Finally, some sense out of Washington.
Making her first foreign policy speech since assuming the role of House Minority Leader, California Democrat Nancy Pelosi insisted last week that had her party been more unified and determined in its stance against the use of force in Iraq, it may very well have altered the current international relations landscape. Pelosi is convinced, and not unwisely, that a firm Democratic voice would have turned President Bush away from his currently unstoppable bull rush towards war in the Middle East.
Yet what Pelosi describes is merely part of a much larger problem for United States foreign relations. Given that our government policymaking is so largely dependent these days on partisan politics, it is a bit unnerving to see such a lack of staunch opposition in either party to war and other strong-arming overseas tactics. The result is an unhealthy lack of dissent among politicians that is bound to allow jingoists like Bush to continue to dominate foreign policy for years to come.
Start by considering Pelosi’s critique. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, both the Republicans and Democrats backed the president in his retaliatory attacks on Afghanistan, al-Qaida, and Osama bin Laden. Though I cannot say I agreed with everything Bush did at the time, the politicians’ response was a logical one. After all, that was a war steeped in necessity, with America needing to take retaliatory and punitive measures. At that time, cross-party unity was both logical and necessary; now, however, it is debilitating.
Unlike the response to Sept. 11, the potential invasion of Iraq is a matter of choice rather than need. Bush has come to the less than obvious and far from foolproof conclusion that military action against Iraq is necessary in order to protect the United States, and apparently, the rest of the “free world.” While Bush’s thought process is highly flawed and disturbing in its thoughtlessness and narrow-mindedness, at very least it is rather consistent with his general views and policies. What is far more troubling to me, and probably to Pelosi, is the utter inconsistency on the part of the Democratic Party, as it continues to refuse to take a decisive stand against war in Iraq.
Most telling was the vote this past October in which Congress granted Bush the power to use force against Iraq if he deemed it necessary. In a crucial vote for Bush, only about 60 percent of Democrats in the House of Representatives voted against the resolution, helping to pave the way for the bill’s eventual passage. Now, the numbers make it clear that even if every single Democrat were to vote against the measure, the Republicans still have the representation to carry the bill, but it would at very least have provided a powerful show of solidarity and strength, and perhaps have convinced Bush that there was too much resistance to merit launching a full-scale attack on Saddam Hussein.
The question then becomes why the Democrats are so reluctant to pony up any semblance of dissent when it comes to all matters of foreign policy. The answer lies somewhere in between the ambitions of the politicians themselves and the mindset of the American people.
Looking back to that October vote, one must carefully consider the attitudes permeating American society. Though Sept. 11 was just over a year removed, a certain nationalistic fervor still lingered strongly and unwaveringly. Like many of his actions during his presidency, Bush played off of this fervor, and his proposed invasion of Iraq was indeed a brilliant political move, as he attempted to ride the patriotic wave into a war that could cleverly disguise the failures of the American economy. While many Democrats no doubt saw through this and would in a perfect world have been united in their stand against Bush, they also must have seen what a political gamble it would have been to lock horns with the president and his warmongering given the political and psychological landscape at the time. And as we all know, ambition is unfortunately the trait most politicians strongly share. The natural result was a greatly subdued and timid Democratic opposition to Bush’s proposal, allowing the president to continue his path to war relatively unchecked.
So we have a situation in which nearly every major issue facing the nation divides Washington into a Democratic and Republican factions. Every issue, that is, except war. Both parties seem to realize that there is nothing like a good old gunfight to invigorate the public and boost approval ratings. The Democrats, as Pelosi rightfully points out, would be the logical candidate to take up a staunchly anti-war stance, but they are unwilling to put their careers on the line. They realize that by opposing a Republican-proposed war, they only stand to lose favor in the eyes of the public, thereby jeopardizing future elections. Thus, we have a brutally homogenizing lack of dissent that is capable of allowing even the stupidest ideas to pass through, more so with Bush at the helm.
It is somewhat of a chicken and egg problem. Is the fault of the people or the fault of politicians? Well, it is the nationalistic fervor of the people that leads potential dissenters in Congress to stand down and let the pervasive opinions dominate. Yet at the same time, it is Congress whose war hawks are largely responsible for creating this fervor in the first place. But regardless of where the blame lies, the end product is a system that seems bound to produce war in Iraq, and no doubt others in the future.