US Midterm Elections – The Connection between Domestic and Foreign Agenda

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Context

300_Mecca2The world had barely settled down in interpreting the arrival of President Obama, and is now examining the implications of US midterm elections. If the arrival of Obama meant the advent of Soft Power, does the return of Republicans translate in the coming back of Hard Power? The change in US Congress would not only confuse its allies regarding its foreign policy objective but also its domestic audiences. The connection between the state of the economy and foreign policy cannot be overlooked. This article looks at what the results of the US midterm election means for its foreign policy posture.

Analysis

PoliTact’s media analysis reveals that one standard conclusion has been drawn from the results of the midterm elections; President Obama will face stiff opposition, even reversal, of his domestic agenda. Additionally, the US Constitution reserves the realm of foreign policy as a prerogative of the President, and this is where he will make the greatest impact. This article studies how the state of US economy has impacted the results of the elections and its foreign policy posture.

Domestic Agenda

200_rand-paulPresident Obama has to operate under a unique domestic and global environment. On the national front, US confronts alarming economic challenges, most directly related to its banking, stock market, housing and health care system. There has existed a strong fear that if the governments had not bailed out the banks earlier, it could have imperiled the whole economic system with global consequences. Ironically, President Bush initiated some of the economic stimuli during the later part of his term, which stood in stark contrast to the laissez-faire tradition of his party.

Although US has gone through similar cycles in the past, the current round is seriously hurting the confidence of the people and their spending patterns. Obviously, any politician hoping to do well in the elections had to take a position of cutting expenses while raising revenues, and at the same time appearing tough on security.

In the present context, for the Democrats this meant winding down the countries costly involvement in foreign wars, increasing spending on social programs and education, and creating jobs. However, Obama’s health care reform, bailing out the banks, deficit spending, and the possibility of increased taxation, is what lead to the galvanization of the Tea Party. The Republicans are now threatening to reverse the health care reform and making the government smaller and more accountable.

Republicans are traditionally considered pro-business while Democrats are criticized for extending the reach of the government and social programs. The dilemma for both parties remains how to increase revenues and jobs in an environment of recession. While the solution for Democrats is to cut spending on defense and increase taxation, the Republican are allergic to this direction. Republicans have stood for a strong defense and reducing taxes on the rich, as that causes wealthy to make investments.

Failing to stimulate domestic market activity, President Obama is forced to find foreign markets for US products and this where the US-India relations becomes key. In addition to Gulf countries, India is increasingly becoming the primary market for US defense products. It also points out that US-China relations are likely to deteriorate further due to the trade imbalance and valuation of Yuan. Thus, in the era of globalization, the internal politics of US is not disconnected from its foreign policy.           

Foreign Policy

200_Obama_and_Manmohan_SinghThere are some significant differences between the two parties on matters of foreign policy, particularly when it comes to AfPak Theater and the Middle East. Republicans are against giving a timeline for US withdrawal from Afghanistan and want to get tough with Iran and Russia, as it related to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). This tension would continue to complicate Obama’s foreign policy.
Although President Obama secured the end of Operation Iraq Freedom, he committed to a surge in Afghanistan with a deadline of next year for withdrawing troops. On Iran, he has taken a softer approach and wants to give diplomacy a chance.

The general perception of Obama’s administration in the Islamic world especially, places it to be continuing with Bush’s policy, but introducing a diplomatic surge with it. This hike in US diplomacy has meant negotiating a whole lot more with allies and other international players, but with no substantive change in the direction of US foreign policy. However, this in the long run, makes matters worse by putting a dent in US credibility and trustworthiness abroad.

Nowhere has been the implications of this perception been felt more strongly than in the European continent. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the European core (France and Germany) does not seem to share the American threat perception relating to extremism and Russia, and reluctant to contribute towards it. Additionally, in view of the bleak economic outlook, the new UK government has significantly cut its defense spending. In other words, the Europeans have recognized that the foreign policy of a country does not operate independent of its economic outlook. The stability and cohesion of the European continent behind US interests has been the bedrock of American foreign policy. The two world wars and the Cold War were carried out based on this premise. However, this paradigm appears to be in flux and causing turbulence for the future of NATO.

To counter the persistent negative public perception of US in Middle East, it is not only turning to India, which has a sizeable Muslim population, but also to the Muslim countries of Asia-Pacific. The political dynamics of these countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, run counter to the core of the Muslim world, due mainly to tensions with China. These shifting alliances would also complicate the relations of these pacific countries with Pakistan.

The changes in global environment means America would have to build new alliances. These new partners, just like the present ones, would be attracted by the American innovation and creativity, in business, science and technology, and defense sector. In the atmosphere of global recession and weakening US economic base, however, Americans would increasingly rely on international subscribers, to continue providing global leadership and security these allies crave. In other words, Obama will handle foreign policy as a tool to shape and stimulate economic activity domestically. This approach would also be useful in offsetting the Republicans, by not appearing soft on security or cutting defense spending.

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