What Happens If the Democrats Win
With the Senate still up in the air and Democrats in control of the House, what might a Democrat-controlled Congress actually mean for U.S. foreign policy? FP recently asked Washington insiders, ex-politicians, and pundits to look beyond November 7.
Political director of ABC News and coauthor of The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008.
Forget partisan warfare matching that of 19932006. President Bush and Speaker Pelosi (and/or Majority Leader Reid) would recognize the need to work together or face two years of stalemate. Watch for an immigration deal, a bipartisan peace with honor Rose Garden announcement on Iraq, and a joint 41/42 (Bush/Clinton) presidential diplomatic mission to the Middle East.
Former Senate majority leader
Because of Americas ideology-driven foreign policy, our entreaties go unheard and redlines ignored. Adversaries like North Korea and Iran see us overstretched in Iraq, alienated from allies, and losing focus in Afghanistan. A new congress will ensure a return to resultsand away from ideologyin U.S. foreign policy. Democrats will change course in Iraq, strengthen our tools in the war on terrorism, and reinvigorate our military and moral power.
Senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and author of A Devils Triangle: Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Rogue States.
If the Democrats take the majority, the concern is that their basic foreign policy thrust will be ABBAnything But Bush. This approach may feel good after years in the minority, but its no basis for a foreign policy. Our country faces serious international challenges, many of which were in train long before 2001. With Iraq, Iran, and North Korea on the boil, the last thing we need is a bitterly partisan foreign policypotentially leading to paralysis.
Associate editor at the National Journal s Hotline
If Democrats regain control of the House, freshmen Democrats who are military veteransmaybe retired Adm. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania and Tammy Duckworth in Illinoiswill become policy generators for their party. Dont expect McGovernites. Expect, instead, calls for a larger army, more special forces, more accountability in contracting, and a reordering of the relationship between the National Guard and the military. In the Senate, there may be a majority that views free trade agreements with decided skepticism. On North Korea, Democrats wont abandon the six party talks, but its easy to see them pressuring the Bush administration about Chinas role (with the crosswinds of trade and currency disputes) and even about Russia. Until the Democrats have a presidential nominee, they will speak with many voices. But they wont lack for ideas.
Stephen M. Walt
Professor of international relations at Harvard Universitys John F. Kennedy School of Government
Congress has little direct influence over foreign policy, and any Democratic margin will be small. Would a Democratic congress cut off funding for the Iraq war? No. Oppose NATO expansion, green-light a new trade deal, or rethink U.S. commitments in the Middle East? Of course not. Will replacing Richard Lugar with Joe Biden and Henry Hyde with Tom Lantos as chairs of key congressional committees leave us in better hands? Hardly. And lets not forget that the Patriot Act was renewed 89-10 in the Senate, and Bushs torture legislation passed 253-168 in the House. So dont expect a new foreign policy until 2009 (and probably not even then). At best, a Democratic congress will exercise its oversight role and fully investigate Bushs blunders, so that we can learn from his mistakes. That will be a full-time job in itself.
Resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute
Foreign policy will not undergo a seismic shift if the Democrats take one or both houses of congress. Two things will change: There will be lots of investigations, on Iraq, torture, intelligence failures, and so on; and there will be more congressional pushback on the unprecedented expansion of executive powerbut in both of these areas, expect the president and vice president to push back even harder, leading to constitutional confrontations, tension, acrimony, and lots of vetoes.
Senior editor at U.S. News and World Report
Bad news from Iraq has created the opening for a Democratic House takeover, but the Democratic candidates who could make that happen are running in traditionally Republican districts in red states such as Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. Theyre mostly ambivalent about the Iraq war. They criticize Bushs performance but oppose their own partys call for a timetable for withdrawal. Far from foreign-policy revolutionaries, theyd need to burnish their national security credentials if elected, which could mean taking Bush-like stands on Iran and North Korea, and perhaps a moderate line on Iraq. After all, theyd be facing reelection in their conservative districts in the not-too-distant future.
Washington Post columnist and contributor to Fox News
If Democrats take control of the House, the Senate, or both, expect oversight and investigative hearingsand not very friendly ones from President Bushs standpointto pop up on issues ranging from Darfur to North Korea. Democrats will also push, with the help of some Republicans, to begin to remove our troops from Iraq, and it may happen. Partisan change would also signal public discontent with our policies there. Also, say goodbye to Don Rumsfeld.
Senior fellow at the Center for American Progress
The most significant impact of the Democrats taking control of congress would be on the war in Iraq and arms control. The Democrats would require the administration to put forward a strategy for Iraq that has reasonable benchmarks, estimated costs and timeframes, as well as an action plan for completing the mission. The Senate would also take up the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, as well as prohibit the weaponization of space and the development of new nuclear weapons.
Vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute
Democratic control of one or both congressional chambers would mean little change in the reality of foreign policy. The party is unlikely to have sufficient control to drive through controversial ideas. Members would be further constrained by a Republican Executive that already holds much of the necessary authority to conduct foreign policy. But reality is not everything. If the Osama bin Ladens, Mahmoud Ahmadinejads, and Kim Jong Ils of this world already believe Washington is weak and divided, they will only be encouraged by a Chairman Murtha, who believes America is more dangerous to world peace than Iran or North Korea, an empowered Senator Kerry, who longs for an end to the focus on terror, and a Speaker Pelosi, who believes an immediate withdrawal from Iraq is the wisest course.
Senior follow at the Brookings Institution
A Democratic majority in both House and Senate, which now seems likely, would lead to much greater engagement by congress on a range of foreign-policy issues. Initially, this will take the form of hearings on Bush administration policies in Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and the Middle East, and on the state of U.S. military forces, featuring current and former Republican political appointees and military officers and conducted with the cooperation of concerned Republican members. I dont expect abrupt changes in policy or personnel forced by a Democratic congress but rather an open, deliberative process that may well persuade the president to change course.
Senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute
One of the noblest traditions in American politics is that partisanship stops at the waters edge. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have done everything in their power to reverse that. What raises their dander is not jihadists but Republicans. Every new challenge or tragedy that our country faces is for them nothing but the occasion for yet another sound bite against George W. Bush. Rarely do they say what they would do different, settling for denouncing Bushs failed policies. If these two become majority leaders, expect a lot of jockeying for position between the parties with an eye to 2008.
President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies
During the Cold War, Democrats were regarded as weak on national security. From Lyndon Johnsons departure from the White House in 1969 to Bill Clintons post-Cold War return there in 1992, a Democrat served as president for only four yearsand that, thanks to a Republican scandal. Out of power, many Democrats have emphasized politics over policy. Should the Democrats take back congress, they will have a two-year window to put forward their serious and credible voices. Or they can play to the base and the blogs; that would be deleterious for both the party and the country. Im optimisticbut cautiously so.