Saturday, November 6, 2010

Obama and "Consensus"

By Walid Choucair
This comment was published in al-Hayat on 5/11/2008

The world focused its attention on the American elections of 2008, as the overwhelming majority of people wanted to change the policy of former President George W Bush due to the chaos he created in the world and in America itself. Likewise, the world also observed this week’s mid-term elections, for signs of the future impact of the Republican majority on the policies of President Barack Obama in several international crises. The Middle East is a fundamental player here, not to mention the American domestic situation, and particularly the economy, which impacts the world economy, and thus many of the political decisions taken in US foreign policy.

It is logical to predict the results of the Republican Party’s control of the House, with the Democrats and Obama retaining the majority in the Senate, after having had majorities in both houses. But the upending of the situation is nothing new in American politics over decades.
On this point, the expert in domestic US affairs, Riad Tabbara, who experienced this period as a researcher and ambassador at the United Nations, then Lebanon’s ambassador to Washington, says that a review of the results of 17 mid-term elections in the last decades indicates that 15 have had similar results to this week’s polls. In other words, the president and his party have only retained the majority two times. The general and dominant trend is for a number of voters who supported the president to withhold this support two years into his term. This is because they are unsatisfied by the achievement of his promises made during the campaign, or because these promises were translated into failed policies.

Obama announced that he would deal with the Republican majority in the House through means of consensus (a word that dominates the political situation in Lebanon and Iraq these days, despite the difference in the means and mechanisms of pressure). The previous experience with bipartisanship between a president who has lost a majority and the majority party has been undertaken before, with some success, such as in the term of Bill Clinton, when he took decisions for six years with the Republicans, and achieved economic success for his country.
Certainly, Obama will face a difficulty that will force him to make compromises with the Republicans, whose success does not mean that things can be measured in black and white. Tea Party members of the Republican Party managed to win some seats, campaigning on racism, isolationism, extreme free market ideals, a rejection of social programs, and a rejection of taxes on companies. Some of these policies are problems for Obama, but not alone – he is joined here by the liberal and moderate wings of the Republican party, which are less conservative. These figures succeeded in states that traditionally belong to the Republicans, and not Democrats.

The success of these candidates amid the win by the Republicans in the House resulted from the lack of improvement in the economy after the great crisis of 2008. American voters are in a hurry to solve the problem of growing unemployment, and a sluggish economy, while Obama’s team and his party affirm that their economic measures prevented an all-out collapse. This prompted the New York Times to comment, saying that if the plane doesn’t crash, it’s not enough reason to credit the captain.

The domestic challenges that Obama faces will overrule foreign policy challenges, with regard to coming economic reforms, after it became difficult for Republicans to go backward after what they achieved with Obama on health care and supporting faltering economic sectors, and raising some taxes. As for foreign policy, the differences between the Republicans and the Democrats are very small. Obama is carrying out what was already begun at the end of the Bush presidency, with regard to withdrawing from Iraq by the end of the year. Obama has returned to an open bias toward Israel with regard to peace negotiations, compared to a different type of enthusiasm at the beginning of his term. The Zionist lobby has a greater ability to influence his decisions, in light of domestic difficulties.

Obama has returned to the hard-line stance that the other party was famous for, with Iran, after he began his term with an initiative for engagement and dialogue with Tehran. He has also gone back to a hard-line policy on Lebanon, with Syrian and Iranian policies in this country, in parallel to not giving up engagement in dialogue with Damascus, which is what the Republicans were calling for. “Consensus” between Obama and his rivals in the Middle East will be worrying.

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