As President Barack Obama finds his domestic political agenda increasingly hamstrung by Republicans' control of the House of Representatives and their veto power in the Senate, the temptation will grow to seek presidential achievements beyond these shores. But, if anything, the impact of the congressional power shift will make an already forbidding international environment tougher still for the President.
Many world leaders will read Tuesday's vote, rightly or wrongly, as a sign that Obama's reelection prospects are in jeopardy, and their calculations will be affected by the President's diminished authority. Besides the expected push-back against a range of foreign and domestic initiatives, Republican budget-cutting impulses and skepticism of aiding governments of questionable commitment to U.S. goals could also imperil U.S. funding to Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Herewith, a quick survey on the foreign policy challenges confronting the President, and his post-election prospects for success in each.
Please, Bibi, Please ...
A Middle East peace agreement was the singular achievement for which Jimmy Carter's one-term presidency is remembered, but Obama is unlikely to repeat that feat. Buoyed by the support of an overwhelmingly sympathetic U.S. Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is more likely than ever to resist pressure from Obama for concessions to the Palestinians and he was doing a good job of that even when the President was at the height of his powers. The Palestinians, meanwhile, believe Netanyahu has no intention of offering a deal they would deem credbile, and will now have even more reason to doubt that Washington will apply the pressure on Israel the Palestinians believe is essential to achieve any deal. The Mideast is more likely to present Obama with crises than with opportunities.
The showpiece foreign policy achievements claimed by the Obama Administration so far have been in the sphere of nuclear non-proliferation. It presided over a global conference to tighten nuclear security in April, and managed to get a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia that would cut both sides' warhead fleets. But ratification of the treaty requires 67 votes in the Senate, and with significant opposition from more hawkish Republicans, that goal now appears in jeopardy. Russian lawmakers have made clear they'll delay their own ratification pending a U.S. vote.