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Republican Victories Promise Change In U.S. Foreign Policy -- With A Tea Party Twist

By Christian Caryl
Sweeping Republican Party victories in the 2010 congressional elections are likely to have a major impact on the course of U.S. foreign policy.

Experts predict, among other things, a harder line on Iran, a more complicated relationship with Russia, and a possible postponement of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Yet there could also be surprises in store for U.S. allies and foes alike in the months to come. The reason for this uncertainty factor is the new political prominence of the Tea Party, the conservative grassroots movement whose electoral appeal helped boost Republicans to control of the House of Representatives.


The Tea Party coalesced around opposition to President Barack Obama's signature domestic programs, like his health-care reform plan and economic stimulus program, but the movement's position on most foreign-policy issues remains blurry. Christopher Preble, a commentator for the online edition of the conservative magazine "National Review," summed up the prevailing view: "The many men and women running with Tea Party support agree on some obvious things -- especially that taxes are too high and the government is too big -- but they share no common foreign-policy vision."

New House

Even after an election as momentous as this one, of course, the basic contours of U.S. conduct overseas will remain unchanged. The U.S. Constitution gives the president broad powers in setting the course of foreign policy, and Obama's Democratic Party has managed to retain its control of the Senate, which plays a key role in assisting or blocking presidential initiatives. Yet the Republican takeover of the House gives the conservatives a powerful new megaphone for their opposition to White House policies.

Most importantly, their victory now gives the Republicans control over the House's all-important policy committees. The new chairmen and chairwomen of those committees are, without exception, established conservatives with long foreign-policy track records.

Elliott Abrams, a former U.S. diplomat now working for the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington think tank, says that the fresh prominence of such leaders will certainly lead to a "harder line" on U.S. efforts against Iran's nuclear program. "I think there'd be a push for a hard line that says any negotiated deal would have to be with zero enrichment," he says, referring to proposals that would allow Iran to enrich some uranium for ostensibly civilian purposes in return for accepting restrictions on military use.

"I think you'll see very strong support for what the administration's doing on economic sanctions against Iran." He notes that Congress has a record of leading the agenda on sanctions dating back to the previous administration of George W. Bush -- a trend that is unlikely to change under the new Republican leadership in the House.

The new political alignments on Capitol Hill are also likely to affect Washington’s relations with Russia. One possible casualty could be the New START Treaty, the nuclear arms reduction pact that would limit strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 on both the U.S. and Russian sides. Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev signed the treaty in April, but it still awaits ratification by the Russian parliament and the U.S. Senate.

Fiona Hill of the Brookings Institution in Washington says that an intensely polarized political climate in the wake of the elections could lead Republicans to agitate against Senate approval -- if only to score political points against a president who has counted improved relations with Russia as one of his few clear-cut foreign-policy successes. The Republicans, she asserts, "just don't want to give [the White House] a success on any issue" -- despite some evidence of bipartisan support on the treaty.

Commentator Albert R. Hunt, writing in the "International Herald Tribune," says that some prominent establishment Republicans who have exercised leadership on foreign policy -- like Indiana's Richard Lugar or Maine's Olympia Snowe -- could come under pressure from the invigorated right wing of their own party to prove their conservative bona fides.

Foreign Wars

Some of these traditional Republicans -- unsuccessful presidential candidate John McCain being but one example -- have criticized Obama for setting a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan next year, and the Republican leaders in the new House are likely to continue this line of attack. But this is one area where Tea Party newcomers could mix things up.

Take freshman Senator Rand Paul, the victorious Tea Party-backed candidate from Kentucky. In an interview not long before the election, Paul expressed skepticism about the Obama administration's efforts to shore up Hamid Karzai's government in Afghanistan -- an undertaking Obama inherited from his predecessor, the Republican George W. Bush. "There are reasonable people, conservatives like me, who believe that defense is the primary role of the federal government, but do not believe that you can make Afghanistan into a nation," Paul said. "It never has been one."

Indeed, how the new Tea Party Republicans respond to the Afghan dilemma is one of the big question marks. While some of them will seem inclined to hold true to Bush-era neo-conservative principles, others view the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the overseas equivalents of the same high-cost "big government" programs they reject at home. This has led some observers to speculate whether these "anti-imperialist" conservatives could make common cause with antiwar activists on the left wing of the Democratic Party. Those liberals oppose Obama's broad expansion of drone attacks on jihadist targets in Pakistan as well as the troop surge currently under way in Afghanistan.

