James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Friday File: Debt Deal Deadline

by James M. Lindsay
July 22, 2011

President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press on the debt talks on July 19, 2011. (Jason Reed/courtesy Reuters)

President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press on the debt talks on July 19, 2011. (Jason Reed/courtesy Reuters)

Above the Fold. When I was a college professor I always warned my students not to wait until the last moment to start writing their papers. They never knew what kind of problems might crop up, so it was always wise to give themselves a comfortable margin of error. Well, it looks as if official Washington is no more willing to follow that advice than my undergraduates were. President Obama warned several weeks ago that the debt ceiling deal needed to be completed by today in order to leave enough time to turn the agreement into legislation that could be pushed through Congress. But he and Speaker Boehner are still negotiating. When they finally strike a deal—and eventually they will, though not necessarily soon enough—the real hard work of rounding up votes begins. That could take some time and a lot of arm twisting. So expect the run-up to the August 2 deadline to be a bumpy ride with some white knuckle moments and no guarantee that policymakers will have enough time to deal with unanticipated problems. Of course, official Washington has one advantage my students didn’t; it can decide to push back the deadline. But that too requires Congress to pass a law, and some lawmakers might not be inclined to go along.

CFR Event of the Week. The State Department sponsored the Central Asia and Afghanistan Women’s Economic Symposium in the Kyrgyz Republic on July 18–20. The symposium brought together professional women to share their ideas about supporting women entrepreneurs. Last month, CFR’s Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Fellow and Deputy Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, spoke with Irina Faskianos, Vice President for National Program and Outreach for CFR, about the role of women in Afghanistan’s civil society. You can listen to the audio. Lemmon spent several years of her career documenting the story of Kamila Sadiqi, a young woman entrepreneur from Kabul, who is the main subject of Lemmon’s new book The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.

Read of the Week. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, is calling for a doctrine of restoration that can strengthen America’s position in the world “by focusing on nation building—our own.” The gist of the argument is that the United States needs to do less abroad right now, especially on the military front, and more here at home. I can already hear the howls of “isolationist” from those who argue by epithet. I can assure you that Richard is anything but. He is pointing to a serious challenge: the need to renew and revitalize the economic foundations that make American power abroad possible.

Blog Post of the Week. Stewart Patrick highlights the fact that men as well as women are the victims of wartime sexual violence. A staggering “80% of Bosnian males imprisoned in concentration camps and 76% of El Salvadoran male political prisoners report sexual abuse.” Regrettably, far too little has been done to stop wartime sexual abuse, regardless of the gender of the victims.

Poll Question of the Week. A Pew Global Attitudes Poll released yesterday highlights the gulf that continues to exist between Muslim-majority countries and the West. A survey of Muslims in Egypt, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Turkey, and the Palestinian Territories found that in no case did more than 30 percent of those polled believe that Arabs conducted the 9/11 attacks. The disbelief was strongest in Egypt, with 75 percent of respondents saying they did not believe that Arabs were responsible. Muslims in Turkey, which is a NATO ally, weren’t far behind; 73 percent of Turkish Muslims said they did not believe that Arabs were responsible. We may not be having a clash of civilizations, but we sure don’t have a meeting of the minds.

Chart of the Week. The United States adopted the debt ceiling law all the way back in 1917 with the passage of the Second Liberty Bond Act to help finance the U.S. entry in World War I. Up until that time, Congress had specifically authorized every effort to borrow money. The debt ceiling has been raised more than seventy-five times since the end of World War II. Yes, on a few occasions it has been lowered, though never in the last half century. Over the past thirty years, the debt ceiling has been raised thirty-nine times. As the chart below shows, and probably to the surprise of most Americans, the debt ceiling has been raised more often under Republican presidents than Democratic presidents in recent years. The president who oversaw the highest number of debt ceiling increases? Ronald Reagan.

Too Good Not to Note. The Gang of Six’s proposal for putting the U.S. government’s fiscal house in order strikes fear in Max Boot but leaves Dan Drezner unmoved. Fred Kaplan argues that the killing of Hamid Karzai’s brother suggests that the Afghanistan war “is going worse than we thought.” William Saletan summarizes what he learned at a conference about the impact social media is having on the Arab world. Out of consideration of readers’ valuable time, Ezra Klein and Dylan Matthews offer up “everything you need to know about the debt ceiling in one post.” Norm Ornstein, who has studied Congress for four decades, concludes that the current 535 members constitute the “Worst. Congress. Ever.” On a lighter note, Walter Russell Mead tells the story of “the Sheikh who never studied English verse.”

Perils of Prediction. “Speaker Pelosi and her Democratic coterie will hang onto the House, but only because Republicans haven’t offered stellar counter solutions and may be off fighting among themselves.” Newsweek, “Our Political Predictions for 2010.” Uh, no. Republicans won 63 seats in the House, John Boehner replaced Pelosi as speaker, and the result is an epic test of wills over raising the debt ceiling.

Quote to Ponder. The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: Be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge.” Elbert Hubbard.

A Reason to Smile. There are just 43 days until the Big House fills up once again.

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