Three developments in Washington in late June underscore the reality that American politics have become so fragmented that the nation's foreign policy will be seriously impaired during the final eighteen months of George Bush's presidency.
The first event was the Senate's rejection of the strenuous efforts of the chamber's leaders and President Bush to enact immigration legislation that would both defend our southern border against illegal immigrants and deal fairly with undocumented workers already in the country.
The second event was an admission by the White House that it needed help from Britain's ex-prime minister, Tony Blair, to avoid renewed warfare between Israel and Palestinians and reestablish peace talks.
A third case was Congress' decision to withdraw fast-track trade authority that enables a president to negotiate new trade agreements.
Immigration. The Senate's final rejection of a comprehensive immigration bill, negotiated over many months by a bipartisan group of senators, reinforces the view that Congress is incapable of dealing with a potentially dangerous foreign policy issue: protecting the country against illegal aliens, some of them potential terrorists.
This is not a partisan matter. Both Republicans and Democrats defied their Senate leaders to scuttle a plan that most Americans think is a reasonable compromise. While some pundits claim that George Bush suffered a major defeat,. this was in fact a massive defeat for both Congress and the president. It increases the likelihood that we will have a lame-duck government, not just a presidency, for the next eighteen months.
The serious situation on our border with Mexico will continue, even though new measures are employed to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants. Relations with Mexico and other Latin American nations are deteriorating as a result of the Senate's inaction, and renewed efforts to clean up the immigration mess is not likely before 2009. In the meantime, some 12 million people continue to live illegally in this country.
Palestine. The Palestinian Authority's split into two parts, one in the Gaza Strip controlled by the radical Hamas, and another in the West Bank run by the moderate Fatah, is a significant failure of America's foreign policy in the Middle East.
Five years ago Bush promised Palestinians an independent state if they rid themselves of Yasser Arafat's corrupt, anti-Israeli leadership. They did so last year by electing Hamas as the majority group in their assembly. This was a serious blow to U.S. plans because Hamas, unlike Fatah, refuses to recognize Israel's right to a Jewish state.
Tony Blair, as the new envoy of the United States, European Community, United Nations, and Russia (the Quartet), will try to restart the stalled peace process. Blair has more credibility among Arab leaders for even-handedness than does Bush because of their belief that Washington always supports Israel's position.
The fact that Bush, hoping for peace in Palestine before he leaves office in 2009, turned to Blair for help reinforces the view that the president is not able to exert a decisive influence in this part of the Middle East.
Trade legislation. Every president since the 1970's has been granted fast-track trade authority by Congress, which permits an administration to negotiate trade agreements with other countries that are then approved or rejected by Congress without crippling amendments. The result has greatly increased world trade, expanded exports for American farmers and manufacturers, and reduced the price of imported goods. The downside is the loss of American jobs to overseas competition, even though unemployment in the United States has been at low levels.
Protectionist sentiment in Congress is increasing and new laws may be enacted to restrict imports that threaten jobs in this country. Senate defeat of immigration reform adds to fears abroad that America is moving toward isolationism.
Normally, the lame-duck season does not arrive in the United States until the final year of a president's term. This time it's earlier, for two reasons: because Congress is so closely divided between Republicans and Democrats, the parties are already girding for war in the 2008 election; and the war in Iraq has so diminished Bush's political influence on Congress that America's relations with other countries are impaired.
That is a prescription for dangerous times in international politics.
File last modified on Monday, 08-JULY-2007 6:10 PM EST