Still, there is one clear bottom line from this election: Obama emerges from it a weakened president. And that, says ex-U.S. diplomat Elliott Abrams, means that "anyone who is trying to resist him feels probably that resistance is a little easier." That will probably hold true in the case of the Middle East peace talks, where the U.S. president has been pushing the Israelis and Palestinians to come to an accord.

Now, says Abrams, "both sides out there [will] feel a little bit freer to push back." And they're almost certainly not the only ones who will see it that way. This election clearly does not make Barack Obama's job as America's diplomat in chief any easier.
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by: Ahmed Talabi from: Jordan
November 03, 2010 11:55
Obama's so called "change" hoax did not work. In 2 years the US will probably be facing a 3 major military defeat in the Middle East which will make Iraq and Afghanistan look like a walk in the park. The possibility of a civil war in the US is also high in about 3 years. The world must plan for post-US global order. We are seeing the last days of the US as a superpower. Thank God!
In Response

by: Patrick from: Middle East
November 03, 2010 19:10
Your comments are utterly wrong; A Republican House by no means mean the downfall of US Superpower; if something you'll see a more aggressive US in terms of Foreign Policy. Civil war will not happen in the US because the House went Blue or Red; It's called Democracy and being a resident of Jordan i would expect you to be more open and base your arguments based on Real political and empirical thoughts rather than Emotional ones.

Salamou 3alekoun

by: Mamuka
November 03, 2010 12:33
How does control of the House impact foreign policy? Isnt foreign policy the domain of the executive branch?

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
November 03, 2010 13:58
Red or blue does not really matter; the essential color is green. The dollar is bound to grow weaker, and the notion of 'resource constraints' will finally enter the American foreign policy lexicon. Tough to be a global leader when you are broke.

by: jim willgoose from: illinois
November 03, 2010 16:08
We have crushed the Taliban cowards in Afghanistan. We have crushed the Baathist thugs in Iraq. We need to crush the the fascist dictator of Iran. For a:
peace mission- dial 1
peace partnership-dial 2
fight-stay on the line and an English speaker will answer

Are you ready?
In Response

by: Ryan
November 03, 2010 23:15
Ah yes, the glorious American victories in Afghanistan and Iraq. How could I have forgotten about those? Just like how we "crushed" the communists in Vietnam! Oh wait...

by: abby.Normal from: California
November 03, 2010 20:59
john mccain is definitely NOT a traditional republican...
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REPEAT: MCCAIN IS NOT A TRADITIONAL REPUBLICAN.
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i *rarely* comment on articles but, as a traditional republican, i felt compelled to point this out.

by: Sophia from: PA, USA
November 04, 2010 06:08
We need both healthcare and better foriegn policy. A president in any other nation who ran under a policy to do away with national health care would be the joke of an entire nation. We NEED better foriegn policy.
In Response

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
November 04, 2010 22:30
Read more Ayn Rand!

If you need better health care than pay for it! A state organized social security and health care will also cost the same as commercial health care. The only difference is who should pay for it?
You? Or do you require the whole society to pay instead of you.

Don't build European style welfare state as it will bring you to the same bankruptcy as Europe faces now...

Long live market economy!
In Response

by: AgiaSophia
November 05, 2010 20:54
Yes we have looked into this. for my family of 6 it would cost near $6,000 per month and this is economical for limited coverage (this does not included dental). this is the price with state help. Who can afford that? So for me I pay for each and every visit. I have dependents what happens to them if something happens to me? Yes we are a developed country we are all just loosing our teeth.
In Response

by: AgiaSophia
November 05, 2010 20:55
we pay taxes. We do pay........
In Response

by: Sophia
November 05, 2010 21:39
This does not mean we need the same system. We just need affordable health care.

this may be an insight for others as to where the working youth are coming from here in the USA. For my Husband and I we are the "Latch Key Kids" for the 80's. We are the ones paying for the "Boomers" and the "Greatest Generation". How are we supposed to pay for all this and work ourselves into the ground and not at least have our health? The "Boomers" and the "Greatest Gen" have healthcare under Medicare. They have retirement too. We "Gen X and Y" are to be frank screwed.

