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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Election Offers 6-9 Month Opportunity To Fix Iraq Policy, Former State Dept Official Says

Last week's election that vaulted Democrats to the majority in both houses of the U.S. Congress offers Democrats an important chance to lead on national security issues, according to a former State Department official. It also offers a six- to nine-month window to improve U.S. policy in Iraq, she adds.

The results of the Iraq Study Group, a panel of experts chaired by former secretary of state James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton that is looking at alternatives for U.S. policy in Iraq, will be watched closely, says Susan Rice, assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 1997 through 2001 and a former adviser to Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid.

The gains Democrats have made with voters in the area of national security so far are "short-term" and "very tenuous" and will have to produce good results to work at erasing the Republican predominance on national security, Rice says.

"So Democrats need to govern to the extent they can from one legislative branch with one eye on the prize of securing their restoration in the realm of national security policy," she says.

Democrats will look to offer "an olive branch" to the administration aiming to have a dialogue that is genuine and that is collective problem solving, Rice says. It is also in the interest of Republicans to change course, as well, she says.

"Baker-Hamilton they hope will provide a vehicle around which both sides can come together. If that does not happen, I think over a period of months you will see increasing efforts by the Democratic controlled Congress to pressure the President towards a course correction, pressure short of using the power of the purse," Rice says. "Because the reality is, I think if there is one thing that is clear out of this past week, that the Republicans do not want Iraq to be the dominant issue in 2008. So they face a self-interested imperative to take the issue off the table, and there is no way to do that if the situation continues to deteriorate and the Democrats are screaming bloody murder that it is past time to change course, the American public has said that and the administration is dragging its feet.

"So I think that there will eventually over the next six months or so be a coalescence around at least a theoretical framework for moving forward changing the course which will entail by necessity a gradual and hopefully a relatively nondisruptive drawdown of U.S. forces," she adds.

Because they come in "enormously empowered" and won an early victory with the dismissal of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld the day after they won their majorities, the new Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have six to nine months to come up with a solution to U.S. policy in Iraq, Rice says.

"On the ... question about to what extent can the Democratic leadership manage their new caucus which includes many people who obviously were elected at least in part on a platform to change course in Iraq, and then the blogosphere, I think that this is something that they can manage relatively well for the foreseeable future by which I mean six to nine months," she says.

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