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No wind of change but a calm of feebleness

By       Message Hannes Artens     Permalink
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Let me start this with an ardent endorsement. No, not of any of the current presidential hopefuls; none of them qualifies for being passionate about. Instead of choosing the lesser evil, something the disillusioned American electorate already prepares for to do on November 4 next year, I, today for once, enjoy the great privilege to endorse something I can sign up to a hundred percent: Gary Kamiya’s op-ed in yesterday’s Salon.com, How the Democrats blew it, sparkles among a media that manages to exceed the presidential candidates in vapidity, spinelessness, and letting off platitudes, in its stringent line of argument, its powerful blowing off our accumulated steam and anger, and its fitting description of the current pathetic status of the Democratic Party.

Ten months into the presidential race and fifteen weeks to the Iowa Caucus, it’s fair to rate the Democratic presidential field – a few exceptions as always prove the rule – with a variation of a quote from Winston Churchill: Never in the field of foreign policy was so little devised by so many for so countless.

“There was no better time for the Democrats to take the risk and go for broke than after the 2006 elections, when it became clear that America was ready for bold new thinking. For the past year, the Democrats could have been hammering away at the point that Bush, whose "tough" policies have greatly increased the risk of terror attacks, is the one who's soft on terrorism and weak on national security. They could have pointed out that Bush's supposedly pro-Israel approach has actually been as disastrous for Israel, which has to live in the neighborhood that Bush riled up, as it is for America. Militant Islamist groups are stronger; Iran is stronger; Israel's strategic position is weaker. They could have embraced the report issued by the ultra-establishment Iraq Study Group, which bluntly stated that "the United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict …

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“Above all, the American people are ready for a radical change in our approach to the Middle East. Americans are confused about what to do, but they know that Bush's approach has failed. They are looking for leadership and a new approach. They have got neither.”

On November 7, 2006, the American people initiated a wind of change. Not only that they are still waiting for it to get up, what they have got is a calm of feebleness. The 110th Congress is the only entity on the face of this planet with lower approval ratings than George Bush, worse, according to a September 9 CBS Poll, the belief that Democrats are better in handling the situation in Iraq dropped from 51 to 42 percent since May. The much invoked grassroots power confines itself to what the DLC is happy with them doing – flooding the net with appeals for funds and keep strategizing on their master-plan to muster a progressive majority in 2052 – and kudoing each other (Wow, we really let George Bush have it!) for a trite NYTimes ad. And rightly so. Why should rank and file march, if the generals behave like Pinky and the Brain in personal union?

Poor Laura Flanders has spent an entire book on her idealistic appeal for Democrats to shed their complexes and learn from progressive success stories all across the nation. Her call went unheard in the desert of ignorance. The Democratic presidential hopefuls try to outdo one another in proposing unrealistic withdrawal dates (June 2008, no March, no next week, today, yesterday!), knowing darn well that short of a two thirds majority they’ll never have to come clean on it, yet when pinned down refuse to even commit to a complete withdrawal by 2013. They all catwalk for being added to Raphael’s School of Athens by proffering us the ultimate wisdom that the Iraq war rather requires a diplomatic solution than letting Blackwater rampage, yet none of them has committed him-/herself to fully embrace the hardly to be called progressive recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, let alone provide us with a more substantial concept on the future of Iraq than any international relations freshman could compile over lunch brake. Save for one – and he contradicted himself by calling it a bumper sticker – none of them has understood that the struggle that culminated on 9/11 above everything else is about winning the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims in the streets of Amman, Ramallah, and Baghdad and developed his policies accordingly.

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Jaques Chirac once said of Ariel Sharon, “he missed a good opportunity to remain silent.” This at least, is exactly what the Democratic candidates should have taken heed of concerning Ahmadinejad’s New York gig. Instead, they tried to compensate for their alleged dovishness on Iraq (remember, the withdrawal dates!) by acting tougher than Norman Podhoretz on Iran and jumping on the bandwagon of AIPAC-darling Joe ‘Craving for another Gulf of Tonkin Incident’ Lieberman in voting for an amendment that would have come close to an overt declaration of war, if it were not alleviated at the eleventh hour.

In closing, however, even Kamiya tries to placate us:

“Of course, the Democrats are in major fundraising and pre-primary mode, and so they are playing Mideast policy by the book. No one wants to be seen as outside the establishment parameters, or get on the wrong side of AIPAC or big Democratic funders. Above all, no one wants to be seen as "weak on national security." There's a formulaic, cynical, nudge-nudge quality to Democrats' ritual denunciations of Iran: Everyone knows they have to do it, and everyone knows their actual policies, if they're elected, may differ from their campaign rhetoric …

“It's foolish to make the perfect enemy of the good, and Democrats who are disillusioned with their party shouldn't sit out the 2008 elections. Make no mistake: On the Middle East, any of the Democratic candidates would be a big improvement over Bush. They would all emphasize regional diplomacy, work more vigorously and fairly toward a two-state solution in Palestine and wind down the Iraq war … But our Middle East policies are so injurious to our national self-interest, and so destructive to the world, that radical change, not incremental steps, is urgently needed. The tragedy is that Bush's folly has offered Democrats a chance to fundamentally shift our disastrous policies -- and they are missing it.”

The message I do hear well, alone I’m lacking faith in it! If by any standards the Clinton I era – praised as a golden age in retrospect, yet under close scrutiny revealed to be a chain of missed opportunities – can serve as an indicator of how a future Clinton II presidency may address the most pressing problems of our times, prospects are not too promising. Worse, America may expect the world to freeze until a new president is inaugurated in January 2009, but the world like hell will! Every Middle East expert worth his reputation and not paid by PNAC agrees on Ahmadinejad having lost all his laurel among the Iranian people and the true centers of power in Tehran. Chances are good that the Council of Guardians would support a more conciliatory candidate in 2009, if only the U.S. were to send out signals that they are willing to negotiate then. If Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert fail to deliver substantial progress in breaking the deadlock in Palestine over the course of the next twelve months, they’re running risk to lose out against Hamas and Benjamin Netanyahu (have fun, setting a peace process on track with those two then!). And last but not least, every month Congress cannot manage to make up its mind (for George Bush won’t ever) that a troop withdrawal from Iraq requires no-holds barred talks with all players in the region – and that includes getting Iran and Saudi Arabia at the same table – is another month the Iraq adventure is prolonged past a realistic deadline of no earlier than mid-2010.

At the end of the day, neither America nor the rest of the world can afford for U.S. foreign policy to remain in gridlock all through 2008. The least, the Democratic party. For they will not only harvest the fruits of George Bush’s insanities, but also of their own neglect and lack of vision and leadership.

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Hannes Artens, MAs in History, Political Science, and International Conflict Analysis, was associated with the Carter Center and an academic think tank advising the German Parliament on U.S. foreign policy. The Writing on the Wall, the first (more...)

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