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Elections not likely to affect statecraft

Foreign policy set, Clinton says

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that the midterm election results would not change the Obama administration's policies abroad.

"The political winds blow back and forth, but I think you will find that President Obama is a pretty steady captain of the ship," Mrs. Clinton said in Malaysia, the sixth stop on her 13-day Asia-Pacific tour. "No matter what happens in our election, you will see him … continuing to promote his agenda, which I think is right for America and right for the world."

But back in the U.S., where a Republican takeover of the House seemed likely at press time, foreign policy analysts agreed that it would be a matter of how, not if, the election would change U.S. foreign policy.

"I don't think we know where a lot of those who are likely to be elected stand on a lot of national security issues because national security issues have been completely absent from this election," said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "There have been a lot of people who have wanted to ascribe their views to those who are about to be elected based on nothing more than hope."

The electoral Rorschach test that the hawkish Ms. Pletka spoke of revolves around the "tea party."

"When we have seen straws in the wind from those in the tea party talking about national security questions, they have taken a very robust position," she said.

"It's possible that the center of gravity of the new right will be 1930s-style Republican Party policy," Ms. Pletka said. "But I don't think we have any reason to believe that."

Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy studies for the libertarian Cato Institute, said he thinks the tea party-influenced crop of Republican candidates presented a mixed bag.

"Some are very hawkish and basically have a small-government attitude here in the United States but a big-government attitude abroad," he said. "And then I think you have others who disagree a bit and think that, if we're going to cut down the size of government here in the United States, we need to also rethink our objectives abroad."

Mr. Preble, a vocal nation-building opponent, added that he had been "encouraged by the level of candor [by Republican candidates] and the willingness to ask hard questions about U.S. foreign policy," specifically about the war in Afghanistan.

Among Republican Senate hopefuls, he cited Kentucky's Rand Paul, son of Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, as well as Alaska's Joe Miller, Colorado's Ken Buck and Nevada's Sharron Angle.

This year the House and the Senate passed supplementals to fund Mr. Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama repeatedly has said he intends to begin a drawdown of U.S. troops next summer, though he has left the scope vague.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, is to provide a review of the troop situation to Congress in December.

Steven Clemons, founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and a skeptic of the Afghanistan effort, said that while he foresees "no real change in the December review," he thinks it is only a matter of time before "skirmishes" erupt in both parties.

"I think when you get into March and April of next year, I think you're going to see a lot more interservice rivalry between the Air Force and Navy and the Army, with the Air Force and Navy more skeptical of the Petraeus plan," he said. "And I think you will find some Republicans line up behind them."

Mr. Clemons added that in the Middle East policy "swamp," he does not "see anything in the region that isn't going to be affected" by Tuesday's results.

Ms. Pletka said she thinks that, in contrast to his predecessors, Mr. Obama "has not appeared very interested in foreign policy."

But one school of thought argues that, faced with a Congress unlikely to move on his legislative priorities — cap-and-trade, comprehensive immigration reform — the president might turn his attention abroad to pet issues like the Arab-Israeli peace process.

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