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How U.S. elections may impact foreign aid, policy

Americans are impatient people. We believe in change.

Europeans like tradition, consistency. Not us.

Others around the world may see our electoral swings as an indication of fickleness, attention deficit disorder or just ignorance. But you could also see it as a celebration of creative destruction. Most of us don’t self-identify as loyal Democrats or Republicans. We expect a lot and bolt when we don’t get it.

People were sick of Clinton and voted in another Bush. People got sick of Bush and voted in Obama. Now, sick of Obama, lots of folks are voting in people who identify strongly with a popular herb (no, I mean tea!).

Foreign aid was not an issue in this election. It hasn’t ever been high on our nation’s political radar screen and so it’s no surprise little is being said about the impact these elections may have on the Obama Administration’s approach to foreign affairs.

But our latest twist in the political winds does have implications for foreign policy and, by implication, perhaps for the new initiatives the Obama Administration has launched in global health and development. Here’s what some are saying:

The Washington Post quotes an Israeli: “A weak president means a weak United States.” One Chinese strategist expressed hope that more Republicans in Congress means more rationality. One can hope!

“With more control by Republicans, I think the Obama administration’s policy on China will be softened and more rational,” said Su Hao, director of the Strategy and Conflict Management Research Center at China Foreign Affairs University.

The Wall Street Journal asks: “New Congress, New World View?”

Particularly important will be the leadership of the State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees the international affairs budget account, which includes foreign economic and military assistance, contributions to international and multilateral organizations, and the operating budgets for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

No, we won’t change, says Sec. of State Hilary Clinton, in Politico. She’s in Papua, New Guinea today and was quoted — in just a few paragraphs — as simply saying the GOP gain in Congress won’t change foreign policy.

Yes it will change things, says CNN, which quotes Reginald Dale, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

The president does not look at all like the leader he was seen as when he came to power two years ago, “when there was this great hope around the world that he could achieve all sorts of miraculous progress in foreign affairs.”

What foreign policy? And why is Clinton in New Guinea during the elections anyway?, the Telegraph asks — and answers — claiming she’s hiding the fact that her tenure at State has accomplished little.

The new GOP head of the House foreign affairs committee, as described in Foreign Policy, sounds ready to reverse or block a number of foreign policy efforts by the Obama Administration. Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will

“… change the tone and agenda of the committee and pose new challenges for the Obama administration’s efforts to advance its foreign-policy agenda.”

But to end on a positive note, GlobalPost’s executive editor Charles Sennott says the Dems loss might just be good for the rest of the world.

“In fact, if history is any guide, Obama may indeed turn greater attention to his foreign policy goals if he feels stymied by a Republican Congress. At least, that’s what President Bill Clinton did when he lost Democratic control of Congress in 1994 and it’s what President Woodrow Wilson did in 1918 when he pushed ahead with an activist foreign policy after Republicans won control of the Congress in mid-term elections.”

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.