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  • Greg Cannon
    ... Strategic Forecasting Stratfor.comServicesSubscriptionsReportsPartnersPress RoomContact Us GEOPOLITICAL INTELLIGENCE REPORT 10.31.2006 The Election and
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 31, 2006
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      > Date: Tue, 31 Oct 2006 18:33:41 -0600
      > To: gregcannon1@...
      > From: "Strategic Forecasting, Inc."
      > <noreply@...>
      > Subject: Stratfor Geopolitical Intelligence Report
      Strategic Forecasting
      Stratfor.comServicesSubscriptionsReportsPartnersPress
      RoomContact Us
      GEOPOLITICAL INTELLIGENCE REPORT
      10.31.2006

      The Election and Investigatory Powers of Congress
      By George Friedman

      There is now only a week to go before midterm
      congressional elections in the United States. The
      legislative outcome is already fairly clear. President
      George W. Bush lost the ability to drive legislation
      through Congress when he had to back away from his
      Social Security proposals. That situation will
      continue: The president will not be able to generate
      legislation without building coalitions. On the other
      hand, Congress will not be able to override his
      vetoes. That means that, regardless of whether the
      Democrats take the House of Representatives (as
      appears likely) or the Senate (which appears less
      likely but still possible), the basic architecture of
      the American legislative process will remain intact.
      Democrats will not gain much power to legislate;
      Republicans will not lose much.

      If the Democrats take control of the House from the
      Republicans, the most important change will not be
      that Nancy Pelosi becomes House Speaker, but that the
      leadership of House committees will shift -- and even
      more significant, that there will be upheaval of
      committee staffs. Republicans will shift to minority
      staff positions -- and have to let go of a lot of
      staffers -- while the Democrats will get to hire a lot
      of new ones. These staffers serve two functions. The
      first is preparing legislation, the second is managing
      investigations. Given the likelihood of political
      gridlock, there will be precious little opportunity
      for legislation to be signed into law during the next
      two years -- but there likely will be ample
      opportunity and motivation for congressional
      investigations.

      Should the Democrats use this power to their
      advantage, there will be long-term implications for
      both the next presidential election and foreign policy
      options in the interim.

      One of the most important things that the Republicans
      achieved, with their control of both the House and
      Senate, was to establish control over the type and
      scope of investigations that were permitted. Now, even
      if control of only the House should change hands, the
      Democrats will be making those decisions. And, where
      the GOP's goal was to shut down congressional
      investigations, the Democrat Party's goal will be to
      open them up and use them to shape the political
      landscape ahead of the 2008 presidential election.

      It is important to define what we mean by
      "investigation." On the surface, congressional
      investigations are opportunities for staffers from the
      majority party to wield subpoena power in efforts to
      embarrass their bosses' opponents. The investigations
      also provide opportunities for members of Congress and
      senators to make extensive speeches that witnesses
      have to sit and listen to when they are called to
      testify -- a very weird process, if you have ever seen
      it. Congressional investigations are not about coming
      to the truth of a matter in order for the laws of the
      republic to be improved for the common good. They are
      designed to extract political benefit and put
      opponents in the wrong. (Republicans and Democrats
      alike use the congressional investigative function to
      that end, so neither has the right to be indignant.)

      For years, however, Democrats have been in no position
      to unilaterally call hearings and turn their staffs
      and subpoena powers loose on a topic -- which means
      they have been precluded from controlling the news
      cycle. The media focus intensely on major
      congressional hearings. For television networks, they
      provide vivid moments of confrontation; and the reams
      of testimony, leaked or official, give the print media
      an enormous opportunity to look for embarrassing
      moments that appear to reveal something newsworthy. In
      the course of these hearings, there might even be
      opportunities for witnesses to fall into acts of
      perjury -- or truth-telling -- that can lead to
      indictments and trials.

      To reverse their position, the Democrats need not
      capture both the House and Senate next week. In fact,
      from the party's standpoint, that might not even be
      desirable. The Senate and House historically have
      gotten in each other's way in the hearing process.
      Moreover, there are a lot of Democratic senators
      considering a run for the presidency, but not many
      members of Congress with those ambitions. Senators who
      get caught up in congressional hearings can wind up
      being embarrassed themselves -- and with the competing
      goals of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and some of the
      other candidates, things could wind up a mess. But if
      the House alone goes to Democrats, Pelosi would be
      positioned to orchestrate a series of hearings from
      multiple committees and effectively control the news
      cycles. Within three months of the new House being
      sworn in, the political landscape could be dominated
      by hearings -- each week bringing new images of
      witnesses being skewered or news of embarrassing files
      being released. Against this backdrop, a new
      generation of Democratic congressmen would be making
      their debuts on the news networks, both while sitting
      on panels, and on the news channels afterward.

      Politically, this would have two implications. First,
      the ability of the White House to control and direct
      public attention would decline dramatically. Not only
      would the White House not be able to shut down
      unwanted debate, but it would lack the ability even to
      take part in setting the agenda. Each week's subject
      would be chosen by the House Democratic leadership.
      Second, there will be a presidential election in two
      years that the Democrats want to win. Therefore, they
      would use congressional hearings to shape public
      opinion along the lines their party wants. The goal
      would be not only to embarrass the administration, but
      also to showcase Democratic strengths.

