Thinking Aloud: Foreign Policy After the Election

Nov. 5, 2014 by Darius 

The votes are counted and the results are in.  Republicans did very well in elections across the country yesterday, emphatically seizing back control of the Senate from Democrats.

Republican voters tended to follow historical norms: older, whiter, and more heavily male than the general population.  Additionally, of those who considered foreign policy to be the most pressing issue impacting the election, 55% voted Republican.  How might these people and their ideological compatriots in the Senate impact US foreign policy?

Perhaps the biggest and most immediate challenge to current US foreign policy from a Republican Senate will come over Iran.  Negotiators are inching closer to a nuclear deal, but any deal must eventually involve the Congressional removal of sanctions on Iran.  Republicans voiced grave concerns over the prospect of Iran getting a too-easy deal when they were in the Senate minority.  Now that they’re the majority, such calls will get even louder.

Republicans in Congress also tend to support Israel and especially the Israeli government much more than President Obama seems to.  (AIPAC influence tends to be bipartisan, with contributions going to Republicans and Democrats alike, but evangelical Christians, which are well represented among Republican voters, tend to be big supporters of Israel.)  Recently, Obama has indicated his displeasure with several Israeli government policies that have provoked needless tensions with Palestinians.  There are few concrete measures he can take, though, and with a Republican Senate, Obama will likely be even more constricted.  Prime Minister Netanyahu was certainly a winner yesterday, even though he wasn’t on the ballot.

Republicans and those who elected them could also push for more intervention against ISIS and even US combat troops being deployed to Iraq or Syria.  Whether or not such a deployment would help the region is largely beside the point.

Another potential Republican hot-button issue is Russia and Ukraine.  Many of the Republicans’ base voters of this election (old, white men) still tend to think of Russia as the Evil Empire of the Cold War.  It’s possible we could see more calls for a tougher stance on Putin and Russia from a Republican Senate, though what exactly this tougher stance would be is rarely elucidated.

It’s unlikely that Republicans will care to challenge US foreign policy with regards to East Asia, Africa, or Latin America at this juncture.  Most Republican rhetoric in these areas has focused on keeping “undesirables” out of the US — be they people arriving on flights from Ebola-stricken countries or immigrants trying to “sneak across the border” – with little interest in what goes on in the sending countries.

In the end, though, foreign policy remains the domain of the president, and despite the preferences of some voters, it probably won’t be the main focus of the Republican-controlled Senate.  Get ready to have repeals of the Affordable Care Act pass both houses of Congress every other day.

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