Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

Biden’s Foreign Policy Set for Midterm Shake-Up

House Republicans are already planning a batch of investigations.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy, and , a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
The U.S. Capitol is shown in the dark, surrounded by fog.
The U.S. Capitol is shown in the dark, surrounded by fog.
Fog envelops the U.S. Capitol building in the early morning hours in Washington on Nov. 4. Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Robbie and Jack here, recovering from a long week of watching the U.S. midterm elections. If you’re reading this, please send us coffee urgently (for Robbie only, Jack is off the sauce).

Alright, here’s what’s on tap for the day: How the midterms will shape U.S. national security, Biden and Xi plan to meet in Bali, and the U.S. military reveals the Russian death toll in Ukraine.

If you would like to receive Situation Report in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Robbie and Jack here, recovering from a long week of watching the U.S. midterm elections. If you’re reading this, please send us coffee urgently (for Robbie only, Jack is off the sauce).

Alright, here’s what’s on tap for the day: How the midterms will shape U.S. national security, Biden and Xi plan to meet in Bali, and the U.S. military reveals the Russian death toll in Ukraine.

If you would like to receive Situation Report in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.


Midterm Madness

Well, midterm season is (mostly) over, meaning it’s time for the time-honored traditions of the party that underperformed angrily recriminating itself and pundits churning out hot takes about how the midterms will shape the presidential election in two years.

We at SitRep have a little tradition of our own, which involves frantically calling a bunch of congressional sources and political junkies to sort out what impact the midterms will have on U.S. foreign policy. Here are our top five takeaways, before we know with 100 percent certainty which parties will control Congress.

1. No big jolts on Ukraine policy, but… There has been plenty of buzz about how the midterm results could shake up the massive amounts of military and economic aid that Washington is delivering to Ukraine, with some of the most vocal MAGA acolytes in the Republican Party calling for a halt to aid and some recent polls showing public opinion shifting in their favor. The consensus from people we’ve spoken to is that it’s not going to happen. There’s still significant bipartisan support across the House and Senate to keep up the aid, and that’s not changing.

One caveat we’ve heard, though: The slimmer the Republican majority is, the tougher time pro-Ukraine Republicans will have keeping their party in line. If the Republicans take the House with just a slim majority, it will give outsized power to the fringe elements of the party (as U.S. President Joe Biden himself learned the hard way with a 50-50 Senate time and again).

2. Investigations, subpoenas, impeachments, oh my. House Republicans are champing at the bit to launch investigations into what they see as Biden’s mishandling of foreign-policy issues such as Afghanistan and the U.S.-Mexico border. In the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul plans to use his likely soon-to-be role as chairman to expand the investigation into Biden’s chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal.

Some Republicans also say they’re preparing impeachment trials against Biden’s homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, over increased crossings at the U.S. southern border. (It’s not something that would ever get through the Senate, but it would shine a new spotlight on the situation at the border.)

3. Shutdowns. What better way to showcase to the world how dysfunctional Washington is than with government shutdowns? The last shutdown at the end of 2018 lasted over a month, over an impasse between former President Donald Trump and Democrats on Trump’s policy toward Mexico and ill-fated plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The next one could be just around the corner if Republicans take control of the House, as they seem poised to do.

The military and critical national security apparatuses keep running in the event of a shutdown but are still hobbled by an overall shutdown in federal government operations, including the Defense and State departments and other national security agencies.

A big issue for the Republicans that could trigger a shutdown is what they see as runaway federal spending and the alarming scale of the national deficit (though they didn’t bring up the national deficit during the Trump administration, funnily enough). Biden reduced the federal deficit by $1.4 trillion but added $400 billion in new debt with a nationwide student loan forgiveness plan.

4. Big wins and losses. Here’s some news in key races for the foreign-policy wonks: Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer and centrist Democrat in Virginia with heavyweight national security credentials, narrowly won her reelection bid in what was seen as a bellwether race for how the Democrats would do nationally. Tom Malinowski, a New Jersey Democrat and former State Department official who played an outsized role on foreign policy and human rights issues in Congress, lost his reelection (even after ziplining into his wedding to the sound of violins playing the Indiana Jones theme song this summer). Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia, the vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee and a vocal critic of the U.S. Navy’s shipbuilding strategy, lost her race to Navy veteran and Republican challenger Jen Kiggans.

