Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein


December 2006

At the end of this tumultuous election year, how much impact will the November election results have on Congress' appreciation of the huge stake the United States has in the Middle East and of Iraq's central role there?

Whether the November 7 outcome equals the political earthquake of 1994, when Republicans took control of the House of Representatives after thirty years, remains an open question. In any case, George Bush faces a two-year struggle to avoid becoming a lame duck president and ending his eight years in the White House as a failure.

Regrettably, we are looking at two years of divided government and a polarization in national politics while Republicans and Democrats jockey for advantage leading up to the 2008 presidential elections.

Foreign policy politics holds substantial risks for Democrats. For example, while John Murtha and Howard Dean insist on a quick U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi treads lightly on this key election issue. She senses that the public does not favor a quick withdrawal that might create even greater chaos in Iraq than currently exists.

In addition, the Democrats' prospects for retaking the White House in 2008 could be jeopardized if the party is blamed for a humiliating U.S. withdrawal that opened Iraq to greater influence from neighboring Iran's radical Islamic regime.

Critics argue that conditions in Baghdad now resemble the "quagmire" in Vietnam forty years ago. The reality is that the strategic stakes in Iraq and the Persian Gulf region are infinitely greater than they were in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Here are three reasons why:

Another factor in George Bush's decision to oust Saddam Hussein was to reassure Israel that the United States will not allow a hostile coalition of states, led by Iran, to attack Israel and end its independence. This has been a U.S. commitment since President Truman granted Israel diplomatic recognition in 1948.

Given these fundamental reasons for a continued American presence in the Persian Gulf, it will prove difficult for Democratic congressional leaders, especially in the Senate, to press for a complete withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, or other Gulf states. These oil-rich countries provide the United States with military bases in return for protection against political intimidation by Iran's radical Islamic government.

We are likely in 2007 to see a partial return to bipartisanship in foreign policy in the Middle East, as both Democratic and Republican leaders understand the larger stakes involved in Iraq. The Baker-Hamilton Study Group's report, released last week, should facilitate this process, as will the Senate's overwhelming approval of Robert Gates to be the new secretary of defense.

File last modified on Saturday, 11-DEC-2006 8:56 PM EST

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