Sunday, November 12, 2006

Democrats win: What does it mean for Bush and Iraq

By Abid Mustafa
November 12, 2006

On November 9th the political landscape in Washington dramatically changed, as Democrats regained control of both the Senate and the Congress, and ended 12 years of Republican domination. Democrats now have 51-49 majority in the upper house and 229-197 majority in the lower house. On the surface it appears that the Democrat victory will make it harder for Bush to foster consensus over his domestic and overseas agenda. While this may hold true for domestic issues on international issues a completely different story is unfolding in Washington— especially over Iraq and the wider Muslim world.

At home House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (soon to become the first female speaker) vowed to use the first 100 hours of the new Congress to push through what Democrats call their “Six for ’06” agenda. This includes calls to raise the minimum wage, repeal subsidies for oil companies and incentives for companies to send jobs overseas, cut interest rates on student loans, give the government the authority to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower prescription drug prices, and expand opportunities for embryonic stem cell research. Bush has already indicated that there is room for agreement on two of the issues namely: minimum wage and stem cell research— the remainder are up for contention.

However on Iraq both the Democrats and the Republicans realise that on the strategic front there can be no room for disagreement- even a modicum of difference will spell disaster for America’s credibility in the region and the rest of the Muslim world. This was aptly highlighted by Richard Haass the Chairman of the Council of Foreign Affairs who in a recent article warned that the American age in the Middle East is coming to an end. What has brought this era to an end, after less than two decades, Haass wrote,” is the Bush administration’s decision to attack Iraq in 2003 and its conduct of the operation and resulting occupation.

Hence to ensure America’s strategic survival in the Middle East and the Muslim world, the Iraqi issue has to be solved. In strategic terms this means that America must continue to be in a position to control the flow of oil and its price, maintain military bases in the region and counter the emergence of any power that threatens these interests. This means that America can only afford a shift in tactics over Iraq.

To this end, an agreement between the two parties on how to resolve Iraq was evolving well before the election. In essence both the Democrats and the Republicans agree that Iraq should be partitioned but differ in how precisely this should be accomplished.

Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the lead Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, advocates decentralising Iraq and giving the country's three major sectarian groups, the Kurds, Shi'is and Sunnis, their own regions, distributing oil revenue to all.

However the Iraq commission chaired by Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democrat Congressman Lee H. Hamilton have indicated that both Syria and Iran should have a role in any dismemberment of Iraq. Another notable personality that shares the views of the Iraq commission is Robert M. Gates who was recently nominated as the new US Defence Secretary.

Gate’s appointment is noteworthy. He is close to James Baker and Bush Senior, and played a pivotal role in the Iran-Contra affair during the eighties. More than likely Gates, as Bush’s new defence chief will use his Iranian connections to placate Tehran and to encourage it to play a constructive role in annexation of Southern Iraq. Little wonder then that Bush described Gates’s nomination in such glowing terms. He said,” The Secretary of Defence must be a man of vision who can see threats still over the horizon and prepare our nation to meet them. Bob Gates is the right man to meet both of these critical challenges.”

The departure of Rumsfeld and the mounting speculation that Bolton will no longer be around at the UN, underscores Bush’s attempt to mend relations with the Democrats at home and Europeans abroad. But more significantly it demonstrates the failure of Bush’s neoconservative policies, which have fractured politics at home and damaged US relations abroad.

But all of this is too little to late. America will be defeated in Iraq. Her pre-eminence will come to an end. And Bush will go down as the worst President in US history. The only credit to his name in history will be that he was the one who ushered in the Caliphate.

Abid Mustafa is a political commentator who specialises in Muslim affairs

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