Daniel W. Drezner

Why I don’t care about the midterms

I know that the good editors of this magazine have a series of U.S. election articles offering advice and analysis on the midterm elections and their effect on foreign policy. I also know that even if this turns out to be a big "wave" election, things aren’t really going to change all that much on ...

I know that the good editors of this magazine have a series of U.S. election articles offering advice and analysis on the midterm elections and their effect on foreign policy.

I also know that even if this turns out to be a big "wave" election, things aren't really going to change all that much on the foreign policy front. This is for the following two reasons:

1) Congress doesn't have too much sway over foreign policy. Sure, things like foreign aid and treaty ratification rely on the legislature, and the election results will affect those dimensions of foreign policy. But think back to 1994 and 2006, in which both houses of Congress turned over to the opposition party. Was there any real change in U.S. foreign and security policy? The Clinton administration was still able to send troops to Bosnia, and the Bush administration was able to launch its "surge" strategy.

I know that the good editors of this magazine have a series of U.S. election articles offering advice and analysis on the midterm elections and their effect on foreign policy.

I also know that even if this turns out to be a big "wave" election, things aren’t really going to change all that much on the foreign policy front. This is for the following two reasons:

1) Congress doesn’t have too much sway over foreign policy. Sure, things like foreign aid and treaty ratification rely on the legislature, and the election results will affect those dimensions of foreign policy. But think back to 1994 and 2006, in which both houses of Congress turned over to the opposition party. Was there any real change in U.S. foreign and security policy? The Clinton administration was still able to send troops to Bosnia, and the Bush administration was able to launch its "surge" strategy.

Foreign economic policy might be an exception. After both of those elections, the president found it harder to get trade deals through Congress. Given that this president hasn’t been all that keen about trade anyway, I don’t think the midterms will matter all that much — though the South Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) might finally be put to a vote with the hope of securing GOP support.

2) In a sour economy, presidents don’t get much of a bump for foreign policy successes. The best foreign-policy president of the past four decades was George H.W. Bush. How many terms did he serve? [Hey, this sounds familiar! — Ed. Click here to see why. The only things that have changed since that post simply reinforce my thesis.] See Aaron David Miller’s FP essay for more on this point.

Enjoy watching the returns, poll-watchers — I’ll be going to bed early, secure in the knowledge that U.S. foreign policy will persist in its current form.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

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