how odd and virtually unprecedented the Florida Follies are in a
presidential election, any prediction should be guarded and qualified.
But at this point and the stock market seems to agree
it almost looks as if it is all over but the whining and Dubya will
be the next president. Even though the Florida Supreme Court could
modify Florida Circuit Judge Sanders Saulís decision not to grant
Team Gore an official contest, even an official contest is not guaranteed
to find enough votes to turn the tide.
commentators and some of Mr. Goreís lawyers have warned that with
open records historians and activists will be poring through the
original materials and could easily come up with the decision that
Mr. Gore won more votes in Florida after all. That may be, and certainly
many in the Gore camp sincerely and with only minimal partisan self-spinning
believe it will be the case. But it seems unlikely that this would
happen without at least some dimpled or pregnant chads being counted,
which would be controversial. It is probably best to think of this
as a tie to be decided by the rules in place at the time or a coin
flip, won by Mr. Bush or, though the odds seem increasingly
lengthy, Mr. Gore.
way, the legitimacy of the new president or at least his
ability to claim anything resembling a mandate from the people or
even the voters (remember that half the eligibles couldnít bring
themselves to participate in the vulgar electoral sweepstakes)
will be severely limited. That is the most fundamental fact to emerge
from such a tight election: that neither candidate stirred enough
enthusiasm or loyalty to win, so that in a real sense both lost.
One will have the levers of power but something far short of the
confidence of the people.
is very good news for those who believe the United States should
move toward a less aggressive and more peaceful and sensible foreign
policy. In the absence of a clear-cut crisis Russia declaring
war and lobbing a missile, China trying to take Taiwan by military
force or firing a missile at Los Angeles, Osama Bin Laden organizing
a major paramilitary action rather than a discrete terrorist strike
against a key strategic target or against U.S. civilians
a president needs a certain base of secure support before undertaking
a military action or initiative in another country.
the bitterness engendered on all sides by the current denouement
to November 7, a president of either party is likely to face a significant
level of organized opposition in Congress to almost any foreign
adventure short of response to an attack. The opposition might not
be enough to vote down an administration plan or to deny funding,
but it is likely to be enough to make almost any move controversial
and therefore somewhat more politically risky.
MARGINALLY LESS DANGEROUS?
Mr. Bush is president the situation is likely to be better for supporters
of a noninterventionist foreign policy. The kind of bitter-ender
Democrats in Congress who will feel cheated for years are also likely
to question foreign adventures; indeed, some of them have already
been mildly vocal in questioning the Clinton administrationís intervention
in Colombia (a bit more on that later and a lot more in a future
column). Congressional Democrats questioning a Bush administration
initiative are more likely to find sympathetic ears and sounding
boards in the media than congressional Republicans questioning Gore
initiatives, so it will be easier to organize both the reality and
the appearance of solid opposition to almost any initiative a Bush
administration might attempt.
bottom-line reality, however, is that the next president will have
less flexibility in foreign affairs than has been the case in recent
decades. It is finally sinking in that the Cold War is over and
that global engagement is optional rather than mandatory (weíre
talking general perceptions, not necessarily mine) for the United
States. What thoughtful critics of the right, left and center have
dubbed the Imperial Presidency was closely tied to the perception
that the United States was engaged in a global struggle from which
it could not afford to withdraw, and that the president as chief
foreign policy officer needed a great deal of freedom of action
(regardless of quaint relics like the US Constitution) to manage
that engagement on a day-today basis.
has some experienced people around him, but he simply doesnít give
off the aura of an engaged global strategist who needs to be given
his head to assure US success in the international arena. Algore
doesnít either, of course, but in terms of foreign policy the deer-in-the-headlights
look is more subversive of imperial power than the air of a kindergarten
teacher speaking slowly so his less-than-bright class will get it.
