Voice

Fire the supercommittee

Folks, I think we've been had. Worse we've been snookered by a group of guys in the U.S. Congress who are not exactly known for their cleverness. Think about it: we have this oxymoronic supercommittee that has been set up so that if the members fail to do what we ask of them, we are actually the ones who are penalized (through automatic wholesale cuts to government programs, some loved by Dems, some loved the GOP). Shouldn't the members have been forced to sign a deal that said that if they didn't reach a deal by the deadline that they would resign? Shouldn't they actually have some skin in the game?

Trust me, if these dithering poseurs were actually accountable for their own failure to do what they have been hired to do, perhaps they might take the job at hand more seriously. Maybe they are too busy with their insider trading to be bothered with little stuff like the future of the republic.

It's not like the job is actually that tough. They are only being asked to cut the deficit by the equivalent of $120 or so billion a year for a decade. That may sound like a lot but it's out of a $3.7 trillion budget. So it's about 3 percent of the total. And that's including the radical possibility that we actually consider solving the problem by raising revenues a weensy bit. After all, the amount in question is less than we are spending each year on the two wars we don't want to be fighting any more in the Mideast.

Can you imagine what would happen to, say, a mid-level corporate drone who when asked to cut three percent from his budget said he couldn't do it? He'd be canned before he was able to simper his first excuse. And that's just what should happen to these guys.

To put their bungling in perspective, consider for a moment that in today's news alone we have reports that historical enemies India and Pakistan have managed to hammer out an agreement normalizing trade relations, that Syria's neighbors have reversed their behavior of decades and started to pressure the Assad regime to pack it up, that even the Greek and Italian governments are making progress dealing with crises that they have let fester for years. In other words, government officials in other countries are at least showing signs of trying to grapple with tough issues albeit with varying degrees of success.

But here in Washington, the supercommittee and the Congressional leaders to whom they feel they report (they actually report to us, but that's seemingly beside the point to them) haven't thought saving the U.S. economy from yet another crisis of confidence in the markets not to mention the other grave consequences of continued fecklessness was important enough to get around to with only a week left to go on the clock. Insiders in both parties are giving up hope for a deal (although my money is still on a last minute faux-deal that is both small and meaningless when scrutinized). And for everyone involved, the expectation is that they can blame it on the other side and go on with business as usual.

If we, the American people, had any sense of urgency ourselves, we would put an end to that complacency in the one way we can. Should this process fail, we should start a significant public movement to vote out the current Congressional leadership and every single member of the supercommittee ... and to send a strong message that the next Congress needs a change of management regardless of who wins. These guys have disqualified themselves from further consideration as "leaders." They can't do it. They won't. They will have had their shot and failed. And should they not rise to this particularly important moment, we need to recognize that unless we fire them for their incompetence that future generations of congresspeople will feel that they too can pose and pontificate and fail with impunity ... thus producing the kind of institutional breakdown that unchecked will do more to undercut American power than two centuries of international adversaries could muster.

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David Rothkopf

A special relationship on the rise Down Under?

America's special relationship with the United Kingdom began at conception. We were born as a nation of British stock and despite periodic tensions and the occasional war, we have built and deepened the relationship until it has become one of the closest on the planet. But being a special relationship and being especially important are two different things and it may be that another special relationship is brewing that in the 21st century could transcend that with Britain.

That said, Brits can take comfort. This newly ascendant relationship remains within the extended family of their former colonies.

Currently, President Obama is on his first official visit to Australia. So far, during his stay, he has sent several clear messages that America's almost always warm relationship with our cousins down under is getting warmer and is being seen by this White House as strategically more important than ever. His interactions with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard have been characterized as especially warm. He has described America's shifting focus to the Asia-Pacific region that is increasingly be presented as the centerpiece of this administration's foreign policy. And, backing up his assertion that the region is "of huge strategic importance to us", the President and Gillard have announced a new defense deal that will establish a U.S. military presence in Darwin and will deepen and enhance cooperation between the two nations' air forces.

There is no coyness about why a United States that is pulling back from other deployments around the world is establishing this new relationship. While Obama has said that the presence is not intended to contain China, there is no question that it is intended to both counterbalance what is seen as China's growing military clout and in particular to assure the ability to control key regional sea lanes. One of Obama's security deputies asserted that the deal was struck in direct "response to demand" from China's neighbors.

Britain's importance to the United States through most of the last century was due in large part to her strategic location off the coast of Europe, the area of America's principal economic and political interests. That Britain, though a fading empire, was still one of the world's most powerful nations and one that was deeply tied to America in almost every conceivable way, added to the "specialness" of the relationship.

While Australia is not as closely integrated with the U.S. economy as Britain nor is it as militarily powerful -- spending less than half of what Britain does on defense -- it does have a few things going for it. Much as Britain was the most natural ally in the European region, so too is Australia the most natural in the Asia-Pacific region. Its location -- near to Asia but separated by the sea -- offers a similar set of strategic advantages. It has cultivated close regional relationships and can be an effective interlocutor -- in some ways more effective than outlier Britain can be in the context of modern Europe (whatever that is). Moreover, with China and the rest of Asia on the rise, Australia is only likely to grow in significance and potential value as an ally.

What Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are doing in Asia is as clear as it is deft. They are making China the centerpiece of their efforts, engaging deeply across a wide range of issues. They challenge where they feel they should. They cooperate wherever they can. And thus they are managing to deepen what is clearly the most important bilateral relationship on the planet. Meanwhile, through efforts like that in Australia, they are strengthening the U.S. position throughout Asia -- from the Koreas to Japan, across ASEAN, and on to India and the sub-continent. In all this, the old ties of empire give special place and ease of dealing to relations with the Australians, the Indians, and the Singaporeans. It is hard to see how these relationships will not continue to grow in significance during the decades ahead -- perhaps to a time when the relationship between two or more of England's stroppier colonies end up being more important than those any of them share with the "mother country."

(By the way, as a closing footnote, it should be noted that Secretary Clinton, who has played a central and effective role in these efforts working closely with the NSC team and a Department of Defense for whom this shift in focus has long been a top priority, is currently enjoying yet another affirmation of her special role in the cabinet having just won the top ranking among all senior members of the Obama team in the Partnership for Public Service's rating of leadership performance.)

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