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 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.