Friday, November 10, 2006

The Midterm Election and US Foreign Policy

In the midterm election on November 7, Democrats have won majority in both the Senate and the House. Just before this election, experts commented prospective impacts of election results on US foreign policy. For two years from now, the Bush administration will have some difficulty in dealing with the Congress. Iraq was the key issue in the election. Will President George W. Bush change his course in Iraq and foreign policy over all? Also, I would like to mention the impact on 2008 presidential election.

At the public forum sponsored by the Department of State on November 1, Thomas Mann, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, said This election is being driven primarily by a very unpopular war in Iraq and secondarily by public perceptions of incompetence in the Bush administration and corruption in the Republican Congress. However, it is noteworthy that he said Given the angry public and narrow majorities in Congress, a failure by the Democrats to gain a majority in at least the House would raise troubling questions about the capacity of the American electoral system for democratic accountability. It would also be deeply dispiriting to congressional Democrats and probably lead to a raft of retirements. But it would not necessarily say much about the 2008 presidential election. There is no relationship between midterm gains and losses and the subsequent presidential election. That will depend on the broad political environment shaped by Iraq and the economy and the candidates nominated by each party. In other words, Democrats must show persuasive alternatives in both foreign and domestic policies. America faces numerous foreign policy issues, like terrorism, nuclear proliferation, Afghanistan, and so forth. Iraq is one of them, and none of other critical issues were discussed seriously in the election. Republican achievents are not necessarily bad.

For better or worse, Republicans must take responsibility for what the federal government has achieved during this period. And despite a buoyant economy, low unemployment and no significant terrorist attacks on American soil since September 11th 2001, most Americans think little has been done. (“Goodbye to the permanent majority?”, Economist, November 2)

Regarding post election foreign policy, Michael O’Hanlon, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, talks of hard power Democrats, in his article “What is a Hard Power Progressive?” in the Daily Yomiuri on November 1. It must be more than someone who is a moderate on domestic policy and nothing but a conservative Republican clone on foreign affairs. Like Bush Senior and Bill Clinton, they will be more realist, and less inclined to trumpet American values than the current administration. It does not mean radical changes in US foreign policy. Hard power Democrats and similarly minded moderate Republicans should follow conservative and neoconservative focus on national security. Currently, the United States faces critical issues from Iraq to Iran to North Korea--not to mention a host of other key issues such as energy policy and the rise of China. Also, he argues as follows.

While being willing to criticize Bush for major mistakes in Iraq, such a hard-power Democrat or moderate should--unless absolutely convinced that we have already lost in Iraq--work hard to develop new ideas that give us some hope of salvaging a passable outcome in Iraq.

In conclusion, O’Hanlon insists that hard power Democrats will have a clear sense of how to blend hard and soft power into an effective mix that adds up to smart power for the new era and new challenges that so threaten the United States today.

Finally, I would like to refer to conservative viewpoints on this election and American foreign policy by three policy analysts at the American Enterprise Institute. Resident Scholar Joshua Muravchik criticizes Democrat leaders, Senator Harry Reid and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, as they do not show alternative ideas to the current administration. Another Resident Scholar Norman Ornstein foresees two changes after the election. One is through investigation on Iraq, torture, and intelligence failures. The other is congressional backlash against expansion of executive power. In addition to both comments, Vice President Danielle Pletka warns that rogue states and terrorists may be encouraged if they see America weak and divided. In any case, as long as Republicans hold executive power, they do not expect fundamental changes.

Real foreign policy debates start from now on. The media focus too much on “failure” in Iraq. But immediate withdrawal without sufficient consideration will not be of any help to stabilize Iraq. Moreover, America faces diversified global challenges. Which party can present true resolutions to manage these problems? The test for 2008 election has just begun.