      The Senate can decide to hold its own hearings, of
      course, and likely would if left in Republican hands.
      The problem is that, at the end of the day, the most
      interesting investigations would involve the Bush
      administration and corporations that can be linked to
      it. A GOP-controlled Senate could call useful
      hearings, but they would be overwhelmed by the
      Democratic fireworks. They just would not matter as
      much.

      So let's consider, from a foreign policy standpoint,
      what would be likely matters for investigation:

      * What did the Bush administration really know
      about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Did Bush
      dismiss advice from the CIA on Iraq?

      * Did the administration ignore warnings about al
      Qaeda attacks prior to 9/11?



      These, of course, would be the mothers of all
      investigations. Everything would be dragged out and
      pored over. The fact that there have been bipartisan
      examinations by the 9/11 commission would not matter:
      The new hearings would be framed as an inquiry into
      whether the 9/11 commission's recommendations were
      implemented -- and that would open the door to
      re-examine all the other issues.

      Following close on these would be investigations into:

      * Whether the Department of Homeland Security is
      effective.

      * Whether the new structure of the intelligence
      community works.

      * Whether Halliburton received contracts unfairly
      -- a line of inquiry that could touch Vice President
      Dick Cheney.

      * Whether private contractors like Blackwater are
      doing appropriate jobs in Iraq.

      * Whether the Geneva Conventions should apply in
      cases of terrorist detentions.

      * Whether China is violating international trade
      agreement.



      And so on. Every scab would be opened -- as is the
      right of Congress, the tendency of the nation in
      unpopular wars, and likely an inevitable consequence
      of these midterm elections.

      We can expect the charges raised at these hearings to
      be serious, and to come from two groups. The first
      will be Democratic critics of the administration.
      These will be unimportant: Such critics, along with
      people like former White House security adviser
      Richard Clarke, already have said everything they have
      to say. But the second group will include another
      class -- former members of the administration, the
      military and the CIA who have, since the invasion of
      Iraq, broken with the administration. They have
      occasionally raised their voices -- as, for instance,
      in Bob Woodward's recent book -- but the new
      congressional hearings would provide a platform for
      systematic criticism of the administration. And many
      of these critics seem bruised and bitter enough to
      avail themselves of it.

      This intersects with internal Republican politics. At
      this point, the Republicans are divided into two
      camps. There are those who align with the Bush
      position: that the war in Iraq made sense and that,
      despite mistakes, it has been prosecuted fairly well
      on the whole. And there are those, coalesced around
      Sens. Chuck Hagel and John Warner, who argue that,
      though the rationale for the war very well might have
      made sense, its prosecution by Donald Rumsfeld has led
      to disaster. The lines might be evenly drawn, but for
      the strong suspicion that Sen. John McCain is in the
      latter camp.

      McCain clearly intends to run for president and,
      though he publicly shows support for Bush, there is
      every evidence that McCain has never forgiven him for
      the treatment he received in the primaries of 2000.
      McCain is not going to attack the president, nor does
      he really oppose the war in Iraq, but he has shown
      signs that he feels that the war has not been well
      prosecuted. This view, shared publicly by recently
      retired military commanders who served in Iraq, holds
      out Rumsfeld as the villain. It is not something that
      McCain is going to lead the charge on, but in taking
      down Rumsfeld, McCain would be positioned to say that
      he supported the war and the president -- but not his
      secretary of defense, who was responsible for
      overseeing the prosecution of the war.

      From McCain's point of view, little would be more
      perfect than an investigation into the war by a
      Democrat-controlled House during which former military
      and Defense Department officials pounded the daylights
      out of Rumsfeld. This would put whole-hearted
      Republican supporters of the president in a tough
      position and give McCain -- who, as a senator, would
      not have to participate in the hearings -- space to
      defend Bush's decision but not his tactics. The
      hearings also would allow him to challenge Democratic
      front-runners (Clinton and Obama) on their credentials
      for waging a war. They could be maneuvered into either
      going too far and taking a pure anti-war stance, or
      into trying to craft a defense policy at which McCain
      could strike. To put it another way, aggressively
      investigating an issue like the war could wind up
      blowing up in the Democrats' faces, but that is so
      distant and subtle a possibility that we won't worry
      about it happening -- nor will they.

      What does seem certain, however, is this: The American
      interest in foreign policy is about to take an
      investigatory turn, as in the waning days of the
      Vietnam War. Various congressional hearings, like
      those of the Church Committee, so riveted the United
      States in the 1970s and so tied down the policymaking
      bureaucracy that crafting foreign policy became almost
      impossible.

      George W. Bush is a lame duck in the worst sense of
      the term. Not only are there no more elections he can
      influence, but he is heading into his last two years
      in office with terrible poll ratings. And he is likely
      to lose control of the House of Representatives -- a
      loss that will generate endless hearings and
      investigations on foreign policy, placing Bush and his
      staff on the defensive for two years. Making foreign
      policy in this environment will be impossible.

      Following the elections, five or six months will
      elapse before the House Democrats get organized and
      have staff in place. After that, the avalanche will
      fall in on Bush, and 2008 presidential politics will
      converge with congressional investigations to
      overwhelm his ability to manage foreign policy. That
      means the president has less than half a year to get
      his house in order if he hopes to control the
      situation, or at least to manage his response.

      Meanwhile, the international window of opportunity for
      U.S. enemies will open wider and wider.

      Send questions or comments on this article to
      analysis@....

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