Republicans May Give 'Lame Duck Procrastinator' Backbone He Needs (Die
"The Republican Congress will no doubt try and motivate the president
to more assertive action in areas where the 'great procrastinator' has so far only
reluctantly committed. … In recent months the Obama Administration has made a
slight course correction and shown strength of leadership, for instance in the
fight against IS or the containment of Ebola in Africa. If over the next two
years both political camps find their way back to a tradition of
bipartisanship in foreign policy, this course correction toward greater global
engagement could become the distinguishing feature of Obama's last two years."
When U.S. presidents
lose elections after six years in office, they spend the remainder of their
terms focusing mainly on foreign policy. For Obama as well, there could be a new
President Barack Obama arrived in Beijing for his first foreign policy visit
since losing the midterm elections, a question posed by many around the world
travels with him: Is the president so weakened that his position abroad and the
effectiveness of American foreign policy will be affected?
Even before the president lost the Senate to Republicans,
America faced considerable challenges from Ukraine to Syria and from Iraq to
the South China Sea. Some of these are a result of Obama's mistakes or the perception
of weak American leadership. Can a domestically-paralyzed U.S. president manage
to set a new course in foreign policy and build a positive legacy?
policy legacy is at stake
Indeed, in the last two years of his term Barack Obama is
far more likely to be found outside the United States than at any time in the
six years prior. Certainly it has become known even to Beijing that
“lame duck” presidents, embarrassed after losing important elections six years after
taking office, tend to place greater emphasis on foreign policy at the end of
For in no other area does the president have so many ways to
determine his own course without Congressional consent. After losing in the
midterm elections Ronald Reagan continues to negotiate important disarmament
agreements with Moscow in the final phase of the Soviet Union.
trade deal with help of Republicans?
Furthermore, there are policy areas where Obama may well hope
for Republican approval, for example in the case of the desired free trade
agreement with Asian countries (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and the European
Union (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). The president was
recently thwarted on this issue by his own free-trade-skeptic Democrats.
In January, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
even denied Obama the so-called fast-track authority which would allow the
president to negotiate an international trade agreement and submit it to
Congress as a package.
When it comes to free trade, Republicans are far more open than
Obama’s Democrats. After his defeat the president stressed this area as one where
there would be a “real opportunity for cooperation.”
Newly designated Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell also commented, “I have many Senate members who believe that
international trade agreements are in America’s interest.” However, some observers
feel there is only a one-year window until internal party campaigns for the
Republican presidential nomination begin.
for the fight against IS
Obama can hope for Congressional support in all those areas he
undertakes course corrections toward a more muscular American foreign policy. The
threat posed by the terrorist movement Islamic State (IS) certainly seems for
the moment to have silenced the isolationist-minded wing of the Tea Party
movement. Even libertarian, known isolationist and potential presidential
candidate Rand Paul is now advocates support for air strikes against IS in Iraq
It is expected that Republican hawk John McCain will be
named chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In the past, McCain has lobbied
for greater American involvement in Syria as well as for the establishment of a
no-fly zone over Syrian territory in the North along the border with Turkey in
order to protect the Syrian opposition from Assad regime air strikes.
The Obama Administration has so far only supported the
moderate Syrian opposition in their fight against IS extremists, although it
has made no attempt to assist it in its fight against the Assad regime.
Point of contention:
Indeed, Assad has so far benefitted from most from air
strikes against IS positions in Syria. Shortly before the elections, the
American media reported on a secret memo from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to National Security Advisor Susan Rice in which Hagel called for the White House to clarify its stance on
the Assad regime lest it jeopardize its anti-IS strategy. The Republican
majority in the Senate may now accelerate this clarification process.
Obama asked Congress after losing the election for a formal
authorization of the military struggle against IS in Iraq and Syria. Up to now,
the government has justified military strikes with the 2001 authorization to
use military force against al-Qaeda. The majority of Republicans are behind the
Congress has so far shown little interest and would rather
have the White House assume responsibility for the current anti-IS strategy. Now,
however, representatives must show their colors. A Washington
Post editorial last Sunday
reads, “In principle, it shouldn’t be hard to assemble a large bipartisan
majority behind the goal of degrading the Islamic State. … But the specific
terms of the legislation could produce paralyzing dissension.” Among other places within the Republican Party itself.
weapons for Kiev?
On the Ukraine conflict, leading Republican foreign policy experts
aren't the only ones pushing for a tougher stance toward Moscow. In September,
Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved $350
million (roughly €280 million) to provide the Ukrainian army with anti-tank
weapons, drones and ammunition.
So far, however, the Obama Administration hasn't managed to bring
itself to support such measures. Given the increasing intensity of Russian
military activity inside Ukraine, the Obama Administration is coming under
pressure to do more. The more distinctly Russian provocations assume the
character of a new Cold War with the West, the louder cries from Congress will
be for pursuing a more resolute containment policy toward Moscow.
On Congress passing Iran
The greatest potential for conflict is undoubtedly on the
Iran issue. The Obama Administration is now in the final phase of negotiations
with Teheran, which should be completed by November 24th. It is still unclear
whether there will even be an agreement or whether negotiations will be
extended. A few days ago, The
Wall Street Journal reported on
a letter from Obama to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in which the
president lobbied for an agreement and offered Iran American cooperation in the
fight against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State.
Posted By Worldmeets.US
Even before the elections there was already considerable Congressional
skepticism with respect to Iran. There are fears that the government could make
too many concessions to Tehran. Only intensive White House lobbying of several
Democrats in Congress earlier this year prevented the adoption of tougher
sanctions against Teheran. The anti-Iran majority in the new Congress has only
Over the past few weeks it was leaked by the White House that
the president wouldn't seek Congressional approval for an agreement, but that an
executive order would be issued suspending sanctions approved by Congress. Thus
it is legally within the president’s scope to conclude a nuclear agreement with
Iran without the support of Congress.
The question is whether Teheran will want to risk relying on
a presidential directive that passes on the problem of a final repeal of sanctions
to the next incumbent. After the defeat of the Democrats, a commentary on Iran's
state broadcaster Press TV said, “With a heavy heart the rest of the world has
concluded that Obama’s power is on the wane.”
The waning power of Obama which the Mullahs are obviously
following with such concern will make it harder for the president to be viewed abroad
as a heavyweight. However, that doesn't mean a weaker America. The Republican
Congress will no doubt try and motivate the president to more assertive action
in areas where the “great procrastinator” has so far only reluctantly committed.
In recent months the Obama Administration has made a slight
course correction and shown strength of leadership, for instance in the fight
against IS or the containment of Ebola in Africa. If over the next two years
both political camps find their way back to a tradition of bipartisanship in
foreign policy, this course correction toward greater global engagement could
become the distinguishing feature of Obama's last two years.