The result of US mid-term election earlier this month has instigated a new hope of alteration on US Iraq policy. Democrats, now the majority at US Congress, seemed to utilize their capacity to push the Bush administration to reconstruct US Iraq policy. This concern has become prominent issue considering that Democrats exploited forcefully the Iraq issue during electoral campaigns. Seeing a new balance of power in Washington, it is a common perception among public that such a policy will take place shortly.
Unfortunately the situation is not that simple. So far both Republicans and Democrats have not announced alternative formula to solve the Iraq problem. President George W. Bush’s decision to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld undeniably was an important step. But still no critical policy alteration was made public to this point.
Looking at the development of current US domestic politics, I argue that any new direction on Iraq policy will not turn up immediately. Three issues can be taken into account to support this argument.
The first reason is the fact that Democrats has not confirmed their standpoint on the subject. Pointing out Bush’s Iraq policy as a failure to attract voters during electoral campaigns, to date the Democrat has not issued any genuine alternative solution. Shortly after the election, Democratic leader at the House Nancy Pelosi proposed idea of scheduled withdrawal. Her idea, however, was not precise. It was merely a quick response to media questions. Neither the start nor the end of schedule was mentioned. In other occasion, Pelosi vowed that Democrats would deliver some new policies within the first 100 hours of their leadership at the Congress. But Iraq policy was out of the list.
Perhaps Democrats are waiting till January next year, when they will officially become the majority in the legislative branches, to confirm their proposal. Or, worse than that, they are waiting for Bush’s decision to respond. Whatever the situation, there is no doubt that any alternative policy from the Democrat will play a decisive role in deciding the future of US Iraq policy.
The following reason is the fact that Iraq current situation is pretty difficult to navigate. A number of options have emerged including an option of troop withdrawal. This is probably the easiest solution, but not an elegant one. Iraq is currently at the brink of civil war. Should the US government decide to run from Iraq now, the international community will be considering US as irresponsible.
Bush does realize this matter. At his post-election press briefing, he pointed out his desire to bring US troops come home, but only in the condition of victory. He defined victory as a situation when Iraq ‘can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself.’ Unfortunately, the Iraqi government – with US support – is unable to fully perform one among those three tasks.
Friction among top US officials and politicians is another indicator revealing their frustration in finding a proper solution. Seven months ago US Congress established the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel charged to deliver an independent assessment of the situation in Iraq. The group is scheduled to deliver its recommendation on Iraq policy soon. There is a sign that not every element of the Bush administration is happy with the work of the group. When a part of its draft leaked to media, it was reported that the Pentagon would also release its own recommendation. In case the group comes up with ideas Bush does not like, an official reportedly said.
The third reason is that Iraq policy seems to be one of key issues at the 2008 election, when Democrats and Republicans will have a bigger fish to catch: the White House mansion. As in the last election, Iraq will also be a decisive issue in the presidential campaigns. Accordingly, any potential presidential candidates will take the issue considerably, even within their own party’s circles.
To become party’s official candidate, politicians have to surpass a number of phases including party nomination. That is to say that any Democrat and Republican politicians must gain majority support during their respective party’s convention. Since Iraq policy is not only important but also problematic, potential candidates will analyze carefully how the pendulum moves within their respective party. They will calculate other factors, like public opinion, development in Iraq, and opinion from government element such as military and bureaucracy. An inaccurate prediction might worth a disaster to their dreams to become party’s presidential candidate. Wait and see will, therefore, be a major issue here. Once the two political parties have decided their respective candidate, similar pattern will recur and this time at the national level.
Indeed, the dynamic of US domestic politics is only one among several other things that may change the future of Iraq. People are now also talking about alternative solutions, like regional engagement and multilateral mechanism. Without US consent, however, those two options will not be possible to be carried out. In this regard, the dynamic of US decision making process is unquestionably influential.
Finally, the majority of nation has expressed their disagreement toward US Iraq policy since the first day the crisis began. So has the majority of American. The ball is at the hands of US lawmakers and they now have two options to choose: whether they will work to for the good of Iraqi people; or they will use Iraq policy merely as a card to secure their own political agenda. No doubt, we do hope that they have been already put the first option in their minds.