The good news is that neither looks like a Master of the World in
the imperial mold. The better news is that Dubya fits the mold even
less than Algore.
also the fact that while the differences were relatively slight,
in terms of policy the Bush team showed evidence of being slightly
more skeptical of foreign adventures than the Gore team. If Gore
beats the odds and gets in he may still have his utopian vision
that the United States should be proactive in areas like environmental
degradation and political economic stability overseas and get involved
even before trouble breaks out, but it will be politically difficult
for him to put this vision into action, if only because of Republican
bitter-enders in Congress who will oppose his every move. And it
will be easy to make fun of the vision.
itís the Bushlet, however, critics of interventionism will be able
to emphasize areas they have in common with "realists"
of the Wolfowitz or Rice stripe. A Bush team is unlikely to rush
into "humanitarian" interventions and might even be drawn
into discussions of pulling back current commitments, perhaps in
Kosovo and perhaps even in intensity of involvement in international
organization like NATO.
may not be all smooth sailing for foes of US over-intervention,
however. Machiavelli was not the first, though he may have been
the most explicit and memorable of the writers who recommended to
a Prince facing opposition, trouble or hostility at home to get
involved in some manageable foreign adventure as a way of uniting
the country, neutralizing opposition, occupying public attention
and justifying more controls on political activity. Either a Gush
or a Bore looking at deadlock in Congress, constant sniping from
the opposition and the media, lukewarm support from allies and the
general impression that he went to all that trouble and self-denial
only to be treated with disrespect, might well look longingly at
some foreign conflict where a resolution or even involvement might
buy him surcease from sniping or even a dramatic increase in the
esteem in which American hold him.
the most likely temptations for a President Bush might be Saddam
Hussein. He is and remains a handy target for American presidents
of the sort that might have to be invented if he didnít exist. And
for the Bush team, both advisers and family to different degrees,
the notion that Saddam is still standing still rankles. Some dramatic
action against Iraq, probably short of a new Gulf War but more intense
than the low-level daily overflights and occasional bombing might
seem like a good way to establish Team Dubya as a force to be reckoned
with in the world, and settle some personal scores.
seems important, therefore, to continue to remind US policymakers
that the embargo against Iraq is on the verge of disintegrating,
with grey-market goods increasingly finding their way through and
countries like France and Russia working actively for formal lifting
of the embargo. Among the questions to be raised in that context
are whether it is more important to maintain decent relations with
major powers like Russia than to punish a brutal but minor dictator.
It will also be important to emphasize arguments against embargoes
and sanctions in general, especially those that point out the relative
ineffectiveness of economic sanctions.
Cheney, while in the private sector (working for a company that
profited from oil commerce, to be sure), contributed to a Cato Institute
seminar on sanctions, arguing a bit more than a year ago that it
was time to rethink sanctions against Iraq. He might or might not
agree when in power in government, but those words should be resurrected
and repeated as often as possible.
proponents of a less aggressive US foreign policy are smart, questioning
sanctions will not be simply a way to avert action against Saddam
and Iraq, but woven into a larger fabric of questioning US commitments
overseas. Part of the reason military morale is low, for example,
is because of ill-defined, under-financed social-worker commitments
overseas that are potentially dangerous but not what most people
join the military for. Some Republican strategists are already questioning
how smart it is to keep troops more or less forever, on imperial
rather than military missions, in Bosnia and Kosovo in the aftermath
of Madeleine and Billís unnecessary and unsuccessful war. We should
encourage such questions and work to expand them into a more thoroughgoing
reassessment of the proper role of the United States in a post-cold
war world as a question that ought to be resolved before the matter
of whether the military is underfunded can even be considered intelligently.
certain Republicans are unregenerate and unreflective drug warriors,
the new intervention into the ongoing Colombian civil war in the
name of drug control should also be subject to questioning. Perhaps
Republican or even Democratic if it goes that way
big-picture thinkers can be brought around to the idea that a president
without a solid mandate might do better to preside over a period
of reflection and reassessment of current domestic and foreign commitments
to establish a record of thoughtful, realistic and constructive
action before facing election again.
much more to be considered, but for those seeking a new approach
to foreign policy the current stalemate and new stalemates to follow
offer unusual opportunities to have real influence on future policies.
We might blow it or events might torpedo the opportunity. But if
we donít recognize the opportunity and seek intelligently and persistently
to exploit it we will have to answer to our grandchildren.