The Swoop: Washington’s World: April 18th – April 24th, 2011

The Swoop: Washington’s World: April 18th – April 24th, 2011
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“In highly contrasting speeches, President Obama and the Republican leadership have set out their visions for public spending in the coming decade. While both foresee substantial and broadly similar reductions in the federal deficit, their pathways to achieving their objective barely converge.

The stage is therefore set for a fundamental debate about America’s future direction. Senior members of both parties hope that this debate can be conducted in a positive spirit. However, such is the ideological fervor in both parties, it is just as likely that the US now faces an unusually uncertain period in its history where discord will predominate and pragmatic compromise will be elusive.

The next test will come sometime in mid-May when the federal debt ceiling needs Congressional approval to be raised. Many Democrats and Republicans see this as a litmus test for their political purity.

The focus on the budget has and will continue to push foreign policy into the background. Despite Obama’s joint newspaper article on Libya and Secretary of State Clinton’s NATO appearance, the US inclination for a deeper role in  Libya is limited. Pentagon officials tell us that Secretary of Defense Gates continues to make his case against deeper involvement and that his voice has proved decisive. Against this, the humanitarian argument is not going unheard. This could propel the US into a modest extension of its air power.

Senior US officials tell us privately that they see Libya as a distraction from the greater sources of concern in the varying situations in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Implicit in all these is the long shadow of Iran about which Republican foreign policy strategists are warning. In response to this, we hear that a debate is underway in the National Security Council to recommend a more vigorous engagement in the Middle East peace process by Obama.

We doubt that this will go much beyond rhetoric. Almost overlooked in the Middle East turmoil is that relations with Pakistan have deteriorated in the wake of a recent visit to Washington by the Pakistan intelligence chief. This will bring complications for US policy in Afghanistan as the spring fighting season begins and the debate about US military drawdown rumbles on.”