Food for Thought
After the Euphoria...
There have been few US elections where the world's population heaved such a collective sigh of relief, as that which emanated from the Democrats' resounding victory at recent mid-term elections. Not only did the Democratic Party gain a majority in the Congress and the House of Representatives for the first time in many years, they also gained 20 of the 36 governorships. The midterms also established a number of milestones such as the election of the first Muslim member of Congress, and the appointment of the first female Speaker of the House. All in all, it came as a breath of fresh air in an increasingly suffocating political atmosphere created by the neoconservative dominance of Washington.
For those of us who do not subscribe to extremism in any form, the recent record of US foreign policy has been anything but encouraging. In a uni-polar world, sophisticated arguments such as "If you're not with us, you're against us" somehow failed to reassure moderates the world over, let alone liberals within America! So the promise by Nancy Pelosi, the new Speaker of the House of Representatives to "restore civility, integrity and financial responsibility" to government was long overdue, and received with general enthusiasm...
The first casualties of these winds of change have already become evident. The breathtaking arrogance of the neocon clique in government was perhaps best personified by the abrasive Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary so proudly presiding over the Iraq debacle. Notwithstanding his early boasts about defeating the insurgents in Iraq, the spiralling destruction of that country continues almost unchecked. And yet, just a few days before the electoral defeat, Mr Bush had vowed to keep the Pentagon chief in his post until the end of his term in January 2009.
Consequently, despite the Commander-in-Chief's insistence that Mr Rumsfeld had served "with honour and distinction", it was with the greatest of pleasure that many saw an unwilling Mr Rumsfeld resign from his post immediately after the midterms. His resignation also led to hopes being raised that the Vice President, Dick Cheney, would be the next head to roll - as a fellow architect of the Iraq war. Whether or not that happens, Hillary Clinton's response to Cheney's recent prediction that (whatever the outcome of the elections) the administration would continue "full speed ahead", met with an appreciative response from her audience, as she retorted, "I think the American people have said "Not so fast!" (UK Independent)
All of this, of course begs the question of "what next?" - not least in terms of the administration's beleaguered Iraq policy. Mr Bush admitted that the outcome of the midterms had been a "thumping" for his party, but it remains to be seen whether this will translate into a change of course in policy terms, particularly since he avoided endorsing the Democrats' call for a "change of direction" in Iraq, on the occasion of Mr Rumsfeld's resignation. He did however admit that Iraq was "not working well enough, fast enough" (a slight understatement perhaps...?)
After violence that has led to the deaths of nearly 3000 US troops, 120 British soldiers and perhaps as many as 655,000 Iraqis (UK Independent), there can be little doubt that things are seriously out of control in that country. Each day brings further news of carnage and chaos. And there are likely to be no easy answers on how to proceed.
Some Democrats, such as the ex-marine John Murtha, have called for an immediate withdrawal of troops. It is hard not to suspect that this approach (while quite understandable on the part of those who never supported the invasion), is in most cases at least partially motivated by the losses incurred by US forces on the ground.
In turn, this raises the question of how any nation can expect to go to war, and not to incur losses! As it is, the asymmetry between the most powerful nation in the world, and a country already crippled by a mad dictator and long-term sanctions would be hard to miss. The statistic mentioned earlier clearly indicates that the ratio between the loss of life of US soldiers and Iraqi civilians is nothing short of obscene...
Other Democrats, such as the former presidential candidate John Kerry, favour a timed withdrawal from Iraq, arguing that it will allow Iraqi forces some time to achieve a greater state of preparedness to take over. At least the latter approach acknowledges US responsibility for what one American commentator and humourist has referred to as "Mess-O-Potamia" (though the optimism implied in expecting a weak Iraqi regime to take over a situation that has become increasingly unmanageable for the occupying forces, is nothing short of foolhardy)!
It is now expected that the study group headed by former Secretary of State James Baker will make recommendations on the way ahead, and that these are likely to focus on establishing contact with other key players in the region - including Syria and Iran, long-established as card-carrying members of the so-called "Axis of Evil" (as defined by the Bush administration). Clearly, what goes around comes around...
However much one may appreciate the irony of such a possibility, and possibly even relish seeing this administration eat its words in terms of its previous attitudes toward "rogue" nations like Iran, it remains questionable whether even such a dramatic shift in policy approaches will yield the means to salvage the situation in Iraq.
As one Democratic Congressman, Tom Lantos put it, "You can't unscramble the omelette, and the tremendous mistakes that were made after major military operations...I don't see any magical solutions."
Alas, therein lies the tragedy for the Iraqi people, the real victims in this mess.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006