The United States Senate has always had an extraordinarily important role in the conduct of foreign and national security policy, from true oversight and Senate confirmation, to war powers and treaty ratification.
Senator Harry Reid will soon lead a Senate, and a Democratic Caucus in the Senate, that is gifted with one of the strongest national security and foreign policy line-ups of leaders in the history of the institution.
Having worked for significant Senators such as Birch Bayh, Max Baucus and Lloyd Bentsen and then the House Democratic Leadership, I have dealt with many of the players and now believe that Senator Harry Reid could become the kind of historic public figure that some Senate Majority Leaders have risen to, in the past.
First, the great challenge of American national security in 2006; then why Senator Reid and the Democratic Senate will rise to the occasion. In recent years the United States has been governed by the functional equivalent of a one party State, and that one party state has been dominated by a rejectionist and extreme faction that is far outside the tradition of American national security strategy.
President Bush and Vice President Cheney have not only been influenced by, but have been the leaders of, this extreme and radical rejectionism of the core idea that has embodied American security for every President, of both parties, since Franklin Roosevelt.
President Kennedy said it concisely: we should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate. Every President since FDR has fundamentally followed the practice that both our military and our diplomacy must be strong, effective and coordinated under the umbrella of a larger strategic vision and unified democratic alliance.
President Bush and Vice President Cheney violated every cardinal rule of this long time consensus. They have acted as though the United States would only negotiate with our friends, never our enemies. They have been outright hostile to the core value of diplomacy, either taking a pure rejectionist position, simply refusing negotiations as a matter of principle, or engaging in watered down fig leaf diplomacy that was either intended to fail, or was doomed to fail.
The result of this Bush-Cheney rejectionism, and the dominance of the rejectionist extreme of the Republican Party, has been disregard for advice from our strongest allies, disunity of the democratic alliance itself, structural decay and destabilization of our military force structure, the erosion of our deterrent power, and the catastrophic alienation of public opinion around the world.
This Bush-Cheney Doctrine, is a radical and extreme deviation not only from the common practices of every President since FDR, but a radical and extreme deviation from the common practices of every Repubican President since Eisenhower.
Eisenhower warned about the dangers of a policy of one-dimensional militarism in his famous "military-industrial complex" warning. Ike stood second to none in supporting a strong military but understood it must always be accompanied by an equally strong diplomacy.
Richard Nixon sought nuclear arms control with the Soviets and opened the door to China. Gerald Ford continued arms control talks with the Soviets and the China opening. Ronald Reagan understood the possiblility of historic change with the arrival of Gorbachev, and with Gorbachev, achieved monumental breakthroughs over the opposition of many in the rejectionist rightist wing of the Republican Party.
President George Herbert Walker Bush worked with allies and adversaries to steer the world through the end of the Cold War, then worked with senior Democrats and our allies to build a powerful global coalition that prevailed in the first Persian Gulf War, then directly avoided the catastrophic mistakes of the current Iraq War.
It is no coincidence that the Bush-Cheney team planning the Iraq war expressed a sneering contempt for President G.H.W. Bush's conduct of the first Gulf War. In reality, they expressed a sneering contempt for the panoramic premise of strategic policy agreed upon by every single President since Franklin Roosevelt.
For the first in American history since Harry Truman, there is no American leadership for a broader Middle East peace. For the first time since FDR there is a functional failure to lead the democratic alliance. For the first time since George Washington America suffers stunning defeats in the global battle of ideas, creating ever-increasing dangers in the global battle against terrorism. For first time since Dwight Eisenhower our military has been destabilized by a one dimensional policy and pillaged by profiteering
My great hope for Senator Reid emerging as a historically important Majority Leader, and for Democrats in Congress to contribute to great events and become a majority governing party, is to offer alternatives that begin with this:
There can be compromise with Republicans, but there cannot be compromise with the radical rejectionist wing of the Republican Party that rejects in principle a diplomacy that will mobilize our allies, and offer solutions to those who are not our allies.
