What would Democrats do about Iraq?
Even if Democrats take both Houses of Congress, big change is unlikely.
In poll after poll, prospective voters name Iraq as the No. 1 issue in the upcoming midterm elections.Skip to next paragraph
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So if voters tip one or both Houses of Congress out of Republican control, what impact would that have on the US war effort in Iraq and, more generally, on American foreign policy?
Democrats could conceivably view such an election outcome as a mandate for asserting a markedly different course in Iraq than the one President Bush has set.
But don't expect too much, most experts say.
For one thing, Democrats are not of one mind on what to do about Iraq. And while committees chaired by Democrats might hold more meetings and call more testifiers critical of some White House policies, Mr. Bush would still retain the power of the presidential bully pulpit.
In addition, Bush's foreign policy in the second term has already evolved in a direction – away from unilateralism and toward greater cooperation – that suits both Bush's political opponents and moderates in his own party, some analysts say.
For others, the differences between Bush and the Democrats on the big foreign-policy issues are really a matter of details and not starkly black and white.
"My hunch is that there wouldn't be a large change in American foreign policy with a divided government because there really hasn't been a deep division over the overall direction of that policy," says Julian Zelizer, a specialist in foreign policy and contemporary American politics at Boston University.
"It's ironic because the rhetoric has been so fierce," Mr. Zelizer adds. "But there is general consensus on the war on terror, and even on Iraq it's principally a matter of specifics – for example, the exit strategy and how to handle the Iraqi government. It's not, 'the president says stay' versus 'the Democrats say get out now.' "
Indeed, while some Democratic members of Congress have fielded ideas that have pushed the Iraq debate forward – Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania calling for a withdrawal from Iraq, or Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware proposing a confederation of sectarian-based provinces to stem the violence – the Democrats are not united behind one Iraq policy. That can be seen in the disparate campaigning by Democrats on Iraq, with the one common thread a stiff criticism of Bush's "stick with it until victory" policy.
Despite some niche attention to Darfur or Iran or China trade policy, foreign policy in the midterm elections largely boils down to Iraq. Recognizing that, the White House is signaling to voters that it hears and shares their anxiety, some analysts say, while suggesting that adjustments in policy are coming no matter the outcome of the elections.
"It's what I call the law of anticipated reaction," says Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon official in the Reagan administration, now at the Center for American Progress in Washington. "The White House can read the writing on the wall and is already adjusting: They've given up 'stay the course' and are now talking about tactical adjustments," he says. "That way they get ahead of looking like they are being pushed by the Democrats."