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The Democratic Agenda for the Middle East

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Democrats will have a lot to be thankful for when they carve up their Thanksgiving Turkey this year, but it was not a liberal revolution that carried them back to power. This election was a referendum on Bush's presidency. The people have spoken and their dissatisfaction with the neo-conservative leadership created a political tsunami that swept the Republicans out of power. Most people voted against the Republicans because of their deep dissatisfaction with the way things are going in Iraq, the botched-up war on terror against Bin Laden, the economy and corruption in politics. In their entire campaign, the Democrats have not offered one specific plan to address these grievances. They rode the wave of dissatisfaction and kept criticizing while deliberately shying away from offering specific plans or concrete measures.

The Democratic plan was engineered by Congressman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The duo pierced through the presumed shield of Republican invincibility fashioned by Karl Rove; the architect of three consecutive successful elections for Bush and the neo-conservatives. They devised a sensible plan to regain the favor of the Reagan Democrats. They recruited former Republicans like James Webb in Virginia and ran him against a formidable foe like Senator George Allen. They figured that the country had begun its swing back to the center but it had not passed that point yet. They ran people who had a strong reputation of being socially conservative like Claire McCaskill in Missouri to recapture the heart of America. They succeeded in striking a fine line which triggered a political tsunami of epic proportions. This election will go down in history as a pivotal turning point which shaped the rest of America's destiny.

The new whiz kids of politics turned a midterm election into a national campaign and drove a stake through the heart of neo-conservatism. Bush realized the incoming danger a couple of months ago when he created the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Commission. He was hedging his bet in case the Republicans lost control of the Congress. Most of the die-hard neo-conservatives, like Paul Wolfowitz, were shuffled out of the glare of the public eye at the beginning of Bush's second term. But Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, refused to tone down his "in-your-face" rhetoric. He was the throbbing passionate heart of the neo-conservative leadership while Vice President Dick Cheney remained as the dispassionate brain calculating what was best for America.

The neo-conservatives live and die by the idea of clear cut victory or defeat. This election was a clear cut defeat. This humiliating and shameful defeat was most evident in the way Rumsfeld was immediately fired the next day. We can now confidently declare the death of the neo-conservative doctrine. They will be remembered as a secretive gang of reckless leaders who insisted on the righteousness of their incompetence and attempted to make America a dictatorship. The message out of this election to the rest of the world from America is one of hope and possible renewal of goodwill. The world will breathe a momentary sigh of relief and watch America's next move cautiously.

But the Liberal wing of the Democratic Party can not really claim victory in this election. The real winners in this election were the regular conservatives who deserted the Republican Party and voted for conservative Democrats. In Michigan, voters rejected Affirmative Action and the Republican Senate candidate, Michael Bouchard, who could not shake Bush off his back. Varying degrees of this sentiment prevailed all over the nation. The new leader of the House, Nancy Pelosi, was very much aware of this fact when she offered reconciliation and cooperation with the Bush administration.

The Democrats won because of the conservative movement which is still very much alive, and the Republicans lost because they fought with their own neo-conservative dictators. The leadership of the Democratic Party sees its mandate as getting things done in the next two years while paving the way for the White House in 2008. The conservatives of the Reagan legacy led by James Baker have gotten the real mandate in this election to recapture the Republican leadership. Newly appointed Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, is a Baker prote'ge' whose creed is pragmatic politics and diplomacy.

This friction between the Baker camp and the Cheney camp surfaced as soon as Bush declared his clear intentions of invading Iraq. But Bush had been pushed by the Saudi Royals and the pro-Israel lobby to attack Iraq and dethrone Saddam Hussein. The Saudi Monarchy invested all of its assets in the Bush camp and he needed their help to beat the Democrats. Subsequently, they were rewarded immensely by skyrocketing oil prices that quadrupled their revenues. The Democrats have a grudge and a bone to pick with the Saudi Royals.

The Democratic leadership is now evading the question of Iraq and pointing to the highly anticipated Baker-Hamilton report, due out next month, as the first benchmark. They are reluctant to inherit the mess of Iraq in much the same way that Bush has now become eager to bequeath it to them. The answer lies in working out a compromise that allows the Democrats to take credit for anything that may succeed in Iraq, while at the same time assuring Bush that he won't be facing a trial similar to Saddam Hussein's. This difficult task was thrown in the lap of the Dean of diplomacy; James Baker.

Baker will face hard-nosed negotiations with the new brains of American politics; Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer. They are both Jewish and ardent supporters of Israel. Emanuel's parents came from Israel and he volunteered in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). He has strong Zionist convictions regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. Senator Joseph Lieberman waged a campaign against the will of the Democratic Party and prevailed. By a twist of fate he was handed the power to give Democrats the absolute majority in the Senate. He will be the most powerful power broker in the Senate for the next two years. He is Jewish, extremely pro-Israel and pro-war in Iraq. Jewish intellect and leadership will now dominate the moral argument within the Democratic Party.

Domestically, they will push an agenda to roll back some of the extreme measures of the Military Commissions Act and restore some of the lost civil liberties. In the Middle East, they support the idea of occupation but they see the Bush administration as losing the war in Iraq. Their opposition to the war does not stem from a conviction that it was either illegal or immoral. They oppose Bush's strategy which has not brought victory.

Their strategy will most likely follow the Israeli model of unilateral disengagement. American troops will redeploy out of population centers and get out of the Sunni-Shi'a cross fire. Their focus will be on minimizing troop casualties thereby getting the Iraq story off the American TV screen. They will tighten their grip on the countryside and all points of egress and ingress. They will not cut the defense budget. On the contrary, they will acquiesce to more defense spending to build more bases in the Middle East.

The gates of hell have opened up in Iraq and it will be easy to sell the idea that we need to get out of the way of Muslims slaughtering each other. In fact, we may even encourage them to do that while we stand watching from a safe distance and making sure that no side ever wins. We did that for eight years when Iraq waged a war against Iran from 1980-88. We can do that again for another decade.

The neo-Democrats will put Saudi Arabia in the cross hairs while opening a direct dialogue with Iran and Syria. There will be serious attempts to neutralize Iran's threat to Israel using the carrot approach. They will use the fact that Bin Laden is still on the loose to re-define the war on terror and wage their campaign for the White House.

In short, we have two years of policy re-alignment that lies ahead. There will be massive gridlock, partisan fighting, and investigations. The wave that carried Democrats to power demands accountability from the Bush administration. Too many lives were destroyed in the past five years and some neo-conservatives will surely pay a heavy price for this defeat.
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Neal AbuNab is a Michigan-based author of "The War on Terror and Democracy"- available on He is a commentator on Arab and Muslim affairs and he can be reached at:
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