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Depolarizing Politics

Depolarizing PoliticsIn an op-ed for The Providence Journal, The Fletcher School's William Martel says that bipartisanship is key to addressing the serious issues facing the United States.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.15.08] In debates between lawmakers about critical foreign policy issues, partisan alignments can foster divisions and can sometimes overshadow the issues themselves. According to William C. Martel, Associate Professor of International Security Studies at The Fletcher School, such divisions are detrimental to the political process.

"My greatest worry is that these divisions paralyze us at the precisely the moment when we need consensus to deal with critical challenges," Martel wrote in an op-ed for The Providence Journal.

In the piece, Martel-a faculty member in The Fletcher School's International Security Studies Program-lays out several foreign policy scenarios facing the United States that are threatened by polarization.

With regard to the Middle East, Martel says the danger posed by terrorist and insurgent forces in Afghanistan and Iraq remains imminent. In addition, the security of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait is in the United States' best interest due to our dependence on oil from those nations.

"We import 60 percent of our oil, and one third of that from the Middle East. Translated: 20 percent of the oil and gas we use daily to fuel our cars, trucks and factories and heat and cool our homes, schools and offices comes from Iraq's neighbors," Martel explained in the op-ed.

Energy concerns extend beyond the Middle East, according to Martel, with Americans facing ballooning gas and oil prices while dealing with foreign suppliers that are "unstable or hostile."

Venezuela, he says, provides 11 percent of the US' daily oil supplies, while President Hugo Chavez "dismantles democracy and nationalizes the oil, electricity and telecommunications industries," the Fletcher expert wrote.

Iran, the Fletcher expert says, remains a top concern despite the recent National Intelligence Estimate report that Iran's nuclear program does not pose an imminent threat to the United States.

"Is the NIE accurate or the victim of Washington's partisan politics?" he wrote in the Journal.

In Asia, Martel elaborated, the nuclear capability of North Korea and Pakistan-coupled with the unstable leadership in those nations-is a cause for alarm, as is China's military buildup. The Fletcher expert also expressed concerns about the power grabs by President Vladimir Putin in Russia.

Martel says successful approaches to international conflicts such as World War II, the Cold War and the Persian Gulf War were bipartisan, while efforts to address crises in locations such as Vietnam, Somalia and arguably Iraq fell short due to partisanship. The same shortcomings, he says, could affect the major dilemmas the US currently faces.

"Americans differ so strongly that we cannot see straight on most issues, whether Iraq, immigration, or Iran's nuclear program," Martel wrote for the Journal. "We define everything in politics by partisanship."

With a presidential race upon us, Martel says there is an opportunity to bring bipartisanship back to American politics.

"With so many problems facing the next Oval Office occupant, the right answer is to forge a national consensus drawing on what unites rather than divides us," he wrote for the Journal. "Ultimately, the United States will develop a bipartisan consensus because a crisis will force us to or we do so on our own-and the latter option is infinitely better."

Bipartisanship, contends Martel, will enable the United States to take the most advantage of its innate capabilities to address the challenging foreign policy issues of the day.

"Americans have the imagination, resources and talent, but these alone are not sufficient," he wrote. "We need the great restoration of bipartisan agreement across America and in Washington."

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