Joe Biden's claim that a successful conclusion of the Iraq War was one of the Obama administration's "greatest achievements", is a cause for concern - not because George Bush did the heavy lifting over the vociferous objections of Obama and Biden, but because it is not too late to screw it up.
The real test of democracy is not whether the public gets to vote on its rulers, it is whether those rulers are eventually willing to turn over power when those voters make a different choice. So, in Iraq we have President Maliki's party disqualifying opposition candidates and calling for a recount of a generally fair election, anti-American rabble rouser al-Sadr trying to find an opening for his pro-Iran faction, and the Sunni insurgents attempting a revived bombing campaign. Lets hope that Obama is still interested, and that there are some "facts of life" back room discussions going on - not "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory".
In the US, we've had at least a couple of important lessons about power transfer.
- Many think that George Washington's greatest legacy is his retirement in in 1797, warning against the formation of political parties, foreign alliances, and public debt. Many supporters wanted continued strong leadership in challenging times; others feared what John Adams might bring. Some 213 years later we can still thank him for the precedent.
- When looking for the roots of the deep divisions in our current politics, one need go no further than Al Gore's 35-day challenge to the 2000 presidential election when, unlike Nixon in 1960, he put his substantial ego ahead of the country's need for a credible election. To this date, many of my Democratic friends will not acknowledge that Bush actually won - despite an objective recount of all of the Florida votes months later. In their minds, he was never their legitimate president.
It is both arrogant and naive to think that we can manage the process and result of elections in other countries - Iraq; Iran; Afghanistan; Pakistan. When Obama jets off to Kabul to upbraid President Karzai, he should not be surprised to receive a rebuke that Afghans will manage Afghan elections (even corrupt ones) and if that is not OK, Karzai may even join the Taliban. But, unlike Iraq, this is Obama's war and the credit or blame really does belong there.
The lessons for foreign policy - we need to understand our real core national interests and know who our friends are; we must understand our limits (including requirements for selecting leaders); and we need to have both friends and enemies understand the consequences of crossing us. Unfortunately the Administration's treatment of the UK, Israel, Germany and other traditional democratic allies makes these things very fuzzy in 2010.
This week's video reflects a revision of my view on who Joe Biden has been trying to emulate. It is not comedian Steve Martin, but the last vice president from the Del-Mar-Va region - Spiro Agnew. (The juxtaposition with the Tea Partiers and past protesters is also interesting.)
bill bowen - 4/9/10