Foreign concerns and Obama’s weakened Presidency
Reactions in many parts of Europe and Asia are muted although the debacle of the Democrats and Barack Obama in the midterm elections may change domestic politics for a long time or even make him a one term President. Most are waiting to see how he handles his weakened Presidency in coming weeks before revealing their cards.
The main concern is about the quality of governance in America. Fear is growing of Congressional gridlock so severe that putting faith and trust in American leadership in world affairs would be a high risk proposition. So relations with Germany, France, Russia and China are likely to become more difficult despite public statements of friendship and cooperation. That will cause problems for US foreign policy just as Obama tries to start exiting from Afghanistan next year and put more pressure on Iran to accept international strictures on its nuclear fuel development program. He needs the support of these countries for both objectives. Pakistan, which is already an unreliable ally in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, will surely become more unruly and seek more compensation for its role in helping the US.
Although the midterm elections are a purely domestic affair, the dramatic losses in both Congress and Senate are being viewed as Obama’s failure to keep his finger on the pulse of the American people. For outsiders, this is a big surprise since he won the 2008 Presidential election because of his superior grasp over what the people want and hope for. A President out of touch with his people is a poor politician in a democracy. This issue goes to the heart of political governance and Presidential leadership.
The reaction is muted so far because everyone understands the complexity and violence of American politics and a reversal in midterm elections does not necessarily indicate a President too weak to bang heads together to uphold his principles. But it is astonishing that Obama and his political advisors are so distant from their own political base as to suffer such historic losses making it much harder to push legislation through either House.
With some Republics baying to ensure that he becomes a one-term President, further political reversals or failures to win battles in either House will open the floodgates of foreign governments’ concern. The White House may find its key foreign policy initiatives, especially in international security and economic cooperation, blocked or mired in various international forums.
The tension between American liberals and conservatives used to be healthy. It spurred competition to achieve better results. But it has turned into war causing the failure of bipartisanship in Congress after Obama’s rise to power on a wave of what now looks like misplaced expectation.
The midterm debacle was caused by many mistakes that analysts and historians will unravel in coming months. But for many outside America, the election results are a comment less on Obama’s mistakes than on the robust changes in the practice of democracy. Rulers and policy makers may think they know what is best for the people. But this election has asserted that the people do not care to be ruled by those who do not listen or merely half-listen to them. It turns out that language of hope and soaring positivity no longer suffice to win voter support as they did in 2008 when Obama appeared from nowhere to seize the White House.
Outsiders may take these democracy lessons to heart and work harder in their own elections not to lose their supporters through inattention or miscommunication. But foreign affairs are ruled by each country’s assessment of its national interests. If coming months indicate a weakened President, drumming up foreign support for his administration’s agenda on key international issues will become harder.