January 24, 2008

Nothing -- He's Learned Nothing At All

What is it with Presidents named Bush? They like to leave messy foreign policy entanglements for their successors to deal with. The first President Bush left Somalia and Bosnia, and his successor could no more find a clean, politically satisfactory response to those situations than did GHWB. And now, we have this.

On its face, the "Declaration of Principles" sounds like a bunch of vague, squishy diplomatic language, the bulk of which is entirely unobjectionable and meaningless. So it was not submitted to the Senate as a treaty. But there is a clause that states that the U.S. will guarantee the stability of the elected government in Iraq against all future threats, internal and external. That means we'd have to take up sides and arms in the event of a new civil war in Iraq.

It also means that if a party hostile to the U.S. takes power through democratic means in Iraq, we would be bound to support it in such a civil war. Obviously, we wouldn't actually do such a thing, but that would represent breaking our word at that point. And there are ample precedents for democratic governments being hostile to the U.S. Hamas winning the elections in Palestine is only the most extreme example of this. Even archrival Iran seems to have a government that incorporates principles of meaningful checks and balances within the government and which yields final decision-making power to the people via indirect representative democracy, which in that sense is not so very different than our own government. The lesson here is not that Iran is our equivalent, the lesson is that democracy does not always produce results that are ultimately desirable, either in a cosmic ideological sense or from a short-term, foreign policy realism perspective. Marrying ourselves to democracy when it is feasible for a democratic election to produce such catastrophically awful results does not make any sense at all.

More importantly, it looks a lot like the President is trying to slip in to this document a binding commitment to continued military action in Iraq -- one that will tie his successor's hands and prevent a withdrawal from Iraq. Now, I think that we need to stay in Iraq indefinitely and in that sense I tend to agree that this is a good idea. But that doesn't mean that I think that the President should be able to do this. I think the President's successor ought to figure that out for herself, as I'm pretty confident she already has, and govern accordingly.

We have a legal and proper way of firming up our commitment to Iraq. That way is called a "treaty." A treaty requires the collaboration of the Senate. The President is unwilling to submit his proposal to the Senate, so he simply proclaims it to be law -- and thereby stakes a claim for the ability to reach a binding commitment to another nation. This bypasses an important check and balance in our Constitution, and it is that bypass to which I object. After all, if the people of this country decide that my take on the Iraqi situation is wrong, and insist that the troops be pulled out, that is what needs to happen even if the consequences are bad. That's what it is to be in a democracy -- you submit to the legitimate will of the majority, even if you think its decisions are unwise. So if it is clear that the voters want the troops home now, that's what the President needs to make happen.

Yet another example of the tendency of the President to gravitate towards one-man rule. Even as a lame duck, stripped of control of Congress in a public repudiation of his policy in Iraq, George W. Bush continues to act as though the other two branches of our government are mere obstacles to be sidestepped or ignored in the relentless pursuit of imposing his will on the rest of the world.

Is it January 20 yet?

No comments: