US Foreign Policy under a Republican Congress

Now that the midterm elections has sealed the Republicans control over the chambers of the Congress, the Bush administration, most likely, will be more assertive in pursuing the “neo- conservative” agenda and will exercise the ” radical break with 55 years of bipartisan tradition” in U.S foreign policy as former ambassador to the U.N Richard Holbrooke put it lately. The new Congress will be more of a competition ground for control of the Presidents foreign policy, and the infighting between the “realists” and the “neo-conservative unilateralists” might not be confined to the National Security Council meeting rooms

When the Republican took over the Congress in January 1995, they had neither a focused foreign policy agenda, nor a single recognized foreign policy spokesperson. Back then, the “neo- conservatives” had nothing but disdain for President Clinton’s trendy talk about supporting freedom and human rights. They were also alarmed at the triumphant Congressional Republicans’ “strong isolationist” tendencies exhibited after the mid-term elections in 1994.

While the neo-conservatives applauded the Republican freshmen’s contempt for the United Nations and other multilateral agencies, they were troubled by the growing Republican opposition to any form of military engagement abroad, especially in places like the Balkans that the neo-conservatives deemed vital to the U.S. national interest.

However, the Middle East was, and still is, an exception to that Republican isolationist patterns. Congressional bipartisan support has been consistently strong to any administration’s policies when it comes to Israel and the Arab countries.

The Democrats pathetic opposition and now political coma will assure President Bush that the new Congress will be nothing but a rubber stamp to his foreign policy on the Middle East and the foreign aid programs.

Unfortunately for the President, the new chairman of the Foreign Relation Committee Indiana’s Senator Richard Lugar, who scores 79 on the American Conservative Union rating card, does not see eye to eye with the White House positions on different issues. Lugar has to some extent, alienated himself from the majority of Congressional Republicans with his “moderate” views on Iraq. Earlier this year, Mr. Lugar annoyed many in the White House by co-sponsoring a along with then-committee chairman Joseph Biden, Delaware Democrat, a resolution authorizing military action against Iraq, that was less expansive than what President Bush was hoping for. More than that, Senator Lugar criticized the administration for failing to build support domestically and internationally for military offence on Iraq.

Unlike the Republican gung-ho and very conservative point man on foreign policy the retiring Senator Jesse Helms, Senator Lugar questioned Bush’s policy on Iraq. Lugar was also the co-author, along with the chairman of the foreign relations committee, the Delaware Democratic senator Joseph Biden, held several meetings with President Bush’s team at which differences and agreements were thoroughly discussed. Those “exchanges were very constructive in framing the issues involved in both the wording of the resolution and the formulation” of the U.S future policy towards Iraq as Senator Lugar described them. Both initiated the Senate hearings on Iraq’s WMD (weapons of mass destruction) by asking their famous four Ws about the White House policy on Iraq (What is ahead? What is the danger? What do we know? And what are we going to do?)

Moreover, Lugar has frequently found common cause with Democrats. He believes that the administration should have not abandoned the policy of containing Saddam Hussein. He never felt that the change of regime in Iraq is an American issue since there are “a number of very brutal dictators in the world, and the United States is not contemplating currently an alliance and the potential for military force and an invasion and all the rest of it”.

Lugar believes that the WMD around the world should get the “same intensity” as the debate on Iraq. For him, that “means an expansion of the 1991 Nunn-Lugar program for the destruction of chemical weapons stock piles in Russia. A goal he expects the President to achieve given that the President pledged, at the most recent G-8 summit, to join with the U.S allies in committing $20 billion over 10 years to secure weapons of mass destruction around the world.

On the WMD and on other foreign relation issues, Senator Lugar might abet the State Department bureaucrats to the dislike of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee chaired by the Republican Senator from Kansas, Senator Sam Brownback. In the most recent policy squabbles towards Iraq between the moderates, the State department, and the hawks, the pentagon, Senator Brownback blamed the State Department” bureaucratic politics” for the denying the INC (Iraq National Council) funds for a number of programs that are “critical” to the Pentagon’s policies on Iraq. The low-key Republican, Mr. Liger is a confirmed multilateralist in foreign policy who has clashed with hard-liners in his own party plays down predictions that he may be heading for conflict with the republican president or the more conservative incoming Republican leadership. “Those looking for fights are misunderstanding the situation” Mr. Lugar said last week.

As admitted foreign policy wonk and a firm supporter of the United Nations, in 1986 Mr. Lugar helped override President Reagan veto of a bill imposing new sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa. As he did in the mid-1980s as a chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Lugar will start his tenure in January 2003 with a barrage of hearings on a broad range of foreign policy issues, including economic and political instability in South America, poverty in Africa and the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

Despite this Republican opposition, it is more likely that Bush will become more belligerent on Iraq, especially after Iraq acceptance of the U. N. Security Council resolution 1441 on the arms inspection. The lawmakers, amazed by the mid-term election results, will have no choice but to rally around the flag in support of the President when he attacks Iraq.

In addition, other aspects of Bush’s Middle East foreign policy will become clearer and secured not only through congressional bipartisan support, but through the efforts of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the rest of the American Jewish lobby, and through the efforts of the organized fundamentalist Christian Zionist movement. This includes increasing alignment with the Jewish state in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; more aggressiveness in his global counter terrorism agenda and tight control over foreign aid programs.

Furthermore, the new Congress will, most likely, use its energy to thwart any independent European initiative to increase pressure on Israel. Its objective will most probably be to prevent Europe and Russia from gaining more influence with Arab counties in the Middle East or East Europe. That, of course, will present more difficult relations between Moscow and Washington. Thus building on a rift that has already begun between both countries about their positions on Iraq, North Korea, Chechnya and Georgia.

As the Democratic Senatorial campaign Committee communication director Torah Ravitz Meeha put it last week, the Senate floor will become a wrestling ring featuring “the right and the far right over who should prevail in setting their agenda.”

However, despite a list of disagreements between Lugar and the neoconservatives, Senator Lugar will have a good rapport with his fellow Democrats that allows for a bipartisan approach to foreign policy matters. Bush will take advantage of the Democrats’ disarray and the overwhelming support he has in both chambers of the Congress to realize on the “NEW AMERICAN CENTURY”

Abdellatif Rayan, a Journalist and Consultant, contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN).