Accessibility links


Foreign Policy Battles Loom Between Obama, Republican-led Congress

  • Michael Bowman

Some of President Barack Obama’s loudest critics on foreign policy will have new powers as chairmen of various Senate committees when Republicans assume control of both houses of Congress in January.

From Ukraine to the Middle East, the Obama administration can expect enhanced scrutiny of its outreach to the world

As global conflicts rage, from Ukraine to the Middle East, Republicans are quick to fault the Obama administration on its outreach to the world.

Critical of administration

Earlier this year, Republican Senator Bob Corker said, "I have no earthly idea how the administration plans to go about degrading and destroying ISIS in Syria. I have no earthly idea."

Republican Senator John McCain is equally critical, saying, “This president does not understand [Russian President] Vladimir Putin. He does not understand his ambitions, that Vladimir Putin is an old KGB colonel bent on restoration of the Russian Empire.”

Come January, Corker will be chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; McCain will head the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"John McCain rarely pulls punches. He is quite sure of what needs to be done, and that the president is not doing it," said Stuart Rothenberg, a political analyst.

Rothenberg said a Republican-led Congress can affect Obama's foreign policy -- up to a point.

“They can limit what the president can do not only on domestic spending, but spending internationally -- national security, armed forces and things like that. Having said that, this is the one area where the president traditionally has considerable freedom to operate," he said.

Obama will remain commander-in-chief for two more years. But Republican-led congressional committees will shine a spotlight on his performance, said University of Chicago political scientist William Howell.

“Politically, they have powerful incentives to underscore what they perceive to be the failings of the Obama administration in foreign policy. They can set the terms of the discussion that is going to ensue. They can have investigations," Howell said.

Scrutiny of administration's policy

McCain gave a taste of such scrutiny in a heated exchange with Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Elissa Slotkin on the administration's policy concerning Islamic State militants.

“I’m asking what the strategy is," McCain said.

“Our strategy is to defeat ISIL," Slotkin said, using an acronym for the Islamist group.

McCain stopped her, saying, "That’s a goal, not a strategy. I want to know what the strategy is."

In reality, Obama is not immune to criticism from lawmakers of his own Democratic Party.

Senator Robert Menendez is skeptical about nuclear negotiations with Iran.

“Right now, we are playing right into the Iranian narrative," Menendez said at a hearing earlier this month.

Foreign policy battles could erupt as soon as Congress reconvenes in January. For example, Corker said lawmakers are eager to tighten sanctions against Iran if nuclear negotiations fail.