On Al Jazeera America, Hiram College professor Jason Johnson discusses Iran’s reaction to the proposed nuclear framework agreement.
The midterm elections in the United States do not have the dramatic fanfare and theatre of the presidential elections, but they are no less important in their impact on the rest of the world. The US president for all of his constitutional power still has to work with Congress to implement and fund his policies. Nowhere is this more prominent than in foreign policy where Congressional approval is crucial to ratify treaties and fund military actions abroad. In the wake of the Republican takeover of the US Senate the world could see some fundamentally different foreign policy coming out of the Obama administration for its final two years. And these changes will likely influence how the Obama presidency is viewed for decades.
President Barack Obama has staked a lot of his international credibility on the JPOA (Joint Plan of Action) a UN-sponsored plan to freeze Iranian nuclear development in exchange for easing US-backed sanctions. The US and Iran have until November 24 to finalise the deal, but with Republicans taking over the US Senate, Obama’s ability to back up the deal may be weakened.
There are already about 67 votes (out of 100) in the Senate including many in Obama’s Democratic Party, who are very hawkish on increasing sanctions on Iran. Thus far, Democratic leaders have stalled votes on any tougher sanctions on Tehran but come January when the new Senate takes over, a tougher bill will likely get passed. This will force Obama to either veto a sanctions bill against Iran, which would be political suicide, or take a harsher stance in nuclear negotiations with Iran to appease the Senate back in the US.
More aggressive with Russia
There is no love lost between Obama and Vladimir Putin, and their relationship has soured even more since the Russian soft invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
Obama was quick to impose sanctions by executive order because ultimately those can be reversed or amended should the conditions in Ukraine get better or worse.
Now that Republicans have taken over the Senate, Obama’s hand will be forced. The US only pledged an additional $53m to aid Kiev after an impassioned plea for help in September, and Obama will have a hard time getting more funding to the Ukrainian government with a Republican-controlled Senate that controls funding to foreign policy endeavours.
Worse than little or no funding to Kiev, the new head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Bob Corker, wants to put harsher sanctions on Moscow essentially picking a fight that Obama would rather avoid. If Russia gets more aggressive in the coming months, expect Republicans to pressure him for sanctions that are more binding than executive orders.
ISIL – boots on the ground?
The US doesn’t really have a plan on how to fight ISIL because it is still not entirely clear how big or how powerful it really is. However, that hasn’t stopped many Republicans from calling for putting “boots on the ground” all throughout the Middle East, including Syria, to battle ISIL no matter where they may be operating.
Former Republican presidential nominee John McCain will take over the Senate Armed Services Committee and he’s been very clear that he wants US troops on the ground in Syria and fighting ISIL. Very few Senators (in either party) are willing to go that far to fight ISIL but any of the president’s plans going forward will likely have to put troops into play in order to get full support from the Senate.
Relations between Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama have only been a shade better than those with Putin. With Republicans controlling the Senate, Israel will have more allies to lobby to obstruct any efforts by the Obama administration to put pressure on Israel to limit or stop building new settlements. US involvement in the Middle East peace process may slow to a crawl in the next two years.
The US has its political or military tentacles in just about every part of the globe right now and that won’t change due to midterm elections. However, if the Republicans have their way, the grip of those tentacles across so many crucial foreign policy issues might get a little tighter. The world will soon see just how much fight Obama has left in his last two years as president.
This article originally appeared on Al Jazeera English.
HLN Contributor Jason Johnson discusses the decision by President Barack Obama to seek Congressional approval for a strike on Syria.
Hiram College professor Jason Johnson discusses the decision by President Barack Obama to seek Congressional approval for a strike on Syria.
This analysis originally appeared online at Al Jazeera English.
Tonight’s third and final presidential debate in the US turned out to be more substantive and entertaining than expected.
While no tectonic shifts in the polls will occur a change did happen tonight, a subtle but significant one that may end up resonating throughout the final two weeks of this campaign. This was a night that both parties may look back upon in two weeks as the beginning of something, small, imperceptible at first but which snowballed into a victory for one or the other.
Here are the three main takeaways from tonight’s debate.
1. Mitt’s Missed Opportunity: Whether Mitt Romney was surging for the last three weeks or if the race was simply tightening as uncommitted voters moved off the fence, he was in an excellent position heading into this third debate. With the race essentially tied and polls in swing states just past the margin of error tonight was a chance for Romney to close the gap in the one area where Barack Obama has beat him all year: Foreign Policy. Instead Romney gave a lackluster performance at best. He muddled through the debate like a man with an eight-point lead in the polls 24 hours before election day instead of a man who is tied in the polls, and behind in the electoral college with two weeks of campaigning left. Whatever surge for Romney that existed died on the stage at Lynn University tonight, and if it stays dead that might be enough for Obama to scrape out a victory.
2. Obama Steals Romney’s Message: The silver bullet of the Romney campaign tonight was supposed to be Romney making the poor US economy a national security issue. Instead Obama took that baton and ran with it before Mitt Romney had finished tying his shoe laces. Obama was discussing how building the economy at home was critical to US political strength abroad in the first question and he never let up. While Romney made a point of mentioning the vast economic malaise that has struck the nation he never made the connection between politics and dollar bills as firmly as the president.
3. Off the Cuff versus Prepared Statements: President Obama ruled the night with a series of one-liners and off-the-cuff statements that left Governor Romney looking flustered and stymied for most of the night. The most powerful exchange was when Romney attacked the president for letting the navy shrink to the size it was in the early 20th century. Obama struck back by pointing out that the army didn’t use “Horses and Bayonets” anymore either but that the military needed to modernize. He then went on a brutal and condescending riff about the value of air-craft carriers and the air force solidifying his narrative that Romney had no clue about the modern military. Unlike some other areas of the debate, this was not substantive policy debate. Nevertheless it was the kind of witty tough talk that echoes through social networking sites, on late night American talk shows and news programmes that will give Americans an idea as to not only who won the debate but how.
Romney had a chance tonight to close the foreign policy gap. However he failed in spectacular fashion and most instant post-debate polls show him losing to Obama by anywhere from 10 to 25 points in this third debate. Obama had to show competence this evening and not only did he show competence but he probably closed the gap in “Leadership” where Romney usually led him. If this debate freezes the campaign at this date, even in a slow and subtle way, then Obama might just have won the election tonight. Romney clearly did not do anything to keep his momentum going up or Obama’s numbers trending down.