Cliff May

According to polls and pundits, voters will soon turn the keys to the House and possibly the Senate over to the Democrats. Less easy to forecast: what that would mean for foreign policy in general and the war in Iraq in particular.

My optimistic scenario is that Democrats, given power, also will assume responsibility -- and that the White House will open its doors to those willing to work on a bipartisan basis to solve the historic challenges America faces.

A key player could be Sen. Joseph Lieberman. His convictions on Iraq cost him the Democratic primary in Connecticut. But Lieberman now appears poised to win the general election running as an independent against a left-wing, "insurgent" Democrat and a lackluster Republican. Lieberman has proposed forming a "bipartisan Iraq working group" in Congress early next year.

It would include top members of the committees overseeing foreign policy. One might suggest he also invite some of the freshmen congressmen whose victories will have brought the Democratic Party back from the wilderness. Many of these politicians are from "red states" and have been running on fairly conservative platforms. Though critical of the administration's war effort, they may be sober enough to understand that if America sinks in Iraq it will not be only Captain Bush and his crew who will drown.

Now here's my pessimistic scenario: The congressional Democrats who end up holding the reins are those favored by the left-wing base and blogs, such as Rep. John Murtha --who has said America is "more dangerous to world peace than Iran or North Korea," and Rep. John Conyers, who has made it clear his agenda will include repealing vital counter-terrorism laws (e.g. the Patriot Act) and initiating impeachment proceedings against the president.

Among those inspiring such Democrats is Retired Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, a Yale professor who this week wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times explicitly calling for a policy of "cutting and running" from Iraq. The U.S. also should drop its "resistance to Iran's nuclear weapons program," Odom wrote. "This will be as distasteful for U.S. leaders as cutting and running, but it is no less essential."

There is a huge gap between such Petainist positions and Bush's goal of "victory" -- defined as Iraq's transformation into a beacon for the Middle East. If moderate Democrats prevail and seek common ground with the White House, the mission ought to be to develop policies that can salvage as much as possible from the difficult situation in Iraq, policies that stand a chance of averting what Lieberman has termed "defeat and disaster."


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.