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Mark Perry

The United States: The republic of fear

Ernst: UN plot against Iowa farmers [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 November, 2014

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Republican sweep will have little effect on foreign policy but does suggest Americans are sinking deeper into the ‘far right fever swamp’.
If the results of the recent US mid-term elections, which swept a gaggle of conservative Republicans into office in Washington, shows anything it shows that the strongest and richest nation in the world is absolutely scared to death. Just check the record.
Three weeks ago, on October 16, conservative Congressman Joe Wilson told a group of South Carolina voters that he believed that Hamas would infect supporters with the ebola virus and slip them across the US border with Mexico. "Okay, well, part of their creed would be to bring persons who have ebola into our country," he said. "It would promote their creed. All of this could be avoided by sealing the border, thoroughly. C'mon, this is the 21st century."
While Wilson's comments brought derisive hoots from the US media (typical of the thinking of the "far right fever swamp", one pundit noted), they didn't seem to bother his constituents: Wilson coasted to victory over his Democratic Party opponent last Tuesday in South Carolina's Second Congressional District.

Nor was Wilson alone in his political paranoia. In Iowa, a bellwether farm state, conservative Republican Joni Ernst told voters that the UN's "Agenda 21" development plan was actually a conspiracy to move Iowa farmers off of their land and into the state's cities, where they could be more easily controlled. Iowa's voters were unaffected by this wackiness - on Tuesday they made Ernst the first woman elected from their state to the US Senate.

Shockingly, Wilson and Ernst's fear-mongering c
     A potent stew of frightening views has taken root on America's right.
ampaigns are by no means untypical of the narrative being espoused on America's right, where a potent stew of frightening views have taken root. If we were to believe what Wilson, Ernst or many other conservatives say, the US is under siege and on the verge of collapse - the ebola virus will infect millions, Islamic State jihadis are poised on our southern border, Iran is planning a nuclear attack on American cities and US Muslims are quietly plotting to impose Sharia law on millions of unwitting Americans.
Given this, it's hardly surprising that many of America's allies (and some of its antagonists), believe that the US has lost its political centre. Last Tuesday's Senate and Congressional elections seemed to confirm this view, as conservative Republicans engineered a sweeping national electoral wave, gaining control of the US Senate and strengthening their hold on the House of Representatives.

These victories, it is feared, portend a harsher line on US negotiations with Ayatollah Khamenei's Iran, a softer stance with Binyamin Netanyahu's Israel - and "boots on the ground" in Iraq.

Among those expressing concern was Iranian diplomat Ali Khorram, who serves as an adviser to the Iranian foreign ministry. The day following the Tuesday elections, Khorram said that the Republican victory might well spur a return to the season of mistrust that characterised US-Iranian relations during the presidency of George W Bush.

"We should not allow Republicans to unite with Israel," he said, "…because it is not in the interests of Iran and the region."

But if Iran viewed the Tuesday elections as a sign of harsher anti-Iranian policies, Israeli officials welcomed the Republican sweep, viewing it as warning to Obama that he needs to repair the strained relationship with the Netanyahu government.

"It is my hope that the American administration will now change gears and focus on the truly important issues in our region threatening western civilisation," former Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said on Thursday. "Now is the time to halt the spread of [the Islamic State group] and stop the Ayatollahs in Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities, instead of criticising Israel for every housing development in Jerusalem."

Despite these concerns, most US observers doubt that the Republican election victories of Tuesday will mark a significant shift in US foreign policy - the Obama administration will continue its efforts to shape an agreement with Iran on its nuclear programme, continue to criticise Israel's settlement policies (and adamantly deny that it views Israel's prime minister with disdain), and continue its modest military offensive against the Islamic State group - without actually committing US troops to a ground war in Iraq.
Wilson: Hamas plotting to infect Americans with Ebola [AFP]

"The genius of the American system is that it leaves foreign policy almost solely in the hands of the president," a former senior Pentagon official during the Bush administration told me in the wake of the elections, "which means that the Congress can complain and criticise Obama all they want, but without really effecting policy."
Then too, there is widespread agreement among senior Republicans and Obama on core foreign policy issues, the official added. "You won't find many Republicans who want to send our troops back into Iraq, you won't find many who want a confrontation with Iran - and while most members of Congress will continue to vote for resolutions supporting Israel and criticising the Palestinians, those kinds of things don't have the force of law. They don't mean a whole lot."
Most political pundits agree. Writing in the recent issue of Politico Magazine, Heather Hurlburt pointed out that while the Republican "fear-based" political playbook is geared to feed "social angst", even the most conservative Republicans are loathe to continue the kinds of military interventions in the Middle East that nearly ruined the US economy in the Bush years.

This is even true in conservative middle America, where Republican Senator Pat Roberts made it clear during his campaign that he would not support a military escalation against IS. Roberts isn’t alone: While conservatives are quick to criticise Obama for making Americans feel less secure, they are more concerned that increased overseas deployments could derail their push on issues they consider vital - economic growth, tax reform, balancing the federal budget and rolling back what they view as the more pernicious parts of the administration's health care programmes.

In fact, as Boston Globe columnist Michael Cohen argues, Tuesday's Republican victories will allow Obama to focus on his core foreign policy initiatives - and without Republican interference. "The global stage is the only place left where Obama has any flexibility and hope for significant policy achievements," Cohen wrote recently. "Rather than slow up, he should move forward aggressively on everything from free trade to an Iran nuclear deal... Foreign policy is the best way for Obama to reassert himself politically and repair his broken public image."
Obama apparently agrees. Just 48 hours after the Republican victory on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Obama had written to Iran's Supreme Leader in October saying that cooperation with the US on fighting IS was "contingent on Iran reaching a comprehensive agreement" on Tehran's nuclear programme. The report brought an immediate response from the Senate's newly empowered Republicans, who criticised Obama for sending "love letters" to Iran instead of agreeing to increased sanctions against the regime.

"There is going to be real scrutiny from the House and Senate in what's taken place on the entire Obama administration's tenure dealing with the Iranians," Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, who is slated to be the new Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, announced.

For those who know Washington, the Nunes threat brought a barely concealed chuckle: Obama's foreign policy critics can issue press releases, appear on talk shows to scold the White House on everything from IS to Israel, hold high profile hearings on what the White House is doing and scare the hell out of the American people - but that’s about it.
Mark Perry is a foreign policy analyst, author and reporter living in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The Most Dangerous Man In America, which is a biography of US General Douglas MacArthur. Follow him on Twitter: @markperrydc

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