On the Senate side, Indiana Republican Todd Young cruised to reelection. Young, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is a leading voice in the Senate on some top foreign-policy issues, including strategic arms control talks and curbing presidential war powers.

5. We don’t know what we don’t know. On the 2024 buzz that has already started, just remember two things: First, two years is a really long time. And second, the pundit class is really, really bad at predicting a presidential race two years out (though it confidently forgets this fact every cycle).

After the 2014 midterms, all the seasoned pols in Washington agreed that Jeb Bush and Chris Christie were the clear-cut front-runners for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, and well…we all know how that turned out. Right after the 2018 midterms, Democratic pundits were confident that Amy Klobuchar and Sherrod Brown were going to be the front-runners in 2020.

Yes, Trump is still a major political force in the Republican Party even if his brand took a beating on Tuesday. But let’s not pretend to know with certainty what these midterms mean for the next presidential race.


Let’s Get Personnel

Roya Rahmani, a former Afghan ambassador to the United States, is joining the Albright Stonebridge Group, as is former Mexican Deputy Foreign Secretary Julián Ventura.

Linda Robinson is joining the Council on Foreign Relations as a senior fellow for women and foreign policy, coming from the Rand Corp.


On the Button 

What should be high on your radar, if it isn’t already.

Xi’s just not that into you. Biden is scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, on Nov. 14, the White House confirmed on Thursday, despite rising tensions between the two countries and Xi’s recent criticism of U.S. foreign policy.

It’s hard to say what’s specifically on the agenda for their meeting, given the quintessentially vague gobbledygook press release language from the White House: “The Leaders will discuss efforts to maintain and deepen lines of communication between the United States and [China], responsibly manage competition, and work together where our interests align, especially on transnational challenges that affect the international community. The two Leaders will also discuss a range of regional and global issues.” OK then, regional and global issues it is.

Anyway, relations between the two countries have gotten even rockier than usual since U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled to Taiwan in August, a visit that incensed China and caused some headaches back in Washington.

The cost of war. The top U.S. military officer, Gen. Mark Milley, said on Wednesday that about 200,000 Russian and Ukrainian soldiers had been killed or wounded in the eight months since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, the highest estimates offered by a Western official so far. Milley, speaking in New York, added that about 40,000 civilians had been killed in the fighting.

The estimates come as the United States has reportedly tried to push Ukraine further toward the negotiation table in recent weeks, despite Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson city, one of the crown jewels of its military campaign.

Le strategerié. French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled France’s new national defense strategy on Wednesday, which will see French troops maintain a wide presence in sub-Saharan Africa and see Paris embark on a new plan to combat fake news and disinformation, as Russia has used the presence of Wagner Group mercenaries to force governments in Africa to adopt more pro-Kremlin positions.

Macron also called on France to maintain a “credible” and modern nuclear deterrent to deter Russia. France is the only nuclear power in the European Union.


Snapshot 

Fighter jets are shown in the clouds.
Fighter jets are shown in the clouds.

Indian Air Force Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter jets take part in an air refueling exercise from a French Airbus A330 MRTT during a joint military exercise between the two countries near Jodhpur in India’s desert state of Rajasthan on Nov. 9.Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images


Put On Your Radar

Friday, Nov. 11: Biden takes off to North Africa and Asia for a five-day trip, starting in Egypt for the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference, before traveling to Cambodia and Indonesia to attend ASEAN and G-20 meetings.

Monday, Nov. 14: King Charles III of Britain turns 74.


Quote of the Week

“Before the next election, you might want to find a better way to poll anyone under the age of 30 since they would rather pick up a pinless grenade than a call from an unknown number.”

NBC News senior reporter Ben Collins on one hypothesis for why Democrats outperformed poll numbers in the U.S. midterm elections on Tuesday.


FP’s Most Read This Week

The Cult of Modi by Ramachandra Guha

6 Wrong Lessons for Taiwan From the War in Ukraine by Franz-Stefan Gady

The U.N. (as We Know It) Won’t Survive Russia’s War in Ukraine by James Traub


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Reaping, meet sowing. A top U.K. employer and leading proponent of Brexit, Simon Wolfson, is now complaining that he can’t get enough foreign workers because of, well, Brexit. Huh.

Should’ve used a Reuben instead. This headline from Virginia’s ABC 8News says it all: “Nuclear engineer, wife who tried to sell Navy secrets in peanut butter sandwich sentenced for espionage.”

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Jack Detsch is a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @JackDetsch

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