DeM Banter: There are so many 2nd, 3rd, and 4th order effects of this… it is honestly hard to even track them all. A failure of leadership at the highest levels…how can any entity focus on the strategic when they can’t get passed the very tactical issue of surviving and funding the day to day operations of its government? It simply hurts…The only way to fight the crisis, complexity, and confusion in the nation is through communication, collaboration, and creative thinking….but if we can’t even communicate…there is little hope for anything more than what we have here.
Wall Street Journal
October 1, 2013
While the government was preparing to shut down around him, President Barack Obama sat down Monday with the leader of one of America’s most important allies, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and was planning for a four-country trip to Asia later in the week.
That incongruous picture raises uncomfortable but important questions: When will Washington’s dysfunction, which has become a chronic condition, begin to erode allies’ confidence in the U.S.? And when might America’s foes decide they can take advantage of the paralysis?
Let’s face it: A superpower that isn’t sure it can fund its government or pay its bills, overseen by a president who recently found that members of Congress from both parties were unwilling to follow his lead on military action in Syria, isn’t in a great position to work its will abroad.
Even before the government began shutting down Monday night because of Congress’s failure to strike a deal, the world was beginning to feel some effects of these embarrassing difficulties. Financial markets largely slipped around the world on Monday on the prospect of a shutdown and the far more frightening prospect that the U.S. could, in a few weeks, default on its debts. The Times of London called the whole exercise “irresponsible brinkmanship . . . when the world economy badly needs American leadership.”
More practical effects of a shutdown would be felt abroad as well. A foreigner seeking a visa might be out of luck. Negotiators trying to hammer out a long-discussed trans-Pacific trade deal in advance of Mr. Obama’s trip to Asia could be forced to sit on their hands.
Far more worrying than such practical but temporary effects are the broader doubts about American credibility and reliability now being sown, regardless of the outcome of the current comic opera. If the president and Congress can’t agree on a plan to keep open the Washington Monument, how can foreign powers assume the U.S. government can unite behind efforts to do much harder tasks abroad?
Israel’s Mr. Netanyahu, for example, must be wondering whether, in the wake of Congress’s reluctance to back the president in response to Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons, the U.S. government can mount a serious threat of military action to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
Conversely, Iran’s new president, Hasan Rouhani, must be wondering whether, in the event of a diplomatic deal to curtail that nuclear program, Mr. Obama could convince Congress that it should go along with scaling back economic sanctions on Tehran.
One also wonders what more-unsavory characters might be thinking. Though Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been coerced — mostly by Russia — to accept an international plan to give up his regime’s chemical weapons, he may actually be feeling more secure now that he knows that splits in Washington likely ensure that he won’t be subject to U.S. attack in the foreseeable future.
Even among friends, the consequences of this year’s political show can’t be good. The Obama administration is trying to negotiate both that big new trade deal with partners in Asia, as well as one in Europe. Should friendly leaders believe that this White House could get this Congress to ratify terms of a complex agreement once it’s negotiated?
For some time, analysts have worried that America’s economic woes, and its debt and deficit problems, would interfere with Washington’s ability to play its expected, leading role on the world stage. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, recently published an entire book on this theme, titled “Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America’s House in Order.”
In that book, Mr. Haass argues that “shortcomings here at home directly threaten America’s ability to project power and exert influence overseas.” That argument refers mostly to Washington’s inability to get its arms around deficits and associated failures to make the investments in research and infrastructure needed to remain an economically vibrant world power.
Right now, though, those problems are compounded by the political system’s apparent inability to perform its most basic functions, starting with passing a budget. It is one thing for the U.S. to be preoccupied by internal problems and disputes. It is another thing to be disabled by them, and that is the picture that must be emerging abroad.
Even in past periods of domestic turmoil, the basic competence of America’s governing system still seemed intact, and there was at least some prospect that politics might end at water’s edge. In today’s current atmosphere of dysfunction and crippling polarization, there is reason to doubt that either condition still holds.