The Obama administration is in the midst of doing something rather extraordinary. While most of the U.S. government and frankly, most major governments worldwide, are mired in a swamp of political paralysis, victims of their own inaction, the president and his national security team are engineering a profound, forward-looking, and rather remarkable change.
It is addressed directly in National Security Advisor Tom Donilon's column in today's Financial Times entitled "America is back in the Pacific and will uphold the rules." It has been manifested in the president's recent trip to Asia and it will be further underscored through Secretary of State Clinton's historic trip to Myanmar later this week.
Superficially, this shift can be and might be perceived to be what Clinton has called "the pivot" from the Middle East to Asia as the principal focus for U.S. foreign policy. But as Donilon's brief article effectively communicates, this shift is far more sweeping and important than has been fully appreciated.
In the beginning of the article, he writes that presidents must struggle to avoid become so caught up in crisis management that they lose sight of the country's strategic goals. Listing the astonishing array of crises President Obama has faced, Donilon then notes that he has nonetheless managed to pursue "a rebalancing of our foreign policy priorities -- and renewed our long-standing alliances, including NATO -- to ensure that our focus and our resources match our nation's most important strategic interests." Asia, he asserts, has become "the centerpiece" of this strategy.
As the article goes on it reveals dimensions of this pivot that have gotten less attention than the simple but nonetheless refreshing restatement of the Obama administration's recognition that -- to oversimplify for contrast's sake -- China is more important to America than Iraq. Because while Donilon writes of regional security agreements and the decision by the administration to embark on a "more broadly distributed, more flexible and more sustainable" defense strategy in the Pacific Basin, what is striking about the article is how often the words it uses and the subjects it references are economic in nature.
Donilon speaks of our priorities in the region as tying to "security, prosperity and human dignity." He defines security needs in terms of concerns about commerce and navigation. He talks about alliances as being "the foundation for the region's prosperity." And he makes a core point of saying that "As part of an open international economic order, nations must play by the same rules, including trade that is free and fair, level playing fields on which businesses can compete, intellectual property that is protected everywhere and market-driven currencies."
Establishing, observing and enforcing international rules are another core theme of the piece and of the statements that Obama, Clinton, Donilon, and others have regularly been underscoring.
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It's November, and the revolutions of the Arab Spring still fill the streets from northern Africa across the Middle East. Important votes, massive rallies and outbursts of indefensible government brutality continue to command headlines in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen. Bahrain reels from confirmation of its government's abuses during protests earlier in the year. Jordan trembles at the possibility of its own crisis. Rumblings are felt in Saudi Arabia and in Iran. In none of these places have the uprisings of the Spring produced the full or final reforms sought. In every place, entrenched elites squirm and dig in their heels and try to cling to the privileges and the economic bounties they have controlled for so many decades.
It's no longer Spring, nor is it even Summer any more. And while the reforms sought by brave protesters throughout the region hold the promise of rebirth that made the term Arab Spring so apt, this torturous process will clearly go on not just through the Winter to come, but for years and years. To expect otherwise is to be unrealistic. To hope for the swift transformations that came to Eastern Europe two decades ago will only bring disappointment.
Indeed, it is worth remembering that the Prague Spring, after which this period of tumult and aspiration has been named, took place so long before the advent of real and lasting reforms in Czechoslovakia (now, of course, two countries) that when a spokesperson for Mikhail Gorbachev was asked the difference between his reforms and those of Alexander Dubcek in 1968, he said, "nineteen years." Communism did not fall there until 21 years after the "end" of the Prague Spring. When it did, the transformation that came so "swiftly" was called by an entirely different name -- "the Velvet Revolution."
It is natural to rush a verdict on such events. Typically, we do so as a form of historical punctuation. This, among other things, conveniently lets us accuse enemies of progress being "on the wrong side of history." But when final resolutions are as murky as they are in the modern Middle East, this can also be a two-way street. Those who resist -- or fear -- change when it does not emerge as fully formed as the advocates of revolution had hoped can say that the moment has passed unfulfilled.
Just the other day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a fire-breathing speech denouncing those who supported Egypt's protesters, effectively again throwing his lot in with the devil he knew of Mubarak, and suggesting that in so doing it was not he was "on the wrong side of history" but instead the ones who had it wrong were all those who prematurely declared victory for reformers. "I was told that I'm trying to scare people, that I'm on the wrong side of history," he said, "and that I don't understand where things are going. Well things are moving backward, not forward." He argued that the upheavals in the region were resulting in an "Islamic, anti-western, anti-liberal, anti-Israeli, undemocratic wave."
