Pompeo’s Mideast trip comes on heels of Trump Syria decision
By MATTHEW LEE
AP Diplomatic Writer
Friday, January 4
WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to the Middle East next week in an effort to shore up support from America’s Arab partners amid increasing tensions in the region.
In his first Mideast trip since President Donald Trump’s recent announcement that he intends to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, Pompeo will visit eight countries, starting with Jordan, the State Department said Friday.
The Syria decision, which led to the resignations of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the U.S. special envoy for the anti-Islamic State coalition, is expected to dominate Pompeo’s agenda, along with the Trump administration’s hard line on Iran, the conflict in Yemen and the situation in Iraq.
In addition to Jordan, Pompeo plans stops in Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait. The U.S. hopes each country will play a significant role in a planned regional strategic partnership being called an “Arab NATO.”
His trip will come on the heels of a visit to Turkey and Israel by national security adviser John Bolton who is expected to discuss the Syria withdrawal with officials in Ankara and Jerusalem.
After a brief stop in Amman, Pompeo will fly to Cairo for counter terrorism and energy cooperation talks with Egyptian officials and to give a speech on the U.S. “commitment to peace, prosperity, stability, and security in the Middle East,” the State Department said. The speech is expected to be a counterpoint to an address that President Barack Obama delivered in Cairo in 2009 in which he sought to reach out to the Muslim world.
From Cairo, Pompeo heads to Manama, Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, to continue discussions on the Middle East Strategic Alliance that is aimed at confronting Iran’s increasing assertiveness in the Persian Gulf.
Pompeo will then visit Abu Dhabi, where he will push for all parties to the conflict in Yemen to follow through on de-escalation agreements they reached at U.N.-brokered peace talks in Sweden last month. The Emirates are Saudi Arabia’s main partner in a coalition fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The UAE is also at the center of a festering dispute involving most of the Gulf Arab nations and Qatar, which will be Pompeo’s next stop. In Doha, the secretary plans to underscore the importance the U.S. places on Gulf unity in standing up against Iran. Qatar has been subject to a blockade by its neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, which accuse it of supporting terrorism, since June 2017.
From Doha, Pompeo will travel to Riyadh for talks with Saudi officials about Yemen, Iran and Syria as well as the investigation into the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Washington Post contributor was killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October.
Earlier this week, Saudi prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty against five of 11 suspects Khashoggi’s slaying, in which members of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s entourage have been implicated.
Pompeo will wrap up his tour with stops in Muscat, Oman, and Kuwait City.
Congress used to pass bipartisan legislation – will it ever again?
January 4, 2019
Author: Jeffrey D. Grynaviski, Professor of Political Science, Wayne State University
Disclosure statement: Jeffrey D. Grynaviski does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Wayne State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Congress seemingly hasn’t accomplished much apart from a tax cut and criminal justice reform since the election of President Trump in 2016, despite all three branches being controlled by the GOP.
Will that record get even worse now that the U.S. has divided government?
As a political scientist who studies Congress, I find it tempting to look to political history for guidance on what could happen with the new Congress.
Yet, if you look at the previous two instances since World War II where the United States had this form of divided government, the implications for legislative productivity could not be more different.
Some are productive
The two other Congresses whose political makeup was closest to today’s 116th were the 98th, which sat from 1983-1985, and the 112th Congress, which sat from 2011-2013.
The common denominators for these three Congresses are that the incumbent president is up for re-election, the Senate is controlled by the president’s party and the House of Representatives is controlled by the opposition.
During the 98th Congress, Republican Ronald Reagan was president, with his party holding a 55-to-45 majority in the Senate and a whopping 103-seat deficit in the House, where Massachusetts Democrat Tip O’Neill was speaker.
Historians generally hold the 98th Congress in high regard for its bipartisanship during a period of divided government. As reported by the political scientist David Mayhew in his landmark study, “Divided We Govern,” its most important legislative accomplishments included:
- The declaration of Martin Luther King’s birthday as a federal holiday;
- Amendments to Social Security to preserve the pension system’s solvency that increased taxes and cut benefits;
- A major revision of the federal criminal code that included increased penalties for drug trafficking and terrorism;
- Reduction of the deficit through a package of spending cuts and tax hikes.
Looking beyond these highlights, the total of 667 laws enacted by the 98th Congress was well above the historical average of about 552 passed per Congress since the early 1970s.
President Barack Obama delivers the 2011 State of the Union address to the 112th Congress. White House/Chuck Kennedy
Others are unproductive
Democrat Barack Obama was president during the more recent 112th Congress.
Following the Republican midterm sweep in 2010, Democrats held a 53 (including independents who caucused with Democrats) to 47 majority in the Senate, but trailed Republicans by 49 seats in the House.
This Congress arguably exhibited the most intransigent partisan divisions of the post-war period.
