News / USA

    Analysts: More Talk, Few Changes for US Defense After Elections

    President Barack Obama is briefed by members of his national security team in the Situation Room of the White House, in Oct 2010 (file photo)
    President Barack Obama is briefed by members of his national security team in the Situation Room of the White House, in Oct 2010 (file photo)

    Multimedia

    Virtually all of the campaigning for this week's U.S. midterm congressional elections focused on domestic issues, but the outcome also will affect national security. Still, experts do not expect the incoming Republican Party majority of the House of Representatives and major gains in the Senate to have a significant impact on the war in Afghanistan or other key U.S. defense policies.

    When American voters went to the polls on 2 Nov 2010, analysts say most made their decisions based on issues such as the economy, government spending and health care policy. When they woke up on Wednesday morning, though, to news that come January the House will be controlled by the Republican Party - and the Senate, by a narrow margin, by President Barack Obama's Democratic Party - they found a situation in which national security policy might become more contentious.

    "Perhaps the biggest single impact is that it's going to be even harder for the U.S. government to speak with a clear voice on national security issues that have a legislative component," said Analyst Heather Hurlburt of the Washington-based National Security Network.

    Hurlburt said those issues include the defense department budget, which the Congress has tried to use to influence war policy, but with limited success.

    Loren Thompson of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute does not expect that to change. He said both major political parties are internally split on the war issue and that there are no funds available to increase defense spending as Republicans often want to do.

    "You know, because Republicans can't throw more money at defense given the lack of resources available from the treasury, a lot of the fights over defense are going to be symbolic in the new Congress," said Thompson.

    Thompson notes that President Obama is allowing defense spending to increase slowly anyway. He said the president's decision to sharply increase the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and to begin a gradual, conditions-based withdrawal next July might be politically acceptable to most lawmakers in both parties.   

    "That war has begun to lose support in both parties," said Thompson. "And consequently, the timetable President Obama set out when he did the surge is actually going to be welcomed by both parties."

    Thompson notes that as when former President George W. Bush expanded the Iraq war in defiance of congressional and public opposition, a president can do what he or she wants on war policy, at least in the short-term.

    "If the president wants to keep prosecuting the war and he is willing to take the public opinion burden of that, he can do so," said Thompson. "On the other hand, if he wants to walk away, Congress can't really stop him from doing that."

    Similarly, Thompson said that with the focus on domestic issues, the plan to end the U.S. troop presence in Iraq by the end of next year likely will not generate much congressional opposition.

    Hurlburt said there is another issue, however, about which the Congress likely will be more vocal - Iran. "There's a considerably more hawkish view on the Hill [i.e., Capitol Hill] on both sides of the [political] aisle than there is in the administration. And there's somewhat more cynicism about the value of engagement and maybe less willingness to let events take their course and let pressure against the Iranian regime ratchet up naturally."

    But Hurlburt said that does not necessarily mean a move toward military action to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. "You will see more loud talk about that. I'm skeptical that it moves any closer to reality. But overseas, I think it's going to be a little difficult to differentiate between what's just talk and what's actually meaningful."

    Analysts said that might also be true of other defense issues on which Republicans generally disagree with the president, including his plans to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention center and to allow homosexuals to serve openly in the U.S. military.  

    The president said he might use the final session of the current Congress to try to change the law on gays in the military. He also might use it to try to gain Senate ratification of the New START treaty that further reduces U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.

    Thompson said many Republicans who have engaged in firey rhetoric against the president on those and other issues might moderate their views now. "You know, it's an easy thing when you're out of power to call upon an administration to do things that are controversial. It's quite another matter, once you're in power and have to take responsibility for an action, to continue pushing that point."

    On Thursday, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said defense policy is traditionally bipartisan and he does not expect any particular problems with the new congress.

    "We fully expect that the strong bipartisan cooperation on national security issues that we have enjoyed over the years will continue under this new Congress," said Morrell.

    Hurlburt warns, though, that as with domestic policy, making U.S. defense policy in a politically divided government will not be easy. She said that likely may cause confusion overseas as members of Congress and administration officials make conflicting pronouncements on various defense issues. But Hurlburt said the result probably will be no significant changes in broad U.S. national security policy.

    "No one's going to wake up one morning and find that something in their security umbrella has changed from before because that's not how our politics work, and that's not anyone's intention," said Hurlburt.

    Hurlburt also said that Washington's focus on strengthening the U.S. economy is important to America's allies because without a strong economy, the United States will find it difficult to maintain its military strength and its international security commitments.

    At the same time, she said defense commitments might need to be adjusted to match what the United States can afford. "The challenge in front of us on defense spending is:  How do we spend money to meet our security obligations to our own citizens and our allies in a way that's respectful of our economic base and the economic sources of our strength?"

    With more conservative Republicans coming to Congress looking to reduce the federal budget, analysts say some might be tempted to look at the defense budget. But they say that cutting defense is always difficult, especially in war time, because no one wants to reduce money for the troops and because components for defense equipment are built at factories in every state and virtually every congressional district across the country.

    You May Like

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.