Mid-term jolt to President Obama: Implications for US foreign policy

The mid-term jolt to the Democrats, which has been referred to as the "repudiation of President Obama's policies", has in effect flagged off the lame-duck phase of a president who had started with a massive promise.

What has been striking in this election is that all the heavyweight candidates of the Democrats were involved in the campaign, including the Clintons but it did not help. The Democrats even wanted to keep Obama at a distance during the campaigning, keeping in mind the steep fall in his popularity.

The fate of Obama reminds us of that of the Congress leadership in India which began to perish under the burden of anti-incumbency just a year or two after getting elected at the Centre. In 2014, it faced its worst election since Independence while Narendra Modi stormed to power.

Now going back to Obama's loss in the semifinals, what does it imply for the United States, particularly in the realm of foreign policy, for this is one field with which the world's only superpower is identified the most by the rest of the world. A look at the foreign policy perspective is also significant for the Senate has an important say on it and now with the Republicans gaining the majority in the Upper House, President Obama will face a difficult time in executing his plans abroad in the next two years.

Let's have a look at the implication that the mid-term poll will have for the American foreign policy in different parts of the world:

West Asia:

Washington has struggled to reach any peaceful settlement in this volatile region of the world since the adventures in Afghanistan (for its proximity with West Asia) and Iraq in early 2000s. The situation in that region has worsened in recent times and now with problems emerging in places like Syria and Iran and around the deadly Islamic States (IS), Washington is certainly going to see its tasks turning tougher in dealing with them.

In Syria, President Obama has failed to chalk out a strategy to deal with both President Bashar al-Assad and the IS. A US Congress dominated by the Republicans could see a more militarised approach to deal with the IS and the tyrannical regime in Damascus.

As for Iran which has locked horns with the West over its nuclear programme for some time now, the mid-term jolt might jeopardise Washington's strategies particularly when the P5+1 and Iran are believed to the close to an agreement. Difficult questions will arise when Congressional approval will be sought to remove US sanctions on Iran and how a Republican-dominated Congress goes about it will be interesting to watch.

The USA's term with Israel touched a low in recent times but with the Republicans gaining ground in the Congress, that relation could see an improvement. Israel could use the Republicans in the Congress if Obama tries to pressurise it to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority (PA). The Republicans could even go after the 300 million dollars of annual aid to the PA if it goes to the United Nations and seek recognition without entering negotiations.

China and Japan:

The Republicans have maintained a hard stand on China but at the same time, they have also kept a close watch on the economic relationship. It is unlikely that the Republicans' increase in influence will see the Americans taking on China or backing its neighbours who have maritime disputes with Beijing. Regarding Japan, Obama's move to appoint Caroline Kennedy, the politician daughter of late president John F Kennedy, as the ambassador to Japan backfired after she failed to get along with the conservatives in the Japanese political establishment.

After the Obama Administration expressed its disappointment with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Yasukuni, the Tokyo war memorial termed by a symbol of imperialist Japan of the 20th century, last December, sources in Japan's ruling elite said such fault-finding would not have happened with the Republicans. Does that mean the US and Japan will get closer under the Republicans?


Washington's stand on Russia is bound to get stronger under the Republican influence. This might force the NATO and EU allies of the USA to also harden stand against Moscow. The question of Ukraine will create more tension in the relation between Russia and the West.


Finally, when it comes to India, the drift in the US-India relations is likely to persist, irrespective of the warmth the two sides expressed during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the USA. But whether there are issues of temporary friction, the growing threat of terrorism and Pakistan's increasing alienation in world affairs, the avenue for economic development and the growing participation of the Indian diaspora in the politics of the USA mean that the two democracies will never be at a distance.

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