As premature as it was for the hopeful to have declared victory in the wake of the fall of regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya or Yemen, it is just as premature however, for Netanyahu to tossing shovels full of dirt on the aspirations of those who still have the courage to take to the streets. Indeed, the fact that the people of Egypt have not simply rolled-over and accepted the non-reform reforms of SCAF, that they have been willing to fill Tahrir Square again despite violence that has resulted in dozens of deaths and thousands of injuries, suggest that the reformers are resilient and that their impulse for change was not contained in a single moment or season of the year.
Netanyahu is understandably wary of the changes that may come in the wake of current or impending reformulations of neighboring governments. Populists in Egypt and elsewhere have already demonstrated that they are inclined to embrace a harsher stance against Israel because that plays so well politically. Religious parties with a history of intolerance have gained ground. Bad actors are clearly among those seeking a place in new governments or in the evolving elites in the governments of countries shaken by revolution. We don't know how all this will play out. We should be skeptical. And, to paraphrase a wise friend of mine, just because Netanyahu is saying it doesn't necessarily mean it is wrong.
Not all wrong anyway. But when in his speech he posed the question in defense of his earlier skepticism, "I ask today, who here didn't understand reality? Who here didn't understand history?" The answer still may be that he did not. Because "history" doesn't happen in a few months, and "history" does not always follow expected patterns-otherwise there would never be change of any sort. While it is true that the revolts of 2011 may produce frustrating or even dangerous near-term consequences, it is far too early to say what the long term outcomes may be. The people of Egypt have thus far seemed willing to press even their powerful military and stand up to their lawless police until their real demands are met. There is no way they will accept for any extended period the Mubarak-lite caretaker regime offered a fig leaf by the generals. The people of Syria, faced with even more concentrated brutality only seem to get stronger...and the Assad dynasty in that country must be thinking of an endgame at this point. Further, political reforms alone will not be enough anywhere. If real economic opportunity does not come as a consequence of these changes, people will surely return to the streets.
This process -- revolt, resistance, partial reform, renewed pressure, competition among political parties, the demand for results, further pressure -- will undoubtedly take many years. It almost certainly will make security in the region complicated during that time. Meddlesome and opportunistic actors like Iran will only make it worse. So the strategy for Western governments who seek to promote democratic reforms and the rise of pluralism and moderate voices must be one for the long-term. We need to support reform where it means real pluralism, tolerance, a commitment to peace and the creation of genuine opportunity. We need to expect upsets and support the regional players who can help resolve them. But what we dare not do is prematurely reach conclusions -- one way or another -- about events that have only just started to unfold. That said, with eyes wide open to the risks and uncertainties involved, we should acknowledge that which recent events can in fact tell us. Something has hit the region with such force that it has brought down four major governments and a fifth is tottering. It is linked in an entirely new way to democracy, to the interests of the masses and it is powered by new technologies that have changed the dynamics of both politics and revolt throughout this region.
That suggest that even if the end of what we are seeing is so far away as to be unclear that there is a very good chance that we are, despite the denials of Netanyahu and the denial of ruling elites in the effected countries, at the beginning of something truly new and game-changing.
We are witnessing the onset of a new era in the region, a season of change more appropriately measured in years, decades and generation than in months.
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The Republican national security debate made me feel young again. First, there was the audience at Constitution Hall, typically diverse -- old white guys, fat old white guys, really old white guys, prematurely aging middle-aged white guys, and a few understandably unhappy looking women. But more importantly, there was the conversation. It reeked of 2004. All of a sudden I was 48 again.
But moving past that harsh personal reality ... the Republican candidates apparently think that playing the "War on Terror" card is the way into voters' hearts. They promoted torture. They embraced racially profiling Muslims. They feared the spread of terrorists across the Americas. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, they were all about terror. The urgency seemed just as palpable and vaguely crazed as it was back in the day. Amazingly ... stunningly ... the message from most of the Republican candidates, led by front-runners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, reflected the first-hints of nostalgia for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Perhaps that was because some of the most prominent old white men in the audience were actually behind the Bush administration's policies of invasion and violation of basic human rights. There was Paul Wolfowitz. There was David Addington. And then there was Ed Meese. Somewhere out there was John Birch.
