Unnoticed amid the sniping inWashington over health care and the wailing about "broken government," a broad and durable bipartisan consensus has begun falling into place in one unlikely area: foreign policy. Consider the fact that on Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran -- the most difficult, expensive, and potentially dangerous foreign challenges facing the United States -- precious little now separates Barack Obama from most Republican leaders in and out of Congress.
Compared with recent decades, this much bipartisan agreement is remarkable. Never mind the last divisive years of George W. Bush's administration, or the Bill Clinton years, when Republicans attacked the president even when he was bombing suspected terrorist sites in Sudan. Democrats now wax nostalgic for the days of George H.W. Bush, forgetting that they attacked his administration across the board -- for coddling China, fiddling while the Balkans burned, paying too much attention to foreign policy, and spending too much on defense. And on the most important question of war and peace, they voted overwhelmingly against the first Gulf War.
Today, by contrast, a substantial majority of Republicans have supported President Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan. Both the administration and the Republican opposition are committed to a stable, increasingly democratic Iraq. Vice President Joseph Biden's recent remarks claiming Iraq as Obama's success may have annoyed Republicans, but it is good news: the most divisive issue since the Vietnam War has become politically uncontroversial. On Iran, differences are rapidly narrowing now that engagement is giving way to pressure. Republicans may complain, along with many Democrats, that the administration has been too slow to support the Iranian opposition and took too long to pivot to sanctions. Yet some also realize that Obama's prolonged effort at engagement accomplished what George W. Bush never could: convincing most of the world, and most Democrats, that Iran is uninterested in any deal that threatens its nuclear weapons program. As a result, France, Britain, and even Germany appear more determined than at any time in the past decade to impose meaningful sanctions. A majority of Republicans, along with most Democrats, will support the administration as it toughens its approach to what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton now calls the "military dictatorship" in Tehran. Partisan divisiveness will return only if the administration backs down from its own stated objectives.
These are pretty substantial areas of agreement. There will still be plenty of carping by Republicans, of course, especially on terrorism and homeland security. Perfect bipartisanship on foreign and defense policy is a lot to ask in an election year. It isn't even desirable because all administrations benefit to some degree from opposition critiques. But by any reasonable reckoning, foreign policy is one area where the government is working -- in the sense that the administration and opposition have been able to join together in common purpose on some of the day's most pressing issues.