What a Republican Takeover this November Could Mean for U.S. Foreign Policy

President Obama is juggling multiple crises in the Middle East - Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, a looming deadline on the nuclear deal with Iran, stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks – but perhaps the biggest foreign policy crisis is about to take place closer to home. That is, it will only be a matter of days until US citizens hurry to the polls to choose who they want to represent them in Washington. What will this mean for President Obama? What will this mean for the Middle East?

November 4th, 2014 marks the second midterm election under the current U.S. administration. Since the 2010 midterm, Republicans have held the majority in the House of Representatives while the Democrats have held firm control of the Senate since 2007.

However, with many citing President Obama’s poor handling of recent international affairs, various polls have projected a full Republican takeover of the U.S. Congress in both houses. A New York Times poll places Republicans with a 64% chance of regaining control of the Senate. The Washington Post projects an even greater probability at 84%. The Post suggests that in addition to a Republican takeover of the Senate, they are also likely to gain even more seats in the House of Representatives.

Critical seats with Democratic incumbents in the Senate are at stake, such as Alaska Senator Mark Begich, Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. It’s clear the Democrats face serious trouble, as shown by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s (DSCC) frantic allocation of $111 million this fundraising cycle, as well as that of the Senate Majority PAC.

Therefore, there is no doubt that all eyes and ears in the Middle East will be watching closely to see how American leadership could change in November. A full Republican takeover of Congress could have very important implications for continued U.S. strategy in the Middle East.

On everyone’s mind is the proliferation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The IS takeover of Mosul in June signified extreme US failed policy in Iraq. Regardless of the arguments over which of the past two US Commanders-in-Chief are more to blame for the destabilization, Republicans this November will surely point to the lack of leadership in Washington as a prospect for their success.    

Analysts like political scientist John Tures argue that under Republican leadership, limited airstrikes and training of moderate rebels in Iraq and Syria could quickly translate to American boots on the ground. Citing the 2003 invasion of Iraq, critics of a potential Republican leadership are concerned with the possibility of entry into another asymmetric war with the inability to differentiate terrorists from civilians.

However, there is also compelling evidence suggesting otherwise. Even with Republican leadership, the US Congress might still back the current actions of President Obama in Iraq and Syria. Representatives in both the House and Senate passed concurrent resolutions with overwhelming bipartisan support for authorizing the president to arm and train moderate rebels in Syria. Republican legislators have continued to stand by their position that US involvement will not involve American personnel on the battlefront.

Yet while much of the campaign rhetoric surrounds the role of the United States in defeating the Islamic State, new leadership in the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees could have serious consequences for the Iranian nuclear talks. Ranking members Bob Corker and James Inhofe would respectively become the new heads of these committees. Both Senators have remained critical of Obama’s strategy with Iran and are skeptical about any nuclear deal being reached.

Senator Corker proposed a key provision to the Iran Nuclear Negotiations Act of 2014 that would require President Obama to notify Congress within three days of reaching a deal, in order to seek its approval. The Congress would also have 15 days to enact a joint resolution of disapproval into law. If either of these were to occur, Congress by the “power of the purse” will re-impose all sanctions that had been temporarily lifted. With a Republican majority in both houses, this could certainly happen.

Of course, the best case scenario is that a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran is reached before the Republicans could officially take over the leadership in January. This is under the assumption that there will be no more extensions, which the administration is highly set on avoiding before the November 24th deadline.

Furthermore, there could be other implications for hot-button foreign policy issues with a change of leadership in Washington. A Republican takeover of Congress could raise important questions about US involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. New leadership in the Senate could also raise concerns about the US taking a harder stance against Russia and even backing Ukraine with more financial aid.

One thing remains absolutely certain: November 4th will be the most important election for President Obama in deciding the fate of his foreign policy strategies. Even with the Democrats controlling the Senate, it hasn’t been an easy road for the President. A Republican takeover of the legislature would almost surely decide if the President’s last six years have meant anything and if he will hold any legacy, or whether the President will become a lame duck on foreign affairs for the remainder of his term.