My great hope for Senator Reid emerging as a historically important Majority Leader is that he begins where John F. Kennedy left off, a strong support for our military, a strong support for creative diplomacy, and above all, a full understanding that our success is based on a powerful stand in the battle of ideas.
No policy will work, unless it offers hope and inspiration to young people around the world, suffering from poverty, angry at social injustice, feeling the humiliation, desperation, fulility and rage that is the breeding ground for the suicide bomber.
The policy in Iraq has degenerated into a combination of Vietnam (quagmire without simple resolution), Lebanon in the 1980's (militia death squads ripping the heart from the spirit of the country), and early stage Bosnia (slow motion ethnic cleansing) with the real and deadly danger that this breakdown could engulf the wider circle of the Middle East.
My hope for Senator Reid becoming a historic Majority Leader would be for Democrats to move beyond incremental challenges to catastrophically failed policies, and offer bold new policies, based on the taditional paradigm of post-World War II presidents, to offer allies and the world the true hope for a better life and safer world.
Why not propose a 60 day cease fire in Iraq that would offer a halt fo the carnage and the beginning of a policy of hope? Why not call for a 60 day genuine reconciliation conference in Iraq with a brutally clear warning to the government that forces aligned with their government must stop killing their people?
Why not accompany this cease fire proposal with an allied and Gulf State financed program that would begin with Iraq, and potentially be available to the region, for dramatic financing of programs that would make life better if and when reconciliation agreements are reached?
This approach would facilitate greater and faster training of Iraqi forces and make more realistic the prospect for a workable exit strategy, but more important it would offer Iraqis a genuine hope and better life.
Tactical changes such as force redeployments and phased withdrawls may be desirable, but unless we offer the authentic hope of a better life, the situation remains on automatic pilot to increasing chaos and greater death.
My great hope for Senator Reid becoming a historic Majority Leader is that he has the talents and temperament that are perfectly suited for our times, and an extraordinary Caucus of Senate Democrats that has a wealth of talent and leadership figures.
Senator Reid is strong on political principle, clear about national strategy, and very much in the tradition of great Senators with great respect for the institution of the Senate. He the talent for working respectfully to bring out the best in a diverse world of high quality Senators.
The great untold story of 2006, which I believe will be clear by 2007, is the exceptional number of truly outstanding Senators in the Democratic Caucus. While the Washington wags say they all want to be President, in truth, many of them are well qualified to be President, while others harbor no presidential ambition but are greatly gifted in talent.
The Senate under Harry Reid will be a great incubator of ideas, with a Caucus well above the cut of historical average. Senators such as Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Evan Bayh, John Kerry, Barack Obama and others are authentic potential presidents. Bill Nelson, Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are enormously talented and skilled and could join that list if they choose to.
Carl Levin is a national security scholar and leader with tremendous stature and respect on both sides of the aisle.
Senators such as Jay Rockefeller and Jack Reed are authentic national security leaders and heavyweights. Jim Webb will be a major power on national security on his first day in the Senate. Ted Kennedy is not only a great progressive Lion of the Senate, but a Senate man with a long track record of working with Republicans to get things done. Robert Byrd is a man of unprecedented reverence for the Senate and a wise brand of statesmanship and parliamentary genius.
Finally, Senator Reid comes from the school that maintains first principles of policy but offers to work in good faith for genuine bipartisan achievement when possible. There are some major Republican Senators of substance and stature such as John Warner and Chuck Hagel who fully appreciate how far Bush policies have strayed from tradtional consensus and common sense, and could be occasoinal partners for Senator Reid and Democrats on matters that serve the national interest.
It is very possible that the man, the moment and the Majority Leadership come together in Senator Reid to restore the Senate to its historic role, to restore a national security debate that returns to the historic consensus of American Presidents, and that restores the Democratic Party to a party of power and principle that will elect a Democratic President in 2008.
Senator Reid will be a great Majority Leader.
He has the potential to be a historic Majority Leader, in a historic United State Senate.