But the slide of public confidence in President Barack Obama and
the takeover of U.S. Congress by resurgent Republicans will
complicate, though not seriously undermine, U.S. foreign policy that
is grappling with wars in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and a
more aggressive China in Asia.
Republicans rode to victory with a boost from the widespread view of
an Obama White House beset by perpetual crisis. Broadcasts of
black-clad Islamic State militants advancing in Syria or medical
teams in white hazmat suits grappling with the Ebola epidemic played
endlessly on TV news broadcasts, badly damaging Democrats at
Tuesday's mid-term elections.
Obama's opponents will now wield greater power on Capitol Hill in
the final two years of his tenure. But the president will still
possess broad constitutional powers to conduct foreign policy and
could decide to focus more of his attention abroad, taking his cue
from the second terms of past presidents, if Congress stymies his
Whether he wants to make more of a mark internationally or not,
Obama will have a long list of formidable challenges.
“The world sees a lame-duck with his authority undermined," said
Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East adviser to both Republican
and Democratic administrations.
“It will be the perception of a diminished president who will have a
difficult time sailing the already difficult waters of Washington."
FOREIGN POLICY INTRUDES ON MIDTERMS
Republicans have long accused Obama of weakening America's global
leadership by failing to act more forcefully in the world's crises.
Obama and his aides have pushed back against critics they say are
promoting reckless military action.
Having taken over the Senate and increased their majority in the
House of Representatives, Republicans will be in a stronger position
to push for a harder line in talks between world powers and Iran
aimed at curbing its nuclear program and preventing it from
developing an atomic bomb, which Tehran denies seeking.
With a Nov. 24 deadline looming for a comprehensive deal,
Republicans fear that Obama will make too many concessions for
easing sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. He could suspend
some sanctions on his own but would eventually need a congressional
vote to lift the measures permanently.
An accord with Iran after decades of estrangement with the United
States would be a big boost to Obama’s international legacy, which
so far has lacked a signature major success.
New York Republican Rep. Peter King said that with his party’s
control of the Senate, Republicans would be able to retaliate with
new legislation if Obama tries to bypass them on Iran.
“If he tries to be cute and sneak something through, there may be a
backlash,” King told Reuters.
Another source of continuing friction will be Obama’s handling of
the battle against Islamic State, which is also known as ISIL and
has seized large swathes of Syria and Iraq.
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Leading Republicans insist that Obama’s objective to “degrade and
ultimately destroy” Islamic State will fail unless he goes beyond
the current bombing campaign and limited assistance to moderate
On the heels of the mid-term outcome, some are demanding a reversal
of Obama’s refusal to send more U.S. forces to Iraq, a reflection of
his reluctance for large-scale use of U.S. military power,
especially in the volatile Middle East.
“That seems to me to be physically impossible to stop ISIL without
boots on the ground,” said Republican Utah Senator Mike Lee, a
member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
AT ODDS OVER UKRAINE AND GUANTANAMO
Obama will also likely face Republican pressure for a stronger stand
against Russian President Vladimir Putin over Moscow’s role in
Ukraine, which has sent U.S.-Russian relations to a post-Cold War
low. Obama has mobilized European cooperation on sanctions, but many
Republicans want tougher measures.
Another issue likely to create friction could be the fate of the
internationally condemned prison for foreign terrorism suspects at
the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Obama inherited the
prison from his predecessor, George W. Bush, and has repeatedly
vowed, and failed, to close it.
Most Republicans vehemently oppose emptying the jail. The Republican
takeover of the Senate would seem to cast even further doubt on
Obama’s ability to shutter it.
A Republican Congress, however, may take a more favorable view of a
landmark trans-Pacific trade deal that Washington is negotiating. It
will be high on the agenda when Obama attends an Asia-Pacific summit
in Beijing next week.
If Obama is seeking another legacy achievement, he may look to ease
the Cold War-era embargo on communist Cuba after loosening some
restrictions in his first term. But Republicans would be expected to
oppose such a move.
(Additional reporting by David Lawder and Krista Hughes. Editing by
Jason Szep and Ken Wills)
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