Interestingly, in this context, the two standout performers in the debate were Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul. Both were willing to step away from the retro-masses of the Republican Party and talk about today's economic concerns and challenge the over-reach and failed policies of the past decade. Paul, of course, once again embracing an end to the war on drugs (about which he is also right, as it happens), is too far out there to win. But Huntsman had a bit of a breakthrough. He is being strategic. He is focused on New Hampshire as the joke on Saturday Night Live had it. And performances like tonight's could very well give him a shot there ... at least more of a chance than he has appeared to have thus far.
Of course, Mitt Romney ... and his deep, unwavering love for spending every possible penny on defense ... remains the most likely candidate. That said, as a very shrewd observer of these things emailed me during the debate, Romney is the Al Gore of the Republican Party. Seems good on paper ... and made of cardboard. Hard to love. Newt Gingrich may have done well, but he is a dog whistle only Republicans can hear. The press loves him because he abuses them and he seems like a more intelligent breed of bad candidate than Cain or Perry.
Big losers tonight were viewers who did not get to hear anyone really address the big issues of our time -- from the uprising in Tahrir Square that was strangely all but ignored to the crisis in the Eurozone to the rise of China and the BRICS. And CNN was also a loser for its hokey staging, game show style opening, and the flaccid if competent moderation that let the conversation remain moored in the past.
Strangely, the big winners were not actually in the room. Barack Obama was one. He won both because he looks so good next to these guys and because they showed him great deference in the degree to which they generally tip-toed around his real accomplishments. But even his triumph was transcended by the night's biggest winner: Bibi Netanyahu. Somehow, he managed to get two of the candidates -- Romney and Santorum -- to publicly state their first trip as president would be to Israel. And Gingrich offered to work with Israel on a conventional invasion of Iran. And these were just a couple of the highlights. Bibi and his diplomatic team have masterfully played the perceived ambivalence of the Obama administration into a competition among Republicans to demonstrate who loves Israel the most. Which was yet another thing that made me feel young again ... like back in the good old days when support for Israel was much more reflexive and, frankly, much easier.
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The bad news about the U.S. Congress is that nothing is what they do best. The good is that most important thing they can do in the year ahead is nothing.
Now, this is not me channeling my inner Rick Perry. I don't think that government ought to be irrelevant. Rather, this is a simple statement of fact. While this Congress has demonstrated itself to be grid-locked, brain-locked, inept, and hopelessly corrupt, it may be more than just the Congress that an ill-informed, apathetic, impulse-driven American electorate deserves. It may actually be the Congress we need.
Because right now the single best way for the U.S. Congress to fix the deficit debacle that it created is to continue to behave in the partisan, ideological, childish, and irresponsible fashion that has become their hallmark. If they do, they will do more to cut the deficit than any number of over-hyped, under-performing committees could even dream of.
By remaining frozen as they have been in the headlights of the oncoming 18-wheeler of euro-style economic calamity that is bearing down on America, this group of empty suits may actually not only miraculously avoid becoming historical road-kill, they may actually end up in the Do Nothing Hall of Fame.
How? It's simple. By failing to address the deficit in the supercommittee, our current Congressional "leadership" has effectively ensured that the single most important item on the legislative and national agenda for 2012 is the expiration of the Bush tax cuts at the end of this year. And the very best way for America to cut its deficit and bring its house back in order after the wanton profligacy of the past decade is to simply let those cuts expire. Which will happen if this Congress plays to type and does the nada it does so well.
There is no single budget factor that can make as big a difference as simply letting these ill-conceived cuts lapse. Projections by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget show that over the next forty years, no single factor will contribute more to our growing deficit. According to the Congressional Budget Office, letting the tax cuts lapse would immediately restore $380 billion dollars a year in revenue and would, therefore, cut the deficit by $3.8 trillion dollars over the next decade, fully 50 percent more than the $2.4 trillion in total deficit reduction that was the goal of the debt limit deal.
Letting them lapse would also not have an unduly burdensome impact on American voters, simply restoring tax rates to where they were a decade ago. Further, as the dismal economic performance of the decade since the cuts were introduced shows, they actually have not had the stimulative effects they were touted as offering.
In fact, if you look at the huge and ever-growing cost to the United States of the cuts, it is very clear that they and not the 9/11 attacks were the most destructive event to hit the country in 2001. Compound them with the costs of our two misguided wars in the Middle East and you have destruction to America's financial condition, economic prospects, role in the world and national strength that no terror group or competing national power has been able to achieve in America's modern history.
