Power Play No Lame Duck

President Barack Obama may be hobbled by a Rebuplican majority in both houses of Congress, but he can still garner support for his foreign policy, argues our guest writer.
Read my lips.

The last two years in office for U.S. President Obama have begun with the opposition party in control of both houses of Congress. But that doesn't mean he deserves the “lame duck” label. He could still achieve much in the area of foreign policy.

When I recently spoke with U.S. government representatives, they seemed optimistic on that front. The question for Germany and Europe is where American foreign policy is compatible with European interests and where priorities differ.

In the next two years, East Asia, Russia and the Middle East will dominate America's geopolitical agenda. The president’s “pivot to Asia” and military support for some key U.S. allies in the region, such as Japan, will be supported by the Republican Congress.

Mr. Obama will show allies and competitors alike that the United States will remain a peaceful power.  He will strive for a constructive relationship with China.

Europe benefits from the United States’ stabilizing role in the Asia-Pacific region but is viewed as a freeloader by Washington.

Representatives of the Republican majority will want to see a harder line taken against Russia, while the Obama administration supports European efforts for diplomatic resolutions.

The Republicans, however, don't share the president’s views on how to deal with Russia and Eastern Europe. Representatives of the Republican majority will want to see a harder line taken against Russia, while the Obama administration supports European efforts for diplomatic resolutions, such as the Minsk Protocol, which was the September 2014 agreement to cease the fighting in the Donbass region of Ukraine.

As for foreign policy, Mr. Obama could find himself heavily reliant on an effective leadership role from Germany and Europe in the coming months.

That will be accompanied by challenges of finding more resources for the economic stabilization of Ukraine and NATO defense, and to show Russia the costs of further destabilization of the Ukraine or other East European countries.

At the same time, the U.S. government, together with the European Union, will work toward preventing Ukraine from attempting to use militarily force to win back the separatist areas, signaling to Russia not only their readiness for dialogue, but also their willingness to cooperate in other problematic areas of global politics.

Despite all commonalities, it is imperative to understand where American and European priorities diverge in the Middle East. The U.S. priority is primarily Iraq and the battle against the so-called Islamic State. For Europe, Syria tends to have a higher priority, in view of the movements of refugees and European jihadists.

In contrast, the Obama administration has made negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program – originally a European initiative – its own concern. For top U.S. officials , the question today is not whether an agreement is the perfect outcome, but about whether having one is more likely to stop Iran from creating “the bomb” than not having any agreement at all. This is in line with the European approach, but not to the liking of the majority party in Congress. Mr. Obama seems prepared to go against the Republicans if necessary.

Israeli criticism is also already factored in to some extent. For that reason alone, it’s improbable the Obama administration will comply with European requests and try to make another attempt in the next two years to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Obama doesn’t need this additional confrontation with the Israeli government and the Republican majority.

In one arena, though, the Republicans could even be useful to Mr. Obama and Europe. According to one presidential advisor, there is now a chance of winning congressional approval to fast-track the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

From this point of view, the trade talks take on a different perspective, also making it easier for the European Union to confidently represent its own interests.


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