Might Obama Shun Domestic Politics for Foreign Policy?
5:08 PM, Nov 3, 2010 • By PHILIP TERZIAN
I think it's worth mentioning that, in a federal election of some historic significance, foreign and defense policy played a relatively small role. To be sure, foreign policy seldom plays an important role in American electoral contests, and mid-term elections are especially occupied with domestic politics and the economy. But there was little mention of Afghanistan, where our troops are fighting, or Iraq, where the future of the American project hangs in the balance, or Iran, which has wide-ranging ambitions and appears to be on the verge of developing nuclear weapons.
Hardly anyone mentioned Venezuela, another ambitious regional autocracy, or the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which was revived with much fanfare, under American sponsorship, during the campaign season. The comprehensive review of defense policy, recently undertaken by Secretary Gates, was never debated by any of the candidates for federal office. It is true that China figured in some campaign advertising, but only in relation to the national debt and U.S. domestic economic policies.
As I say, this is not unusual in elections, especially mid-term elections. But there is an instructive irony here. Because President Obama has been politically wounded, Republicans have gained decisive control of the House, and drawn closer to parity with Democrats in the Senate, Obama is neither likely nor capable of undertaking any significant domestic initiatives during the next two years. Which, if experience is any guide, means that he will turn his attention away from domestic affairs and concentrate his energies on foreign and defense policy.
Here, too, it may be argued that the president's options are limited: The Middle East peace process has nowhere to go at the moment, and with reference to Iran, the administration seems determined to wait on events. With just under 24 months until the next presidential election, there will be no mention of the reset button in relation with Cuba; and while Obama remains personally popular in Europe, that interesting fact does him no good with American voters. One issue which represents an intersection between foreign and domestic policy—immigration—might afford an opportunity to deal successfully with Congress. Or might not. Or yet again, some unforeseen occurrence—a successful terrorist attack, turmoil in Mexico, botched succession in North Korea, collapse in Afghanistan, standoff with China over Taiwan—might reshuffle the domestic political cards, and in ways no one conceived during the 2010 elections.