The question of course, is this Congress up to the task at hand. Will they fight and bicker and then ultimately end up so divided that they do not pass an extension. As that great Washington oracle the Magic 8 Ball used to say, "Signs point to yes."
After all, this Congress -- in the midst of a great economic crisis -- has not managed to meet its fundamental obligations to pass a budget in 19 months. The Senate has not actually passed a budget in regular order in over 90 months. (The last time a Congress submitting all its spending bills by the mandated October 1 deadline was 1998.) A big job creation bill? No. An up or down vote on Simpson-Bowles? Nope. A major infrastructure initiative? Not. Something to deal with the mortgage crisis that started all this in some meaningful way? Get real. Something minor but promising? Wishful thinking.
That's why this year could be this Congress' most productive ever. Because not only could they undo one of the greatest mistakes of America's recent past by continuing their game of statues, they could add to the victory by letting the automatic cuts that should be triggered by the supercommittee's failure stand. Of course, these fraudsters have learned well from their sponsors on Wall Street and they never actually believed in that "fail-safe" mechanism anyway, figuring they would undo it later. But what if they can't even do that. More savings. And for those who argue the U.S. defense department can't afford $600 billion in cuts...and with all due respect to Leon Panetta who is a great public servant and will be a terrific Secretary of Defense...nonsense. That's a 10 percent cut which would still leave us spending more on defense than virtually every other country in the world added up...and something like 10 times more than any of our nearest rivals. Somehow I think we can handle it. Somehow I think we must.
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Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, flip a coin. There are differences between the two to be sure. But in the end, the net dissimilarity between these two establishment politicians is going to end up being considerably less than campaign rhetoric will suggest -- or than you might hope for.
Neither is anything like a transformational figure. Both are responsible, cautious men. Both, like most presidential candidates, are flawed by their ambition. There may be differences in emphasis, of course. One is too cool, a bit of a weathervane, beholden to Wall Street, not well loved within his own party establishment, not trusted by his party's base and the other is ... well, I guess that proves my point. From foreign policy to domestic programs, you can be pretty sure the efforts they lead will look surprisingly similar.
Presidential candidates run to the middle (and winners hail from the mainstream) because the deciding votes are cast in the middle. Usually -- and there are periodic exceptions -- that is what accounts for the fact that most presidents have more in common with the men who preceded or followed them in office than they would care to acknowledge.
This is one of the reasons that there is regular refrain for third party presidential candidates. It is also one of the reasons that such undertakings are typically doomed to failure and counterproductive.
If you want to produce real change in the way the government of the United States functions, the way to do it is to focus on the Congress. And boy, does the Congress ever need changing.
The failure of the stuporcommittee (which as of this writing seems all but certain) to even seriously grapple with the issue of the deficit is one of the grossest examples of dereliction of duty in the U.S. government since, well, since the Congress approved the Bush tax cuts. As Senator Tom Coburn said when presented with the idea that the Congress had an approval rating of only 13 percent, "I want to know who those 13 percent are." The Congressional approval rating has now fallen to just 9 percent. This Congress doesn't deserve an approval rating. They don't deserve another day on the job. They could all go home tomorrow and I bet it would be six months before anyone even noticed. (That is after the celebrations had died down.)
Yet, it is in the Congress that an effective, instantly relevant third party initiative could be undertaken. What this country -- divided as it is -- needs, is a legislative third party. It needs a group of swing votes that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans could pass anything without. And given the current state of things, that means it could be a fairly small group -- a handful of senators, 10 or 20 or 30 congresspeople. And it would be possible to identify districts and states where electing a third party or sworn swing vote candidate would be possible. And it would not cost a fraction of what it would cost to win a presidential election. And the group would immediately hold the balance of power on the Hill.
Presidential campaigns capture the glamour. It's easier to connect change with a single face, a single name, a single personality. But, look at where Washington is dysfunctional today and you have to acknowledge, the problem lies at the far end of Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. Capitol Hill has become the Boot Hill of ideas, the place initiatives go to die.
Having a third party on a hill that both sides had to work with to get anything done would change the dynamics dramatically. It would force compromise because there literally would be no way to proceed without it. You would think that was true today but the problem with the two political parties is both see compromise as capitulation to the other, it's a zero sum game. With a third party, that was open to reasonable ideas from both sides ... and couldn't succeed without one or the other...that would change things. It would also create a movement that could grow giving people an alternative to the binary choices they face today.
