hit the highway, but, ironically, most Americans believe he has taken the high road in this debate. Calling for “a balanced approach, shared sacrifice, and a willingness to make unpopular choices,” in his weekly address, Saturday, most Americans believe, is the right attitude, the adult attitude.

Recent surveys bare this out. A Quinnipiac poll, released Thursday, noted that 67% of respondents felt that “an agreement to raise the debt ceiling should include tax hikes for the wealthy and corporations, not just spending cuts.” A Gallup poll, released Wednesday, seems to agree with those findings, showing that only 20% of those surveyed thought that deficits should be cut with spending cuts alone. Sixty-nine percent, Gallup found, think that at least some, mostly, or equal tax increases should be included.

“I’ve put things on the table that are important to me and to Democrats,” Obama said, Saturday, “and I expect Republican leaders to do the same.” Americans agree. It’s the reasonable thing to do, if one intends to be part of the solution. After all, the saying goes, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.