I got an email from the Chairman of the California Democratic Party yesterday asking for support for legislation (HR 2404) requiring the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress by the end of the year on the Administration's exit strategy. So I did a little research to try to find out what led to this idea. I wondered, has the Secretary of Defense refused to answer questions about the exit strategy for Afghanistan? Has he even been asked about this? Has the administration been uncooperative about its plans for Afghanistan? So far I have not seen anything that suggests that less antagonistic means of obtaining this information have been exhausted, or that they have been unproductive.
While everyone should be concerned about the continued involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, given that country's long history as the place where the plans of great empires have come to ruin, my concern is more about the most effective process for raising those concerns. Is it really necessary, so early in the Obama administration, to adopt an adversarial relationship between Congress and the White House in order to develop a sensible policy toward Afghanistan? Here is a place where there is broad, bi-partisan agreement on the importance of creating a more stable country, keeping the Taliban out of power if possible, and eliminating bases for Al-Qaeda. There is also broad, bi-partisan appreciation of the dangers of sinking into the Afghan quagmire as the Soviets and prior empires did. There is also general agreement that the United States is not trying to extend its empire to Afghanistan, only to try to do some good in that country. We have a very difficult, but important, mission there, and we ought to be able to have a civilized debate about how to accomplish it. Does it further that debate to issue demands and ultimatums from Congress to the administration, or are there more constructive ways of formulating appropriate policy?
It seems that some Democrats in Congress still think of themselves as the party out of power, and are ready to treat the Obama administration the way they treated the Bush administration, as a hostile entity not to be trusted. Or maybe Democrats are just naturally fractious and divided, and are ready to re-live their glory days as the party that destroyed itself over Vietnam in the 1960's, or as the party that could not get anything done in the next installment of their glory days during the Carter administration in the 1970's, or perhaps as the party that had such trouble defining itself during the Clinton administration in the 1990's that it subsequently lost both Congress and the White House. The Obama administration promised to use the political process in a more constructive way than these past Democratic failures. Will Democrats in Congress learn to work as a team so that they do not repeat them?
Will Rogers famously said, "I am not a member of any organized political party. I'm a Democrat!" Is it foolish to hope that Democrats could learn to be a bit more organized? If they could avoid destructive political infighting, they might actually get health care reform passed this year, and they might be able to conduct a sensible foreign policy without marching in the streets.