Clearly, something must be done. If the failure of the supercommittee does not convince you of that then you are already resigned to the irreversible decline of the United States. Because that is precisely where this kind of leadership failure will take us. That is why as important as the presidential sweepstakes are, the really important election news story of 2012 will be whether the American people vote for change in a Congress that has sold them out in every way possible. Certainly every member of the supercommittee and the leadership of both parties should be challenged on their record of failure. They should not be allowed to simply blame it on the other side. Just as the president should not be allowed to merely blame this on the Congress. This was important ... and he chose not to engage, not to take the political risk of rolling up his sleeves and working toward a solution, not to threaten and cajole and do what past presidents have done. It -- like his decision to agree to the extension of the Bush tax cuts -- are among the low points of his otherwise quite accomplished presidency. But neither he nor his potential successor will be able to fix Washington from the Oval Office (which is why whomever wins should get out of it and invite more people into it than the president has done this term). The real responsibility for change we can believe in actually resides with the American people ... and the surest sign whether or not they have accepted that challenge will come when the votes are tallied after next year's congressional balloting.
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Why should Pakistan's smart, hard-working ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani have to resign for doing his job? After all, if as has been asserted, he was involved in getting a back-channel note passed from Pakistan's president to Admiral Mike Mullen when Mullen was chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, isn't that what ambassadors do for their bosses? Yes, it's embarrassing if the note offered to reshuffle the leaders of Pakistan's military and intelligence services in exchange for U.S. assistance in quashing a potential coup. And yes, it's even more embarrassing that Mullen's staff asserts he more or less totally ignored the note.
But let's be honest, isn't the real problem here that a message that was supposed to be on the down-low was found out? (And doesn't that suggest the real mistake was channeling the note through a Pakistani-American businessman who couldn't keep his mouth shut?)
On a deeper level, doesn't the entire incident simply further confirm the fact long-acknowledged by Pakistan hands (and anyone else who's paying attention) that this country seems to be emulating the Chinese model in Hong Kong: one country, two systems? Given the depth, history and tensions associated with the divides between that country's civilian political establishment and its military-intelligence establishment, isn't the truth about Pakistan that is one of the world's true schizo-states?
It is the fact that the civilian government has never been able to assert effective authority over the military or the ISI that has led to the repeated instances of the government promising one thing while its security apparatus was doing another. It is why the country is viewed by the charitable in Washington as a "frenemy." (The less charitable simply view it as an enemy we have to work with, the diplomatic equivalent of a hostile witness in a court case.) In fact, it is why I have also heard more than one Pakistani diplomat use the same term to refer to their own country's relationship with the United States in the past year or so. Admittedly, the Pakistani diplomatic corps tends to represent the civilian government and are so regularly frustrated in their duties by the military and the intelligence services that they are often even more openly hostile to them than are the Americans who by now are simply resigned to their lying and coddling of extremists.
In fact this entire incident underscores why it is misleading and dangerous to think of Pakistan as a unitary country. Not only are its institutions divided, but so too are its people. For every cluster of extremists or those who view their region and much of the world with paranoia-fed hostility, there are masses who seek peace, stability and prosperity and would happily be done with the costly distractions of fighting and divisiveness -- whether internally or, for example, with neighbors like India.
The challenge for the United States and the rest of the world is to manage to work with constructive, sympathetic elements in Pakistan while somehow containing the threat posed by the others, notably those in the ISI and the military who somehow feel it is in the country's interest to support militant groups and to grow the country's nuclear capabilities. Unfortunately, the outlook for managing that challenge does not look good. The civilian government, even if it can hang on for a while longer, is weak and electoral challenges from groups supported by and sympathetic to the military look likely to grow stronger. The nuclear weapons program only looks to grow more dangerous ... and thus we will become even more dependent on the dubious elements of the Pakistan establishment to look out for our most pressing security interests. The country faces profound economic risks that could easily inflame unrest, undercut civilian authority and lead to a push back for the stronger hand of military leadership. And the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will undoubtedly trigger and effort by the Pakistani security elites to support their allies among the Taliban in the struggle for control that will undoubtedly come as the power void in that country next door to Pakistan grows.
As a consequence, our complex and tense relationship with Pakistan is only likely to grow more tense as the complex and tense relationships within the country do as well. Perhaps the greater problem is that the more likely "cure" for schizo-statehood will be a return to military rule. While some will argue this offers desirable stability, it is worth remembering just how that has worked out in the past. It has resulted in a country that unsettled the region and the world with its rogue nuclear program and its support for terrorist and extremist groups. While the illusion was momentary institutional stability in Islamabad, the result was not only undemocratic, it was deeply destabilizing and profoundly dangerous. And that is why anyone with an interest in Pakistan or the region should resist the allure of a return to such faux "stability." Because as schizoid as the situation we face is here, we need to remember that some of the divisions mean that there are forces in the country fighting for democracy, for genuine progress, for an end to conflict and for the kind of civilian control of the security apparatus that is essential to any healthy state.
