Around the world, concern over the global impact of U.S. elections

Americans cast their ballots Tuesday in House, Senate and statewide races.
By Keith B. Richburg and Will Englund
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 6:39 PM

BEIJING - World capitals on Wednesday braced for a new political order in Washington, as policymakers and analysts tried to assess the impact on foreign policy of a new Republican-led U.S. House, a diminished Democratic majority in the Senate and an American president many fear has been left weakened.

The midterm elections were watched particularly closely here in China, which was cast as a villain in campaign ads by candidates railing against American jobs being shipped overseas. Some feared that congressional Republicans would pressure the Obama administration to take a tougher line with Beijing on such issues as technology exports, cooperation on clean-energy projects and Chinese subsidies to state-owned companies that put U.S. firms at a disadvantage.

"It will be harder to build strategic mutual trust in the coming years," said Sun Zhe, a professor at Tsinghua University's Institute of International Studies. "China will face a tougher Congress."

Other analysts, however, thought the power shift could prove useful in reining in Democrats' "protectionist" tendencies.

"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.

In Moscow, there were fears that emboldened Senate Republicans might make a first test of their new clout the pending START treaty limiting nuclear arms. Although Democrats retained control of the Senate, Fyodor Lukyanov, editor in chief of the magazine Russian Global Politics, said it is clear that the Republicans will push for significant concessions from the administration in return for their support for ratifying the treaty.

"The American political situation will become more turbulent and less predictable than before," he said, adding, "I think [President] Obama is still very popular in Moscow power circles, where he's considered to be an extraordinary politician."

For decades, going back to the Soviet era, Moscow, much like China, preferred dealing with Republicans in Washington. But after a dramatic worsening of relations during the presidency of George W. Bush, the Kremlin has embraced Obama's "reset."

"Mr. Obama is the first American president after the Cold War who was not influenced by Cold War thinking," said Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of Moscow's Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies. But, like Russia, the United States has a large contingent of people who still have a Cold War outlook, he said. "And the Republicans mainly now represent that part of the population which continues to think in Cold War terms."In the Middle East and the wider Islamic world, there were questions about whether a domestically weakened Obama would be able to pursue his goal of securing in his first term a final peace agreement between Israelis and the Palestinians. There was much pre-election commentary in Israel that Republican gains would make it harder for Obama to persuade Israel to make concessions in peace talks with the Palestinians. The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz quoted Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who is expected to become the House majority leader, as saying a Republican victory "would have a tangible impact on improving the U.S.-Israel relationship."

In Indonesia, Masdar Mas'udi, deputy chairman of the country's largest Islamic group, said he feared the election results would hamper Obama's outreach to Muslims. "We now feel more pessimistic about his ability to solve the problem between the Muslim world and the West," he said.

In Pakistan, early reaction centered on fears that a divided U.S. Congress would take longer to approve military and civilian aid packages for the country. Last week, the Obama administration announced $2 billion in new military funding over five years for the Pakistani army, but the proposal awaits congressional approval.

There were questions in world capitals over whether Obama would be too politically weakened at home to pursue major initiatives abroad, or whether, like some of his predecessors in domestic difficulty, he would turn his attention more to foreign policy, where presidents still have more freedom to act.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company