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U.S.: Analysts Say Election Victory Will Embolden Bush Foreign Policy

  • Jeffrey Donovan

U.S. President George W. Bush's Republican Party has won a landslide victory for control of Congress. How will the outcome affect U.S. foreign policy?

Washington, 7 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Analysts say America's assertive foreign policy since 11 September is likely to become even more aggressive after President George W. Bush's popularity helped spur his Republican Party to win full control of Congress in elections on 5 November.

Although Republicans made small gains in the House of Representatives -- which they already controlled -- their real victory came in the Senate, where they pushed aside Democratic opposition to grab control by two votes.

RFE/RL asked four analysts -- two moderates, a liberal, and a conservative -- how the election outcome might affect Bush's foreign policy. Except for the conservative analyst, all of them predicted the White House will now feel free to do as it pleases overseas with little thought to domestic opposition.

Joseph Cirincione, a moderate analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: "It's going to have a huge effect. Any talk of restraining the president or qualifying any of his foreign policy initiatives with congressional action is now gone. And the Democrats -- forget it, man. When they get whipped like this, it takes them a year to recover. They don't have a clue what to do."

His sentiments were echoed by Judith Kipper, a moderate Mideast expert at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies: "There's no question that it will be interpreted here and around the world as a mandate for the administration's approach on foreign policy, on [the] war on terrorism and general confidence in running the country."

Democratic Senator Tom Daschle, until 5 November the Senate's majority leader, said Bush has free rein to do as he wants on Iraq. "I think it means that the president has an opportunity here to enact and proceed with the plan [on Iraq] as he has articulated it," Daschle said on 6 November. "I think the American people appear now to give him the benefit of the doubt."

All of which leads Cirincione to believe that the administration is likely to take a hard line on its most pressing foreign policy issues: the possible war with Iraq, and nuclear-armed North Korea.

It may also embolden Bush to follow his administration's more unilateralist impulses, which have already led to rejecting or withdrawing from several international treaties, such as the Kyoto climate accord and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty: "We will see probably an acceleration of the administration's withdrawal from, or disdain for, international treaties. I would expect that they'll be more likely to pull out of multilateral meetings, gatherings, attempts to negotiate new treaties."

Cirincione, who runs Carnegie's Non-Proliferation Project, says the administration may seek to renew nuclear testing, a move that was hinted at in its recent Nuclear Posture Review: "What happens now is that hard-liners in the administration will be encouraged by hard-liners in the Congress, and that can produce its own dynamic, propelling forward some of these policies."

Cirincione says that the Democratic Senate had been poised to add new provisions to the Treaty of Moscow on reducing strategic nuclear arms, which Bush signed last May in Moscow along with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But he says the new Senate, which still must ratify the treaty, is unlikely to take up those provisions, which would have added procedures to verify compliance and a call for another round of talks on nuclear reductions.

Phyllis Bennis is with the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal Washington think tank. Bennis also acknowledges that Bush has the power to do just about anything he wants. But she says to do so would be a mistake, as she believes many Americans still question his policies despite the Republican victory.

Bennis says several members of Congress who opposed the recent congressional resolution giving Bush power to wage war in Iraq won resounding re-elections on 5 November. They include Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Jim McDermott of the state of Washington, and Michigan's John Conyers. Bennis says none of them comes from a traditional hotbed of radicalism.

She says the lesson from this, for Democrats, is to stick to your principles as an opposition party: "This is a sorely divided country, a sorely divided Congress. So even with the Republican victory, the notion that we are speaking with one voice, the voice of President Bush, is simply not true."

The winning camp, however, doesn't appear to be gloating -- at least not yet. Nor does it appear to speaking with one voice.

Dana Dillon is with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. He said the victory gives Bush a chance to pursue his policies, but not a mandate to do as he pleases: "I hope he reaches out across the aisle. This gives him an opportunity, but it's not a blank check. He needs to work with members of Congress. And even majority Congresses inevitably have people who don't agree with each other inside the majority."

But none of the other analysts believes anyone in Congress -- let alone Republican moderates -- will risk standing in the American president's way on vital foreign policy issues. Bush is just too popular -- a popularity that helped many of them get elected in the first place.

"There'll have to be some stumbles, some real disasters before any senators find a critical voice," Cirincione concludes.

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