Foreign Policy in the 112th Congress

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Colin Dueck, George Mason University

Stephen Rademaker, BGR Group

Randy Scheunemann, Orion Strategies

Moderated by Jamie Fly, Foreign Policy Initiative

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Summary

The final panel of the day featured a discussion on Foreign Policy in the 112th Congress, and was moderated by Foreign Policy Initiative Executive Director Jamie Fly.

The first speaker, Randy Scheunemann of Orion Strategies, began his remarks by addressing what he called a common misconception in the media that a large majority of newly elected Tea Party members will advocate isolationism and call for reduced defense spending. In fact, he noted, not a single winning candidate advocated a withdrawal from the war in Afghanistan; and a large number of newly elected Republicans, 20 of whom were veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, took strong foreign policy stances during the campaign.  He expects that the empowered GOP opposition will use Congress’s significant constitutional role to work with the administration, mirroring Republican engagement after the 1994 midterm elections. Finally, he expects Congress to withhold debate on the New START treaty until next year, press for new sanctions against Iran, and likely pushback against the administration’s policies on Israel and Guantanamo Bay.

Steve Rademaker expects Senate and House Republicans to unhesitantly question the administration on major policies, particularly by members with defined and thought out views such as Senator John Kyl and Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Eric Cantor. However, he also believes that congressional Democrats could also prove hostile to the president’s foreign policy, as well. For the past two years, a majority of Democrats supported the president’s policies under duress.  With control of the House changing party, Rademaker believes that many Democrats will be free to voice more dissent than party whips had allowed in the past term.  For the president, the question remains whether he will choose a path of triangulation in an attempt to meet Republicans halfway, or whether he will seek to maintain his present policies. The first test for this, Rademaker assessed,  will be on trade, where the president will pay a deep price within his base if chooses to work with Republicans on free trade agreements in Colombia, Korea and Panama.  Rademaker continued, noting that in midterm elections where control of Congress changes parties, presidents often turn to foreign policy as a means for political success. The difficulty for the Obama administration is that his three primary foreign issues – Israel, Russia, and Iran - are where Republicans have the most concern.

The third panelist was Colin Dueck, who critiqued the exaggerated differences between republicans and conservatives in foreign policy. Historically, national security has been a winning issue for Republicans, and their perspective largely comes from the hawkish-internationalist worldview.  In fact, the last time the Republicans nominated a truly dovish-isolationist was in 1936.  The isolationists, Dueck observed, never win the intra-party debate on how to govern when in power or criticize the Democratic incumbent when they are not.

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Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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