Most immediately and maybe most importantly, Republicans will try to nix any Iran deal that they deem unsatisfactory — and on this, they have the support of plenty of Democrats. The deadline for the nuclear talks is Nov. 24. The new Senate will have the will and the manpower to push through new sanctions legislation if it chooses, and the fight over Iran policy could prove to be one of the defining battles of the waning Obama presidency.
It’s unclear where exactly the new Republican conference will be when it comes to foreign policy, but Tom Cotton and Joni Ernst, the new senators from Arkansas and Iowa, have seemed to exhibit a fairly hawkish foreign policy instinct. Foreign policy isn’t the top issue voters care about, but their election could represent a cooling of enthusiasm for the anti-interventionist policies of libertarian Republicans that have garnered much attention in the past few years.
Fairly hawkish? Cotton’s view is that the Iraq War was a fantastic moral cause and we should be on the look out for more opportunitiees to spread “democracy” at the barrel of a gun. Juan Cole braces for the worst:
Barack Obama was convinced or bamboozled by the Pentagon to do the Afghanistan troop escalation in 2009, and he has conducted drone wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and some other countries. The GOP may see him as not ultimately committed to keeping US troops out of Iraq and Syria, and will almost certainly attempt to force him to put more boots on the ground (John McCain will be chairman of the Armed Services Committee). If the GOP Senate objected to the withdrawal from Afghanistan, it could refuse to fund it (getting out will be expensive). And, if Obama manages a breakthrough in negotiations with Iran that requires a reduction in US economic sanctions, the Republican House might be able to find ways to block that reduction, so as to go back on a war footing with Iran (war is good for the arms industry, which funds a lot of congressional campaigns).
Karlyn Bowman observes what the exit polls showed about foreign policy-minded voters:
55% of voters who chose foreign policy as the most important issue facing the country voted for Republican candidates: about 4 in 10 of them voted for Democrats. The issue ranked behind the economy and health care as the top issue and tied with immigration. 58% of voters in House races approved of the US military action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In another question, seven in ten said they were very worried about another major terrorist attack in the US, including 28% who were very worried.
But Larison notes that the voters who elected the hawks aren’t necessarily hawks themselves:
[Cory] Gardner won 52% among those that disapproved of the military action despite launching the most shamelessly demagogic attacks on his opponent on this very issue. This pattern was repeated nationwide: opponents of the war against ISIS tended to vote for Republican House candidates (55-43%), most of whom have been reliably in favor of the intervention, and a slim majority of supporters of the war (51%) voted for Democratic candidates. It is no wonder that the more hawkish candidates prevail when relatively dovish voters back them regardless of their positions. Nonetheless, this also gives us another reason to be skeptical when hawks claim that these election results are proof that aggressive foreign policy is a political winner.