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Wait until the Republicans get a hold of this! The Wall Street Journal's Mary O'Grady, also known as the last Contra to stumble out of the jungles of Latin America's Cold War, will likely pass out on the spot. It's so wrong...and yet, to the right, it will feel so right.
Full-on-the-mouth man love between American socialist Barack Obama and macho Bolivarian Hugo Chavez! Is this geopolitics? Sean Penn's latest homoerotic fantasy? Or is it capitalism at work?
Of course, the answer is: it's all of the above. The picture is from the latest Benetton advertising campaign, one that seeks to give a jolt of edgy relevance to the fading brightly-colored sweater purveyor. It is part of a campaign that also features the equally steamy picture of Pope Benedict kissing the Sheikh of the al-Azhar mosque, Ahmed al-Tayeb. But that one goes too far, clearly. After all, who could imagine a senior official of the Catholic Church... Er, never mind. I've gotten myself in trouble in that department in the past. I'll just let the picture speak for itself.
Folks, I think we've been had. Worse we've been snookered by a group of guys in the U.S. Congress who are not exactly known for their cleverness. Think about it: we have this oxymoronic supercommittee that has been set up so that if the members fail to do what we ask of them, we are actually the ones who are penalized (through automatic wholesale cuts to government programs, some loved by Dems, some loved the GOP). Shouldn't the members have been forced to sign a deal that said that if they didn't reach a deal by the deadline that they would resign? Shouldn't they actually have some skin in the game?
Trust me, if these dithering poseurs were actually accountable for their own failure to do what they have been hired to do, perhaps they might take the job at hand more seriously. Maybe they are too busy with their insider trading to be bothered with little stuff like the future of the republic.
It's not like the job is actually that tough. They are only being asked to cut the deficit by the equivalent of $120 or so billion a year for a decade. That may sound like a lot but it's out of a $3.7 trillion budget. So it's about 3 percent of the total. And that's including the radical possibility that we actually consider solving the problem by raising revenues a weensy bit. After all, the amount in question is less than we are spending each year on the two wars we don't want to be fighting any more in the Mideast.
Can you imagine what would happen to, say, a mid-level corporate drone who when asked to cut three percent from his budget said he couldn't do it? He'd be canned before he was able to simper his first excuse. And that's just what should happen to these guys.
To put their bungling in perspective, consider for a moment that in today's news alone we have reports that historical enemies India and Pakistan have managed to hammer out an agreement normalizing trade relations, that Syria's neighbors have reversed their behavior of decades and started to pressure the Assad regime to pack it up, that even the Greek and Italian governments are making progress dealing with crises that they have let fester for years. In other words, government officials in other countries are at least showing signs of trying to grapple with tough issues albeit with varying degrees of success.
But here in Washington, the supercommittee and the Congressional leaders to whom they feel they report (they actually report to us, but that's seemingly beside the point to them) haven't thought saving the U.S. economy from yet another crisis of confidence in the markets not to mention the other grave consequences of continued fecklessness was important enough to get around to with only a week left to go on the clock. Insiders in both parties are giving up hope for a deal (although my money is still on a last minute faux-deal that is both small and meaningless when scrutinized). And for everyone involved, the expectation is that they can blame it on the other side and go on with business as usual.
If we, the American people, had any sense of urgency ourselves, we would put an end to that complacency in the one way we can. Should this process fail, we should start a significant public movement to vote out the current Congressional leadership and every single member of the supercommittee ... and to send a strong message that the next Congress needs a change of management regardless of who wins. These guys have disqualified themselves from further consideration as "leaders." They can't do it. They won't. They will have had their shot and failed. And should they not rise to this particularly important moment, we need to recognize that unless we fire them for their incompetence that future generations of congresspeople will feel that they too can pose and pontificate and fail with impunity ... thus producing the kind of institutional breakdown that unchecked will do more to undercut American power than two centuries of international adversaries could muster.
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David Rothkopf is the CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy. His new book, "Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government and the Reckoning that Lies Ahead" is due out from Farrar, Straus & Giroux on March 1.