With so many moderate Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats tossed from office, the next two years will see both sides break against the middle. The problem, of course, is that we are the middle. With two years of guaranteed political gridlock ahead of us and a sluggish economic forecast for 2011, decisive action from Washington on domestic issues will be near impossible. Equally troubling is that the knots that tie our nation together are quickly becoming undone. The more we struggle to achieve consensus on domestic issues, the less pressing foreign policy will seem—and the more dangerous the world will become.
A snapshot of the globe right now paints a terrifying picture, with nearly every country dealing with civil unrest and a pitiful economy. The cracks are beginning to show. Sectarian hostility in Iraq is intensifying as it has yet to establish a centralized government and the United States has officially tapped out. The absence of a strong Iraq has emboldened the fundamentalist leadership of Iran despite reports of widespread unrest among civilians troubled by the lack of civil liberties. Meanwhile, the political vacuum in Pakistan, exacerbated by a slew of natural disasters, has made it one of the most unstable countries on the planet. All of this is a backdrop to one of the worst impasses in recent Palestinian/Israeli/U.S. relations, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is trying to piece back together with chewing gum and paperclips.
And that’s just one part of the Earth.
If we don’t take action and pay closer attention to our surroundings, bigger issues than health care and extending the Bush-era tax cuts await. These issues require a deeper understanding of global issues. This is the time for intellectuals, not cowboys. But according to research conducted by ThinkProgress.org, a liberal policy website, 50 percent of the incoming freshmen House Republicans “deny the existence of man-made climate change” and 86 percent are “opposed to any climate change legislation.” Further, 39 percent of them have “declared their intention to end the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship.” Awesome. Big thinkers indeed.
Barack Obama is a big thinker. He has big thoughts but has an even bigger problem: himself. He can’t seem to get out of his own way, and seems incapable of blowing his stack even though most of us wish he would. At least, then he would look human. But if the president doesn’t start aggressively speaking out now and warn the nation that the world is in peril, he will indeed be a one-term president. And it won’t be because of the economy, it will be because all hell is breaking loose.
In terms of foreign policy, he has a terrific grasp of international relations. His instinct to stabilize the situation in Pakistan by creating a more economically vibrant India, for example, suggests a profound grasp of global politics.
Our most recent experience in Iraq is the perfect illustration of this clear-minded thinking. Had the Bush administration ousted Saddam Hussein simply on the basis of denying access to U.N. nuclear inspectors and not the tenuous presence of weapons of mass destruction, a new political structure could have been implemented in Baghdad without dismantling the entire physical and political infrastructure of the nation. One of the prevailing sentiments among the generals who led the war in Iraq is that the Iraqi military and police personnel had allegiance to the Ba’athist regime primarily through fear, not ideology or respect, and would have been useful in maintaining order. If the trio of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had listened to their generals and taken control of the existing government and military instead of leveling the entire nation, a sustained diplomatic and political presence in Iraq would have given the U.S. the reputation of “liberator” instead of “occupier.” All told, we could have maintained the moral high ground in Iraq and, more importantly, prevented its total economic collapse.
The lesson here: A more stable Iraq equals a more cautious Iran. Likewise, a stable India equals a Pakistan more focused on competing within the region and protecting itself from a natural, regional enemy and less dependent on America. And so on and so forth throughout the world.
But having spent all of his political capital on a shoddy but well-intentioned health care bill, Obama lacks the power or the funding to make any significant global power plays, let alone push a domestic agenda for the next two years. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden can keep their fingers in the dam for only so long. When the flood comes, we’ll see just how bad the Bush-era foreign policy decisions really were; while historians will note this in time, Republicans today will simply pin all of these problems on Obama. Such is the life of a president. Or at least a president who refuses to blow his stack and stand for something.