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Should Europe call Susan Collins or Barack Obama?


A very good, and very unsettling, point from Matthew Yglesias on the effect relentless minority obstruction has on international cooperation:

The dysfunctional nature of the United States Congress means that essentially all diplomatic intercourse with the American government is worthless. If you were at a G8 meeting talking regulation, why would you take the Obama administration’s positions seriously? Or at a Major Economies Forum meeting talking about climate change? Or at a UN Security Council meeting talking about multilateral nuclear disarmament? Or a meeting about “global imbalances” and the need for eventual public sector deleveraging? A WTO meeting about trade in agricultural commodities? It would almost make more sense at this point for Susan Collins’ staff to represent the US in international fora, though even she can’t deliver the 67th vote needed to ratify something like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.[...]

What’s especially troubling about this is that it’s asymmetrical. A president who “can’t get anything done” still has a wide latitude to conduct national security policy to his liking, but basically only in reactionary ways. Congress can’t or won’t stop a president from launching a war, or detaining people without trial, or surveilling them without warrants. But the progressive view on international policy isn’t merely that we shouldn’t do those things, but that we should take constructive steps to cooperate with other countries on problems of mutual concern. But if the president can’t credibly promise congressional action, then he can’t really undertake cooperative international action.

Photo credit: Melina Mara/The Washington Post

By Ezra Klein  |  January 28, 2010; 1:30 PM ET
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Next: What Obama did, and didn't, say on health-care reform


This is a further example of the point you (or someone) made recently that it is easier for a conservative minority to advance its cause by obstruction, because it wants to perpetuate the status quo, but it is harder for a progressive minority to do so (or even a progressive majority that is less than 60 Senate votes) because its agenda is activist.

When conservadems join conservatives they can enact things like unfunded tax cuts, but there isn't anything comparable that progressives can do excpet let the Bush tax cuts expire.

Posted by: Mimikatz | January 28, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Totally irrelevant thought, but prominent to my thinking considering we need to paint at my condo: that color of blue in Susan Collins' office looks pretty awesome. I never considered a deep blue like this until now.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | January 28, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I'm trying to remember that time in the past when the U.S. was so well governed and Congress and the President were ever so simpatico. You'll have to indulge me, because I guess I'm getting kind of old.

W? Surely you jest.
Clinton? The Republicans hated him.
41? Didn't last long, did he?
Reagan? The Democrats hated him.
Carter? Surely you jest.
Nixon? That's pretty funny!
Kennedy/Johnson? Vietnam. What a disaster.

Posted by: ostap666 | January 28, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

You guys are thinking as if other countries do not have this problem!

For the Bush-Singh Accord Dr. Singh had to put his government at the stake; even though traditionally Indian PM decided these matter unilaterally.

This is a universal problem with most of the functional democracies of the world. As we become more globalized and inter-connected; local parliamentarians are going to have more and more such influence.

The argument also works other way too - why was Barack Obama awarded Nobel Prize so prematurely? Why did 5 countries first and then most of the major countries agreed for Obama brokered deal on Climate? Answer - to continue to influence Senate.

This is one aspect I am perfectly okay to live with - one house of American Congress (Senate in this case) has such a hold on foreign policy.

There are other 'holes' also here - despite what Matt says, Bush was able to 'ram through' his foreign policy agenda as he wanted. What are you talking here when you say Senators control 'that thing'? It is just that Obama's style is different than Bush (or if you listen to NeoCons, Obama lacks particular body part from their view point...)

Posted by: umesh409 | January 28, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

This is just silly. Ezra & Matt need to get a grip. Yes, the current President has to deal with a legislature. Many other countries have similar issues. So have many other US Presidents. Bush and Clinton had it 1000x worse that Obama. Obama only has to overcome a filibuster. Clinton and Bush had to overcome legislatures where there party was a MINORITY. Somehow they were still able to operate in international contexts.

Posted by: WEW72 | January 28, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Guess you know how Bush felt when he wanted to get a free trade treaty with Columbia and South Korea signed. Just because you think Obama should be made King of America and declared all powerful doesn't mean that it's going to happen. The constitution, unfortunately for aspiring all powerful U.S. Presidents, give Congress a say in international treaties. That means Obama can go to Copenhagen and promise to cut U.S. green house gasses to zero and it don't mean squat if Congress doesn't sign on to it. Live with it.

Posted by: RobT1 | January 28, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

"If you were at a G8 meeting talking regulation, why would you take the Obama administration’s positions seriously?"

I personally don't take any of the Obama administration's positions seriously, and wouldn't expect the G8 to do so. Of course, I don't take the G8 seriously either.

"Or at a Major Economies Forum meeting talking about climate change?"


"Or at a UN Security Council meeting talking about multilateral nuclear disarmament?"

Ditto again.

"Or a meeting about “global imbalances” and the need for eventual public sector deleveraging? A WTO meeting about trade in agricultural commodities?"

While I certainly agree that the US needs immediate (not eventual) public sector deleveraging, I could care less about meetings about global imbalances on the subject. Really, Ezra, I'm not going to get my panties in a wad over whether or not the Obama Administration is taken seriously on any of these issues by any of these fools.

Posted by: bgmma50 | January 28, 2010 10:15 PM | Report abuse

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