Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bush's Legacy

Bush can’t be a lame duck

From The Statesman
By ND Batra

The US mid-term election has swept Democrats into power both in the House and the Senate raising hopes that the excesses of the Bush administration, which to a great extent arose out of the events of 9/11, would be corrected.

The election was in fact a serious scrutiny if not a referendum on Bush whether the President’s policy of keeping the course was meeting the policy goals of bringing peace, if not Jeffersonian democracy, to Iraq, without the US troops getting bogged down for long. Recognising that a seismic shift has taken place in the political landscape, Bush withdrew his unflinching support for his embattled Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and discarded him like a worn- out horseshoe.

Only weeks before the elections Bush had asserted that the guy was doing a fine job and the country could not do without him, which was nothing but whistling in the dark. He knew which way the wind was blowing and had to change the course. Seeing the gentle but determined face of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the presumptive Democratic House Speaker, rising as an apparition over his presidential legacy, Bush quickly realised that sticking to the old rhetoric might be part of the problem, and so he put up a new façade of sweet reasonableness and cooperation with Democrats. That’s what makes Bush a deft politician. He is the prime political mover in the country.

The speedy removal of Rumsfeld, who had become a metaphor for whatever went wrong with Iraq, made it easy for Democrats to come to the table and has opened the doors for bipartisan negotiations not only about how best to bring about disengagement in Iraq but also about other contentious domestic issues such as immigration, taxes, healthcare, education, climate change, and China.

Democrats too have begun to realise that the overwhelming electoral victory, which few of them were expecting to the extent they achieved, would make them vulnerable if they failed to make strategic use of their newly attained political power. During the election campaign they had much to complain about but offered few new policy alternatives including on Iraq.

Now that they have power both in the Senate and the House, Democrats have two choices. They could spend the next two years in investigating the failure of pre-war intelligence (WMD) and how the Bush administration conducted the war in Iraq that has led to deeper and unmanageable troubles. Or they could sit with Republicans and the President to find a workable solution how to stabilise Iraq and bring about gradual withdrawal without damaging the US long-term interest in the region. Last spring Congress established a bipartisan committee, The Iraq Study Group, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton of Indiana to work out recommendations for ending sectarian violence and insurgency in Iraq and enabling the US troops to return home.

The group’s recommendations, which are expected to be available by the time the new Democrat-led Congress assumes office in January, would provide a focal point for the White House and Democrats to work together on Iraq.

Democrats don’t have much time before they begin the process of putting their own agenda for the next two years to cement their control over Congress as well as prepare for winning the White House in 2008. Indications are that they would eschew vindictive politics and try to win the hearts and minds of the people so that the next occupant of the White House is a Democrat. They know that most of the voters in the mid-term elections voted against Bush’s conduct of Iraq war rather than in favour of Democrats’ alternative, which they had none to offer. Iraq would play as much a significant role in the 2008 presidential election as it has done in the mid-term elections.

No one believes that Iraq, Afghanistan or terrorism would go away soon, which means that Democrats whether they control Congress or the White House or both in 2008 would have to deal with the international situation, even when they claim that the mess was created by the Bush administration.

In the next two years both Democrats and Republicans, whatever policy issue they contest, whether it is domestic or foreign, would share every failure or success, as it is meant to be according to the system of checks and balances of a divided government. 9/11 diminished freedom in the United States and opened space for President Bush to exercise immense political power during the past six years. He had many successes and made many mistakes, but now it is a question of consolidating the gains in Afghanistan and Iraq, and preserving his legacy; his legacy of going where no one had gone before: into the face of terrorism.

Only the British, and perhaps Indians, understand what terrorism is.

It might be politically unthinkable that Bush would let Vice-President Dick Cheney go at this stage, as he did in the case of Rumsfeld, but it would be wise to turn his Vice-President into a lame duck by letting him remain out of sight for the next two years.

No comments:

Post a Comment