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Republicans May Give 'Lame Duck Procrastinator' Backbone He Needs (Die Welt, Germany)


"The Republican Congress will no doubt try and motivate the president to more assertive action in areas where the 'great procrastinator' has so far only reluctantly committed. … In recent months the Obama Administration has made a slight course correction and shown strength of leadership, for instance in the fight against IS or the containment of Ebola in Africa. If over the next two years both political camps find their way back to a tradition of bipartisanship in foreign policy, this course correction toward greater global engagement could become the distinguishing feature of Obama's last two years."


By Clemens Wergin


Translated By Stephanie Martin


November 12, 2014


Germany - Die Welt - Original Article (German)

When U.S. presidents lose elections after six years in office, they spend the remainder of their terms focusing mainly on foreign policy. For Obama as well, there could be a new determination.


Washington: As President Barack Obama arrived in Beijing for his first foreign policy visit since losing the midterm elections, a question posed by many around the world travels with him: Is the president so weakened that his position abroad and the effectiveness of American foreign policy will be affected?


Even before the president lost the Senate to Republicans, America faced considerable challenges from Ukraine to Syria and from Iraq to the South China Sea. Some of these are a result of Obama's mistakes or the perception of weak American leadership. Can a domestically-paralyzed U.S. president manage to set a new course in foreign policy and build a positive legacy?


Obama’s foreign policy legacy is at stake


Indeed, in the last two years of his term Barack Obama is far more likely to be found outside the United States than at any time in the six years prior. Certainly it has become known even to Beijing that “lame duck” presidents, embarrassed after losing important elections six years after taking office, tend to place greater emphasis on foreign policy at the end of their terms.


For in no other area does the president have so many ways to determine his own course without Congressional consent. After losing in the midterm elections Ronald Reagan continues to negotiate important disarmament agreements with Moscow in the final phase of the Soviet Union.


Free trade deal with help of Republicans?


Furthermore, there are policy areas where Obama may well hope for Republican approval, for example in the case of the desired free trade agreement with Asian countries (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and the European Union (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). The president was recently thwarted on this issue by his own free-trade-skeptic Democrats.


In January, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid even denied Obama the so-called fast-track authority which would allow the president to negotiate an international trade agreement and submit it to Congress as a package.


When it comes to free trade, Republicans are far more open than Obama’s Democrats. After his defeat the president stressed this area as one where there would be a “real opportunity for cooperation.”


Newly designated Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also commented, “I have many Senate members who believe that international trade agreements are in America’s interest.” However, some observers feel there is only a one-year window until internal party campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination begin.


Congressional support for the fight against IS


Obama can hope for Congressional support in all those areas he undertakes course corrections toward a more muscular American foreign policy. The threat posed by the terrorist movement Islamic State (IS) certainly seems for the moment to have silenced the isolationist-minded wing of the Tea Party movement. Even libertarian, known isolationist and potential presidential candidate Rand Paul is now advocates support for air strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria.


It is expected that Republican hawk John McCain will be named chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In the past, McCain has lobbied for greater American involvement in Syria as well as for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Syrian territory in the North along the border with Turkey in order to protect the Syrian opposition from Assad regime air strikes.


The Obama Administration has so far only supported the moderate Syrian opposition in their fight against IS extremists, although it has made no attempt to assist it in its fight against the Assad regime.


Point of contention: Syria strategy


Indeed, Assad has so far benefitted from most from air strikes against IS positions in Syria. Shortly before the elections, the American media reported on a secret memo from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to National Security Advisor Susan Rice in which Hagel called for the White House to clarify its stance on the Assad regime lest it jeopardize its anti-IS strategy. The Republican majority in the Senate may now accelerate this clarification process.


Obama asked Congress after losing the election for a formal authorization of the military struggle against IS in Iraq and Syria. Up to now, the government has justified military strikes with the 2001 authorization to use military force against al-Qaeda. The majority of Republicans are behind the bombing.


Congress has so far shown little interest and would rather have the White House assume responsibility for the current anti-IS strategy. Now, however, representatives must show their colors. A Washington Post editorial last Sunday reads, “In principle, it shouldn’t be hard to assemble a large bipartisan majority behind the goal of degrading the Islamic State. … But the specific terms of the legislation could produce paralyzing dissension.” Among other places within the Republican Party itself.


Armor-piercing weapons for Kiev?


On the Ukraine conflict, leading Republican foreign policy experts aren't the only ones pushing for a tougher stance toward Moscow. In September, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved $350 million (roughly €280 million) to provide the Ukrainian army with anti-tank weapons, drones and ammunition.



So far, however, the Obama Administration hasn't managed to bring itself to support such measures. Given the increasing intensity of Russian military activity inside Ukraine, the Obama Administration is coming under pressure to do more. The more distinctly Russian provocations assume the character of a new Cold War with the West, the louder cries from Congress will be for pursuing a more resolute containment policy toward Moscow.


On Congress passing Iran deal


The greatest potential for conflict is undoubtedly on the Iran issue. The Obama Administration is now in the final phase of negotiations with Teheran, which should be completed by November 24th. It is still unclear whether there will even be an agreement or whether negotiations will be extended. A few days ago, The Wall Street Journal reported on a letter from Obama to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in which the president lobbied for an agreement and offered Iran American cooperation in the fight against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State.

Posted By Worldmeets.US


Even before the elections there was already considerable Congressional skepticism with respect to Iran. There are fears that the government could make too many concessions to Tehran. Only intensive White House lobbying of several Democrats in Congress earlier this year prevented the adoption of tougher sanctions against Teheran. The anti-Iran majority in the new Congress has only expanded.


Over the past few weeks it was leaked by the White House that the president wouldn't seek Congressional approval for an agreement, but that an executive order would be issued suspending sanctions approved by Congress. Thus it is legally within the president’s scope to conclude a nuclear agreement with Iran without the support of Congress.


The question is whether Teheran will want to risk relying on a presidential directive that passes on the problem of a final repeal of sanctions to the next incumbent. After the defeat of the Democrats, a commentary on Iran's state broadcaster Press TV said, “With a heavy heart the rest of the world has concluded that Obama’s power is on the wane.”


Weaker Obama, stronger America?


The waning power of Obama which the Mullahs are obviously following with such concern will make it harder for the president to be viewed abroad as a heavyweight. However, that doesn't mean a weaker America. The Republican Congress will no doubt try and motivate the president to more assertive action in areas where the “great procrastinator” has so far only reluctantly committed.


In recent months the Obama Administration has made a slight course correction and shown strength of leadership, for instance in the fight against IS or the containment of Ebola in Africa. If over the next two years both political camps find their way back to a tradition of bipartisanship in foreign policy, this course correction toward greater global engagement could become the distinguishing feature of Obama's last two years.   





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Posted By Worldmeets.US November 12, 2014, 4:57pm









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