According to the Brookings Institute’s Vital Statistics on Congress, the 283 laws passed by the 112th were the fewest enacted by any Congress going back at least until the Korean War.
One thing should be pointed out in defense of Congress’ low productivity in recent years. Congressional scholar David Mayhew has written in Politico that counting the number of enacted laws is an overly simplistic measure of productivity.
That’s because Congress has increasingly turned to so-called “omnibus” legislation, or legislative packages that sweep up lots of smaller measures into one large bill.
As a result, one important bill passed by Congress today might reasonably be considered as equal to multiple major successes for a previous Congress. For example, Mayhew argues that the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the American Taxpayers Relief Act of 2012, both of which attempted to address the budgetary crises during Obama’s first term, were important omnibus legislative accomplishments.
Nevertheless, the contrast between the two Congresses is stark.
Democrats and Republicans in the 98th Congress compromised to keep the country’s entitlement system solvent for decades. The 112th Congress, on the other hand, was dominated by partisan brinkmanship over debts and deficits that led to the downgrading of the United States’ credit rating, a key measure of the economy’s health.
Growing divisions are key
Arguably, the most important difference between the 98th and 112th Congress was the sharp increase in ideological polarization between Democrat and Republican politicians that made compromise increasingly difficult.
During the early 1980s, many southern white voters retained their loyalty to conservative Democrats in the House and Senate who had heretofore resisted the civil rights movement and integration.
As a result, there was a constituency within the Democratic Party in Congress that was more ideologically predisposed to cut a deal with Reagan. It is notable, for example, that during the 98th Congress, Social Security reform included both tax increases – which Democrats liked – and cuts to benefits – which Republicans liked.
However, it was also in the early 1980s that conservative politicians and voters in the South increasingly aligned with the Republican Party. Largely because of this partisan realignment, by the mid-1990s there was little – if any – overlap in the ideological convictions of Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
In other words, from the 98th to the 112th Congress, fewer and fewer members of the two major parties agreed on potential resolutions to the issues of the day. Compromise became harder to reach.
Given the current political climate, it is difficult to imagine a reprise of the productive 98th Congress. Would President Trump agree to increased payroll taxes to pay for Social Security and Medicare? Would Speaker Pelosi agree to benefit cuts to those programs? Unlikely.
They did a lot
It is not at all clear how the controversies surrounding President Trump will affect the behavior of the new Congress.
Probably the closest historical analogues are the various Congresses that exercised strong oversight of the president.
The 93rd Congress (1973-1974) held hearings on Nixon’s role in Watergate; the 100th Congress (1987-1988) conducted an investigation into the Iran-Contra scandal during the second Reagan administration; and the 106th Congress (1999-2000) exercised their oversight when the House voted to impeach President Bill Clinton and the Senate failed to impeach him over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
All three Congresses maintained reasonably high levels of legislative productivity based on the total number of enactments and the number of important bills that were passed. That happened despite the government in all three cases being divided.
The 93rd Congress’ accomplishments included passage of the War Powers Act; creation of the modern congressional budget system; and passage of the United States’ first meaningful system of campaign finance regulation.
The 100th Congress passed significant enhancements to the landmark Clean Water Act of 1972; legislation to maintain and upgrade the nation’s transportation systems; and ratification of an arms treaty, which required the U.S. and Soviet Russia to destroy a substantial percentage of their nuclear weapons.
The 106th Congress passed landmark banking reform legislation, normalized trade relations with China and wrote rules governing litigation over anticipated problems arising from the turn of the millennium, or Y2K.
How much will they do?
Does the return of divided government in the current Congress mean not much will happen over the next two years? On this question, history doesn’t provide clear guidance.
In terms of legislative productivity, the divided 98th Congress is a positive example of Democrats and Republicans cooperating to do the people’s business. But during the 112th, divided government almost crippled Congress.
Because of today’s high levels of partisan polarization, the unproductive 112th Congress probably provides the best framework for thinking about what to expect in the next two years.
Yet it is also the case that bipartisan compromise was part of Reagan’s pathway to re-election in 1984. It’s an open question whether that is a route that President Trump wants to pursue – and whether congressional Democrats are more willing to make concessions in order to chalk up legislative victories of their own than the Republicans were during the 112th.
Competitive elections are good for democracy – just not every democracy
Updated January 4, 2019
Authors: Jessica Gottlieb, Assistant Professor, Texas A&M University. Katrina Kosec, Lecturer, Global Political Economy, Johns Hopkins University
Disclosure statement: Jessica Gottlieb receives funding from the National Science Foundation and the UK’s Department for International Development. Katrina Kosec receives funding from the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets led by the International Food Policy Research Institute and USAID.
Partners: Texas A&M University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
The 2018 U.S. midterm elections were fierce, expensive and full of upsets, with political newcomers ousting long-tenured incumbents and Democrats unseating Republicans to retake the House of Representatives.
