Implications of Republicans Election Win for US Policies

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour

What is the best way to analyze the results of the recent midterm elections for the US Congress? This is a key question, which has preoccupied many analysts as well as experts on international relations across the world. Some people, who have answered this question have, in parallel, tried to put the highest emphasis on the blatant failure of Democrats and [the incumbent US President Barak] Obama in the elections, thus, describing it as a great victory for the US Republicans. On the opposite, some people consider these elections as just a normal course of events in the cycle of power transfer in the United States. There are also intermediate points of view on this issue. However, in a realistic analysis, one must pay due attention to the nature of these elections as well as their consequences and their impact on regional policies of the US in the Middle East.

Nature of the elections

The recent midterm elections in the United States were held within the special and unique political framework of the United States and based on the country’s political culture. The political power in the United States has two specific facets. The positive facet of the power, better known as positive power, is specific to the president. At the same time, there is another facet to the political power in the United States – known as the negative power – that is controlled by the US Congress, which can use its power to control the president’s actions. In addition, there is another concept in the political culture of the United States, which is known as “check and balance.” Within framework of this political structure and culture, the president has enough power to make major and remarkable decisions, especially with regard to issues related to the country’s national security and foreign policy. On the opposite, the Congress can work either as an obstacle to slow down the president, or help him in his efforts through its own legal mechanisms.

However, there have been few, if any, cases in the political history of the United States where the relationship between these two sides has been totally one-way. As a result, there has been some kind of permanent tension between these two important political institutions, that is, the Executive and the Legislature. Moreover, there is lasting and permanent rivalry between two established and traditional US political parties – the Democrats vs. the Republicans – for domination over these two powers. According to this perspective, members of the US Congress keep changing and new people enter or get out within certain periods of time. The congressional elections held on November 4, 2014, should be understood within this framework. As a result of these elections, a number of members of the Congress have changed. However, the most important aspect of this change was the loss of the majority in the US Senate by the Democrats, which lost ground in the elections to the Republicans.

In this take on the situation, the recent elections cannot be seen as a major and overarching development, but as a more or less ordinary and well-established state of events, which has currently changed the balance of the legislature in favor of the Republicans and to the detriment of Democrats. However, it would be more judicious to consider that the latest development should by no means be taken as a sign that the Republicans now pull all the strings at the Congress and Democrats have no power. The number of Republican senators that have been added to the Congress is not high enough to give the Grand Old Party an absolute majority, so that, they would be able to totally push their Democrat rivals to the margins.

New people who have entered the US Senate will bring with them subsidiary, yet important changes in structure and composition of this institution. One of these changes is the average age of the members of the Senate. Some people who have just entered the Senate are relatively young compared to usual age of its members and, as a result, the average age has been reduced from over 70 years to over 55 years. In addition, out of 10 Republicans who have found their way into the Senate, many are young and one of them is 37 years old. Seen from the standpoint of developments in internal US politics, these changes would not seem unimportant.

However, the most important aspect of these elections is that the Republican figures will be at the helm at two legislative bodies of the United States. By taking advantage of this opportunity, they will certainly try to pursue their own political agenda and realize their partisan goals. Now, the question is: what will be the most important consequences of this development?


The first important issue, which should be taken into account when discussing consequences of this development, is its relationship with the concept of “political gridlock in Washington.” This means that due to the composition and number of the members of two political parties at the United States’ major legislative bodies, Senate and the House of Representatives, and since the White House is currently under the control of Democrats, there will be a lot of gridlocks when these legislative bodies are discussing various domestic issues, especially the annual budget. As happened last year, some state-run organizations were shut down for a time due to lack of needed credits because the annual budget bill was not passed through the legislature in time, and that problem led to a situation which was known as “government shutdown.”

Now can these elections put an end to such political gridlocks in Washington or will simply make them worse? Nobody can give a decisive answer to this question and it is still too early to forecast which one of these scenarios will unravel in future. However, it seems that both parties are more possible to work closely in order to resolve the existing problems. Also, due to relative weakness of the White House, they will be less adamant and will make more efforts to prevent deadlocks in the process of US domestic decision-making. Of course, this is by no means a definitive forecast because there is also a possibility that conflicts between the two parties may even deepen.

The second consequence of this development is its close relationship with the forthcoming presidential polls in the United States. Through these elections, the sense of self-confidence has now grown among Republican figures after they had lost it for quite a time. These elections can offer the Republican Party a great opportunity to boost its morale and regain its lost self-confidence. For Democrats, the position that the party candidates will take on Obama and his policies during election hustings will be of high importance. It should be also noted that despite a higher sense of self-confidence among the Republicans, the party itself is still stalled with many internal problems and nobody can claim that they are in a position to go through the upcoming presidential polls in 2016 without much trouble. Democrats, on the other hand, will probably have to increase their distance from Obama and his policies during the elections.

