NEW YORK – Few Americans cast their ballot in the recent mid-term elections on the basis of foreign policy. While it may be difficult for people around the world to comprehend this, given the global reach of the United States, it is an undeniable fact.
Most Americans are, after all, preoccupied with the US economy’s sluggish growth and persistent high unemployment. The world’s challenges seem far removed from their day-to-day lives. The Cold War ended a generation ago; the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, are nearly a decade in the past. Most Americans do not feel the sacrifices associated with the large troop presence and ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But the fact that foreign policy did not materially affect the November elections does not mean that the results will not affect US foreign policy. They will, but in ways that are inconsistent and even surprising.
One relationship sure to be influenced by Republican gains will be that between the US and Russia. Quick or easy Senate approval of the New START arms-control treaty is highly unlikely, given stated concerns about verification and the protection of US missile-defense programs; instead, we can expect delays and, possibly, attempts to amend what the two governments already agreed upon. Congress may also prove less willing to remove hurdles to Russia’s admission to the World Trade Organization, given what is widely judged to be its leaders’ anti-democratic behavior.