Tea party-inspired candidates primarily stressed U.S. domestic issues during the midterm elections, with special focus on the economy. Though the tea party victors now headed for Capitol Hill are in many respects a disparate group, an emphasis on free-market principles, a healthy skepticism of big government and a confirmed populist faith in the wisdom of average American voter were common themes in their campaigns.
These unifying themes indicate the new senators and representatives are men and women who believe in American exceptionalism, the idea that the U.S., as the planet's first working and most successful representative democracy, plays a special role in world affairs.
Their faith in American exceptionalism will ultimately influence their positions on a range of foreign policy issues. At times, they will confront President Barack Obama head to head. However, there will be several tough cases, such as Afghanistan, where the Obama administration will discover many of the new arrivals are critical but reliable allies, unlike the cut-and-run wing of his own party.
President Obama tends to operate in an information cocoon spun by his Chicago pals and a fawning national media, so he may not even be aware that two speeches given by Democrat leaders addressing international issues have deeply offended American conservatives. In the next few months, however, he will have to deal with the political outrage bred by these big-time goofs as expressed by offended Americans who are now serving in Congress.
The first goof is Harry Reid's infamous utterance of April 2007, when he said of Iraq "... that this war is lost, and that the surge is not accomplishing anything ..." In the context of the moment, Americans committed to winning the Global War on Terror identified the senator as an American leader providing psychological and moral encouragement to an enemy in time of war.
Moreover, Reid did it for partisan political advantage. He continued the defeatist narrative Democrats had been pushing since 2003 as part of their campaign to defeat their real enemy, George W. Bush. History has proven Reid was dead wrong, but the heinous act is not forgotten or forgiven. Obama himself used the defeatist narrative in 2008. Like Reid, Obama will now pay for it.
The second speech is Obama's own 2009 Cairo apology to the so-called Muslim world. American conservatives can make a strong case that the U.S. has zip nada nothing to apologize for to any religious group, especially one stuck with Iran's vicious clerics and several dysfunctional feudal societies that export terrorists. Obama's speech came at what historians may call the height of Obama's diplomatic narcissism, when he implied his very existence bridged international divisions and moved tyrants to engage in responsible nuclear disarmament negotiations. Yes, that's a laugh now, but a bitter chuckle, coming as it did right before Iran's pro-democracy Green Revolution erupted.
Obama was slow to support the vulnerable Iranian protestors. Expect the American exceptionalists in the new Congress to support them unabashedly.
The newbies will also clash with other Obama policies. They may support nuclear weapons reduction but demand the U.S. maintain a reliable nuclear deterrent, which could mean building new nuclear weapons. Obama's foolish decisions regarding missile defense will be revisited.
Where will the new Congress and the president cooperate?
One of the biggest gripes among Obama's hard-left supporters is they expected him to provide the denouement to the defeatist narrative and pull out of Afghanistan and Iraq. So far, Obama has not made that mistake, though Afghanis and Iraqis voice severe doubts about his commitment. Cynics read Obama's "rhetoric of doubt" as hooey to jive the defeatists in his political base. They cite Iraq's air force as an example. It will require training and logistics assistance until at least 2018. This suggests the U.S. Air Force will help protect Iraqi skies for beyond 2011. Obama knows this. He supports it because way down deep he really does not want to lose Iraq on his watch. The new conservatives in Washington don't want him to lose it, either.
In Afghanistan, President Obama is pursuing a "surge" strategy led by Gen. David Petraeus, a man Senator Obama's party vilified in 2007 for pursuing the same strategy in Iraq. Obama will take deserved heat from new congressional leaders for his blatant hypocrisy, but they will support his Afghan initiatives. They will demand, however, he exhibit the resolve of a committed commander in chief.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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