The third consequence of these elections is projecting a bipolar image of the American society which highlights political and social tensions in this country. It would be a mistake to assume that the recent legislative elections amounted to a powerful referendum against Obama and his policies. Compared to when he came to power, the performance of Obama, even according to American standards, has been independent and quite remarkable. The election of Obama was the outcome of certain changes and developments in the American society and for the first time, it put an end to traditional domination of the white Protestant Anglo-Saxons over the American society. In doing this, it put renewed emphasis on multicolor and multicultural nature of the American society and highlighted structural changes that have taken place in the American society as a result of immigration. This, however, led to disillusionment and resentment of those white Americans who believed themselves to be rightful owners of the country and heirs to American traditions. During recent elections, the Republican Party managed to mobilize this disillusioned part of the American society in an election which was not marked with a high turnout. The party banked on their sentiments about the future outlook of the United States and the sense of loss of control over the society. In fact, the outcome of these elections was a result of some sort of racial and traditional reaction to what had happened in the country. The America today, however, is quite different from what it was a few centuries ago. The American society has undergone a lot of major changes in social terms and those changes have led to certain tensions and new political groupings which, to some extent, showed themselves in these elections. Now, we must see what are the specific impact of these elections on the US foreign policy?

Foreign and regional policies of the United States

Nobody should expect the US foreign policy to change overnight as a result of these elections, but at the same time, nobody can overlook its possible impact on the country’s foreign policy as well. When it comes to foreign and regional policies of the United States following these elections there are few points which should be taken into consideration.

The first point is that Republicans will be on top of various legislative committees at Senate and the House of Representatives. As a result, the former election rival of Obama, that is, Senator John McCain, who is known for his radical positions, will most probably be appointed as chairman of the Armed Services Committee at the US Senate. The Republican Party will no doubt try through its control over various committees as well as through chairmanship of two legislative bodies to turn the general atmosphere of the US foreign policy against Obama. In other words, it will try to impose on Obama its own foreign policy discourse and will make him take more radical positions on issues related to the US foreign policy, especially with regard to the Middle East. This, however, is not likely to force Obama to make a basic change to his dominant discourse, though the US Congress should be expected to take more radical positions.

The second point is that the cooperation between legislative bodies and the presidential office in some areas of the US foreign policy will not decrease due to these elections and will, on the other hand, even increase. One of those areas is foreign trade. Obama has already come up with two important and basic plans for trade with Europe and the Pacific region. Both of these trade plans will fare properly in view of the common interests of both the Republicans and Democrats in this regard.

The third point pertains to Iran and its nuclear case. Undoubtedly, some Republican lawmakers will try to create challenges and obstacles for Obama with regard to this case. They will be also asking for more share to be given to the Congress in decisions made with respect to Iran and they will want the Congress to be involved in setting the final framework of a comprehensive nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries. However, this reality should not be ignored that the foreign policy is a practical field which is under real and exclusive control of the US president and he has a lot of maneuvering space in this area. Of course, this does not mean that the US president will not be facing any obstacles at the Congress. However, there have been previous US Presidents who had experienced a situation similar to current positon of Obama by having their party lost midterm legislative elections. But despite that situation, they had a lot of latitude in the field of foreign policy.

The fourth issue is the threat emanating from terrorism, which will be an area for cooperation between the two parties. Despite all differences, both parties are sure to have more or less coordinated and similar positions when it comes to fighting the ISIS terrorist group and setting the framework for the United States’ anti-terror fight in the region.

On the whole, US midterm elections should not be assessed on the basis of exaggerated viewpoints. It is a reality that these elections can be looked upon as a development, which has precedent in domestic policies of the United States. What has been once more revealed through these elections is the traditional tug of war between two poles of positive and negative power in the United States, that is, the presidency and the Congress. At the same time, it should be noted that the final goal of both the Republican and Democrat parties is to protect the United States and promote its regional and global interest. Both of these parties are unanimous in this regard and they will try to achieve bipartisan cooperation in this respect, though tensions, differences and conflicts between them cannot be ruled out too.

*Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour is the former Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative for the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations in Geneva. Prior to taking up this post, he was the Director of the Institute for Political and International Studies, the research branch of Iran’s Foreign Ministry. Seyed Sajjadpour received his Ph.D. in political science from George Washington University and was a post–doctoral fellow at Harvard. He has taught at the College of International Relations of Tehran University, as well as at Azad University and Iran’s National Defense University.

Key Words: Republicans Election Win, US Policies, US Congress, Democrats, Barak Obama, Middle East, Iran, ISIS, Senate, House of Representatives, Comprehensive Nuclear Deal, P5+1, Bipartisan Cooperation, Sajjadpour

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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