For myself and my husband we are neither Republican nor Democrat. We are what is is being Coined "Crunchy Con's". We have no voice and no money. We are the highest ever educated lowest paid least likely to own there own home, least likely to have a family or live on our own, yet we are the working back bone of this country.

For the USA this year and last were the lowest birth rate in over a century.

My husband with his Masters and I with my BA last year worked four Jobs between us just to barely cover basic bills and food.

sooooo....????? Now what?

I for one think it is totally unfair the the "Boomers" not only did not raise us (there children) but expect us to take care of there parents too. On top of leaving us there workers, children and grandchildren without even the basic need of health care.

But we have NO money, NO numbers and NO voice.

And yes we are the ones who want to care for our children and have strong family values. We find ways to be with and raise our children despite all the non-sense laws that have been heaped on us...
In Response

by: Sophia from: PA, USA
November 05, 2010 21:54
I do not claim to know everything. Just offering a different perspective while holding a baby in one hand and typing with the other.

As far as the housing crisis here in the USA. I pose this question. Why do the Boomers and Greats feel that there house they bought in 1950 for say $145,000 should now be worth $500,000? Yeah RIGHT! As if Gen X and Y whom there are few of are going to afford that so they can go live in the retirement golf pool retirement country club flats...

I see a bigger problem here that NO news covers..
In Response

by: Sophia
November 05, 2010 22:02
Is it nessesary to pay Social Security retirement to Bill Gates when I stand for none? And have NO health care? Yes we pay we are the highest taxed lowest paid and most educated Generation in our history and yes we also have student loans. And NO voice.
In Response

by: Sophia
November 05, 2010 22:21
The poverty line for the children verses the elderly has never had a gap like this in the USA. I don't see this getting better only worse. Not to mention Thanks BUSH for NOT supporting parents rights in there children's education.....
In Response

by: Sophia
November 05, 2010 22:25
And yes we pay for schooling twice. Taxes and out of our own pocket for homeschooling.
In Response

by: Sophia
November 05, 2010 22:41
yet another Question. We want to pump money into the Fed to boost the economy, but what do we produce? Everything is outsourced. Yes I believe in responsibility so why can't we both care for the enviroment and produce. What would it matter anyway who would we put there anyway our children the illegals?

Just great! So Walmart cuts maternity ware because it does not make money and the cost of diapers is going to go up? HA! good thing we use cloth and wash our own diapers.
In Response

by: Sophia
November 05, 2010 23:01
I'd certainly like to know how we are going to get to work with the housing forcloser problem's destroyed credit and lack of public transportation? I seriously wonder if Canada could use a migration of young highly educated working tax payers?
In Response

by: Sophia
November 05, 2010 23:57
Foriegn policy. What foriegn policy?! Pay money to Afganistan? Roll over, stab countries in the back and through money around that we don't have? That foriegn policy? Ummm .. Yeah. As I said ... Do we have a foriegn policy?

Taxes? Yes we pay them. Federal tax. State tax. County tax. City tax. School district tax. Sales tax. Property tax. .......

In Response

by: Sophia
November 05, 2010 23:59
Oh and I forgot ... Social Security tax.. And some others too I'm sure..
In Response

by: Sophia
November 06, 2010 00:38
I for one hope to have a more productive and humble retirement. Hopefully living with my children, helping out with the mending and watching grandchildren verses the now American retirement golf pool flat living it up untill the nursing home.
In Response

by: Sophia
November 06, 2010 01:35
Trying soooo hard to NOT get started on education and employment.. ;)

by: Boris from: London
November 04, 2010 07:38
Jim Willgoose,

The main vilain of the world is Vladimir Putin of Russia and his KGB. He is the one who needs to be crashed. Taliban and baathists are kdis compared to him. and they didn't pose strategic threat to the US interests.

Thank god, Republicans are gaining back power in the US. Hoping it'll be in time to make major changes in the foeign policy, reinvigorate the freedom agenda and prevent Putin from reshaping the world order.

by: vytautasba from: Vilnius
November 04, 2010 11:21
Oh dear. Let us not hope that the return of the republicans will not mean that there will be a return to republican policies from 2001-2008. How quickly people forget. Interesting about the protest against big govenment in the US. How else can a super power with a huge military machine function without a strong central government? Do the tea party people think that a gun over the fireplace and a minute man militia will be enough to insure US security in the world today?

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