Those wondering if the November 2 elections, returning the House of Representatives to Republican control, will have any effect on US foreign policy might consider the discussion this morning at the Brookings Institution. Half a dozen Brookings experts, including one new scholar, neoconservative analyst Robert Kagan, pontificated on foreign policy during the second half of the Obama administration, taking into account the GOP gains in Congress and President Obama’s weakened position.
Perhaps the most interesting insight came from Martin Indyk, Brookings vice president and director of its foreign policy program. Indyk, best known for being a decidedly pro-Israel official at the State Department, currently advises George Mitchell, the US special envoy for the Israel-Palestine tangle. Asked about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Indyk said, "He is much more of a Republican than a Likudnik," meaning that Netanyahu closely identifies with the GOP and he has good relations with Republicans in Congress. Noting that Netanyahu recently stepped up his rhetoric calling for a military attack on Iran, Indyk suggested that Netanyahu was sending an unsubtle signal to Republicans to start talking up the issue.
What Netanyahu means, said Indyk, is to tell Republicans: "Come on, guys! It’s time to get much tougher on Iran." He compared to Republican pressure on the Clinton administration over Iraq in the 1990s, when Newt Gingrich and others—alongside Ahmed Chalabi, the neoconservative darling who led the Iraqi National Congress—pushed Clinton to sign the Iraq Liberation Act. (There’s a chance that the GOP, along with AIPAC, the Israel lobby, might push now for an Iran Liberation Act as a way of checkmating Obama’s outreach to Iran.)
"Netanyahu feels new confidence," said Indyk, since the Republicans took over the House, and he believes that Congress will be behind him even more strongly. As a result, during the current round of sniping over new Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Netanyahu felt brash enough to respond nastily to American criticism.
As Daniel Kurtzer, a pro-Obama analyst and former US ambassador to Israel told the New York Times today, of Netanyahu: "He’s dealing with a president who’s politically weakened. A lot of his friends in Washington are Republicans. He feels more comfortable with them, so he just feels that he’s got a freer hand here."
Suzanne Maloney, a Brookings expert on Iran, added that in the 1990s the Iranians took seriously rhetoric from Gingrich and the GOP over regime change in Iran. (Back then, Gingrich overtly engineered the appropriation of tens of millions of dollars for a "covert" program to topple the government in Tehran.) Maloney noted that the Republicans are likely to push harder for a showdown with Iran, complicating Obama’s efforts to negotiate a deal with Tehran in the talks that are supposed to start in late November or early December. And, she said, if a deal does emerge, "How do you sell that kind of deal on the Hill?" Of course, it isn’t clear exactly why the White House would have to "sell" a deal to the neoconservative and rightwingers in Congress, anyway, since it’s not likely to require congressional approval. Still, the pesky noise from the deranged right, including Senator Graham and Senator Lieberman, will make the Iranians less amenable to any deal at all.