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Hither and Yon

America’s political ‘takeaway’: A Congress that has abdicated its responsibility for the U.S.

Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com
The U.S. exercise in democracy is a drama that’s turning from success story to farce, and may wind up in tragedy.
That’s the “takeaway” — a word that’s come into vogue for wrapping up everything from delivery of fast food and winding up conferences and panel discussions to meditating campaign debates and outcomes.
In the case of the U.S. midterm elections on Tuesday, the takeaway might as well be a brown bag bursting with leftovers, if not complete trash. What we’re left with as a result of the elections for one third of the U.S. Senate and all members of the lower house is a Congress that’s rock-solid Republican, pitted against a White House led by a Democrat who seems like a nice enough guy but hardly knows what to do to defend the signature program he’s already somehow got.
That would be “affordable health care,” popularly known as Obamacare, for which he’s going to have to stand fast against shrill efforts to tear it apart by Republicans clearly biased in favor of those who have enough to buy whatever insurance they want.The president can veto a lot, but how much leeway will that much power give him to bring about immigration reform, environmental measures, gun control and much else? Answer: little to none.
The whole show could turn into tragedy as Obama has to fend off demands for impeachment — a significant number of voices in the U.S. Congress want just that — while conflict rages across the Middle East and war clouds gather over Northeast Asia and elsewhere.
Here we are in the middle of “Operation Inherent Resolve” — the clumsily unfortunate name the brains in the Pentagon chose for driving back the fanatical forces of ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant — and there’s no inherent ending, no light at the end of the tunnel, the term U.S. officials bandied about when anyone questioned whatever they were doing in the old days when I was covering the Vietnam War.
In fact, the U.S. in Iraq and Syria is digging into a darkened pit in which the only way to claw out of the quicksand will be to send in a few tens of thousands of troops. That’s not likely, though, for two reasons. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have repeatedly said, “No ground troops,” and Obama’s foes in Congress would get hysterical, demanding to vote on the president’s “war powers.”
The most patriotic-sounding Republicans will surely refuse the president such authority in the final two years of a term in which they are all too eager to relegate him to the role of lame duck while plotting their takeover of the White House in the 2016 presidential election.
All of which raises the question, what if tensions rise in Asia as China expands its writ from the Yellow Sea to the East China Sea to the South China Sea? How much leverage will Obama have for moving troops around to meet threats from North Korea to the Senkakus, those islands that the Chinese calls the Diaoyu and would love dearly to wrest from Japanese control? And can Obama rev up defenses for the Philippines in the Spratly Islands, all of which the Chinese, who already hold a few of them, has long claimed?
How much if anything will we be hearing about the “pivot” of U.S. focus from the Middle East to Asia? Forget it. That’s last year’s nonsense.
Still, it’s possible nothing much will change in Northeast Asia in the next couple of years. Fears of a “second Korean War,” of a “Northeast Asia War,” are nothing new, for sure. Remember the mini-crisis on the Korean Peninsula last year after North Korea launched some kind of a satellite and staged its third underground nuclear test?
The crazy rhetoric we were hearing then from Pyongyang in those days is almost forgotten. OK, North Korea may or may not stage a fourth nuclear test, but on the streets of Seoul that’s hardly the top topic on people’s minds.
Actually the American midterm elections aren’t of much concern outside the U.S., either. For that matter, you have to wonder how much Americans care when fewer than 40 percent bothered to cast their ballots. As the old song goes, “Que Sera, Sera,” whatever will be, will be, and what can any individual voter do about it anyway?
That’s too bad. The U.S. Congress has long since abdicated its responsibility and concern for the U.S. while breaking down into bickering division that’s undermined the strength of the country, its ability to stand up against foreign threats, and made a mockery of America as leader of, what did we used to call it, oh yes, “the free world.”
That’s the takeaway from the U.S. midterm elections, a tawdry show of democracy in a system that’s in danger of falling apart.
Columnist Donald Kirk spends much time of his time observing things in Washington, as well as Asia and elsewhere. He’s at kirkdon@yahoo.com.
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