That makes them an exemplary democratic exercise from a political science standpoint: American voters booted the congressional representatives who they believed did not fight for their interests.
That’s exactly what elections are meant to do: Hold politicians accountable.
But it doesn’t work that way everywhere. In younger democracies, our research shows, a super-heated campaign with numerous candidates may actually impede democracy.
The downsides of a cutthroat campaign
Our study, published in the American Political Science Review, examined four decades of data from 164 countries to see how competitive elections effect policy making and government services.
We found that free, fair and competitive elections are indeed good for mature democracies like the United States, Britain and Denmark. After highly contested races with uncertain outcomes, politicians are more responsive to voters. They spend more money on public services and work harder to fulfill campaign promises.
Our research in the U.S. similarly shows that metropolitan areas where numerous local governments are competing for residents and businesses – such as Houston, where The Woodlands, Sugar Land, Baytown and Conroe all form part of the greater Houston area – even have higher incomes and faster economic growth.
But in Mali, Guatemala, Pakistan and Belarus – among other young democracies with weak political parties and low transparency – governments may actually become less effective when political competition is similarly cut throat.
Paradoxically, people in such countries fare better in districts where elections feature fewer, more dominant parties.
Mali as a test case
To explain why, our study took a deep dive into Mali.
Mali is a generally healthy West African democracy whose Constitution dates back only to 1991, three decades after its independence from France.
Because it has a highly decentralized system of government, Mali keeps robust data on municipal elections, which occur every five years, and on the legislative achievements of local governing councils.
An average of six parties compete for seats on Mali’s local governing councils, which have 11 to 45 members, depending on the municipality’s population.
Government services were worse in Malian districts with above-average competition for these seats, our study found. Fewer children completed primary school and were immunized against disease than in less competitive districts. Roads went unpaved. Water sources were scarcer.
Malians generally have low expectations of their public officials. Corruption is widespread, and a 2012 coup destabilized politics nationwide. So some of these governing shortcomings are to be expected.
But that doesn’t explain our surprising finding that less gets done in Malian districts where more candidates run for office.
We also tested our results against our own prior research from Mali showing that candidates from opposing political parties often collude once in office. Elections give the impression that officials seek to represent their constituencies’ competing interests, but in fact they conspire to share the spoils of power.
But, again, that fact clarifies only why seemingly competitive local elections might not guarantee good governance in Mali. It doesn’t explain why districts with the most political competition actually fare worse than less competitive districts.
The problem of weak political parties
In places with well-established, ideologically based political parties, like the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, large segments of the population are represented by a handful of parties.
Citizens’ competing interests are channeled through these parties and into legislative debate, ideally informing a compromise agreement that meets the needs of various constituencies.
Occasionally, of course, the system breaks down – as evidenced in the United States’ federal government shutdown. But, generally speaking, since major parties are here to stay, they can trade favors over time.
Mali’s political infrastructure is very different.
We interviewed 111 locally elected politicians in 24 randomly selected communities in Mali about their experiences with elections and party politics.
Across the board, they told us how weak Mali’s political parties are.
Some said party members answered first to their specific kin or ethnic group – not party leadership. That blurs the ideological lines that help voters know who will best represent their interests.
Approximately one-quarter of the public officials we interviewed said they had switched parties at some point in their career – often after a dispute with a fellow party member. Party-hopping turns personal rivalries into partisan conflict, making legislative deal-making even more difficult.
Political parties also splinter over wedge issues, leading to the formation of new parties and further dividing voters. More than a dozen parties have seats in Mali’s Parliament.
Democracy is more than elections
The Malian politicians we spoke with disliked the tight, multiparty elections they face every five years, describing them as disorderly, divisive and aggressive. These crowded races make enemies of people who might otherwise agree on many decisions, they said.
Many thought that races with just fewer parties would foster more consensus, allowing policymakers to get along well enough to actually govern.
They’re right, it turns out.
When we looked at Malian municipalities where a single party had the majority on the local council, government was indeed more efficient. One party could and did make policy at will, without needing to broker deals. That’s undemocratic but effective: Those places had better roads, schools and health clinics.
Our research suggests that Malian municipalities with very competitive elections are worse off because so much money and time are wasted on partisan infighting. Construction on health clinics may stall during political disputes. Proposals get stuck in debate and never become policy. Planned wells are never dug.
This study complicates the widely held theory that competitive elections are the hallmark of a robust democracy. That understanding, we find, is based mainly on the experiences of rich countries.
Efforts to improve life for people in the developing world must therefore look beyond the superficial measure of free, fair and competitive elections to consider how to help democratic governments work better for their citizens after the heat of the campaign.
Correction: This story has been corrected to more accurately reflect the role of Mali’s local governing councils, which make policy but do not pass laws.