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Winds of Change: Can the Democrats Transform the Iraqi Situation? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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It was a maxim in the United States that the Democrats waged wars and the Republicans ended them. In all the cases of 20th-Century American wars fought outside US territory, the President was a Democrat. During World War I, it was Woodrow Wilson; World War II, Franklin Roosevelt; the Korean War, Harry Truman; and in Vietnam, John Kennedy presided. This common denominator changed with the advent of the Bush administration and the Neoconservatives, whereupon the US went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq under a Republican president in one of the few times in contemporary US history.

Today, the Democrats present themselves as the hope and the saviors from the consequences of Bush’s foreign adventures, and from the extreme rightist ideology in an election campaign that pledged many promises. An important one being, or rather the most critical is the US withdrawal from Iraq – or in the worst-case scenario a change in Bush’s foreign policy whether in relation to Iraq or other countries – because they are aware that the Iraqi issue is the primary concern for the US voter today.

And yet here we are with the Democrats sweeping into the two Houses of Congress, to form the majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Does this mean that the US foreign policy will be reversed, or are these merely election promises that have nothing to do with actual practice – especially regarding Iraq, Iran, and the Middle East as a whole?

One can say that the answer lies somewhere in between. Some promises made during the elections will actually be fulfilled, and there will be some change, too. Furthermore, the US foreign policy will witness some changes with a Democratic majority in both houses. Still, it will be changes rather than a radical transformation; and thus most of the election promises will not be fulfilled. Despite the Democrats taking over, the administration remains Republican, and so while the former can exercise strong pressure on the president and his administration – they cannot cripple him totally.

Another factor is that in a country like the US, mainly based on the rule of institutions, which also includes the policies that follow that rule, whether domestic or foreign, can only change within limits but cannot undergo an extreme transformation at the root level – no matter the extent of changes in the people in charge. The difference between the rivaling parties will be based on the means and methods to achieve a goal rather than on the goal itself – which is the supreme interest of the state.

For instance, in the dispute with Iran, both the Democrats and Republicans agree that Iran poses a threat to Israel’s security, which is a cornerstone of the US foreign policy, as well as posing a threat to the security and stability of Israel’s neighboring countries – especially Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf countries, which are all part of the US economic and non-economic security. The difference lies in how to handle the Iranian issue; Bush and his right-wing administration may prefer a military solution, for example, while the Democrats may hold that a UN-imposed economic blockade is more feasible and less dangerous to achieve the same goal as the proposed military solution, which might drag the US into another Vietnam quagmire, or a new Iraqi one. So, the answer is mutually affirmative in confronting Iran and curbing its ambitions in the region, but there is more than one solution or policy in dealing with this issue.

As for Iraq, which is the chief concern, some of those who won in the recent legislative elections had promised to try and achieve an immediate withdrawal from Iraq – which is a pure election promise that cannot be fulfilled in my opinion. If these elections had been held before the US forces entered Iraq, and if the proposed issue had been how to deal with Saddam Hussein’s regime, there might have been some differences between the two parties over the most effective, and simultaneously least risky, solution and whether or not it would be a military solution. But since it has already been fulfilled and the US is already in Iraq, the issue has become a reality that needs to be faced as there are no longer several options to pick from.

The Democrats cannot pull out of Iraq even if they wanted to, or if their election promises pledged that they would because the security and supreme interest of the state is at stake. Both the Republicans and Democrats know that an immediate withdrawal from Iraq to leave the country in its current state would only lead to confusion of many levels. It will also impede the US’s ability to confront Iran and its regional aspirations and projects. The continuous flow of oil from the region into the US and the rest of the world would no longer be guaranteed. Moreover, Iraq in this scenario would turn into a terrorist center that would threaten the security and stability of the region – and even of the US itself. The 9/11 attacks would no longer be unique in American history. The US policy in managing the crisis in Iraq will be modified, and more so if a Democratic president comes to power in two years.

Clearly, Bush’s policy is one of the main causes behind the situation in Iraq now. It was this policy that deprived the country of its political institutions without a clear and effective alternative, which led to the political vacuum that created fertile ground for the explosion of suppressed sectarianism, tribalism and regionalism. It seems that Bush and his Neo-Christian advisors had believed that once Saddam Hussein was ousted and his regime toppled that things would take care of themselves. Or that every situation called for a particular response, one that did not take into account the Iraqi social structure, nor the country’s political experience since the coup in July 14, 1958.

It seems that generally speaking of US foreign policy, whichever American administration we refer to, has always been shortsighted in terms of actions and reactions, as opposed to the UK’s established foreign policy, for instance, which used to consider possible reactions and find suitable solutions before taking these actions.

How will the Democrats deal with the Iraqi issue? That is what we cannot guess but we can predict that there will be new policies while the US still remains in Iraq.

Turki Al-Hamad

Turki Al-Hamad

Turki Al-Hamad is a distinguished Saudi Arabian political analyst, journalist and novelist. Mr. Al-Hamad was educated in Saudi Arabia and the United States, where he obtained his PhD from the University of Southern California, later returning to Riyadh to teach political science. He retired in 1995 to take up writing full time.

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