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Obama, elections and foreign policy: the bucks stop here?

What are the links between the US mid-term election results and future US foreign policy? How strongly did voters feel about foreign issues? NATO Review asks experts in Washington and voters on Main St America how they see the new changes playing out.

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Just like you did in 2008, you can

defy the conventional wisdom.

President Obama has been

back on the campaign trail.

You can't overcome the big money.

You can't elect a skinny guy

named Barack Obama.

You can't tackle

our biggest challenges.

Everybody said: No, you can't.

And in 2008 you showed them:

Yes, we can.

January the 20th 2009,

when Senator Obama

was inaugurated as President Obama

up on those steps behind me,

he arrived being hailed

as a new kind of leader

with a major international outlook,

who would change the image

of the US around the world

and lead in a more consensual way.

However, in the midterm elections

at the end of 2010,

it's domestic, not foreign issues,

which are dominating the agenda.

It could easily be said that

his election slogan could be the same

as the last Democratic President,

Bill Clinton, who said simply:

It's the economy, stupid.

And the buck stops

with the President.

We got real problems at home.

With an unemployment rate

that is over 9%,

with economic anxiety

about the loss of manufacturing,

a problem that all western countries

face, but is acute here too,

with all the recent

financial meltdowns,

with a concern about

overspending and underinvesting,

with the retirement

of the baby boomers,

upward escalatory trends

in health care cost...

Put it all together

and Americans are uneasy

about the economic times

in which they live.

I feel that we're in an area

where there's not very many jobs.

So, it's kinda like communities

helping each other.

But how could this affect

his foreign policies?

An incumbent is held accountable

for certain things.

We all know that list starts

with the economy

and then moves on to the general

state of stability in the world.

A turbulent world is not a good thing

for a president seeking re-election.

Even when presidents intend

to focus on domestic issues,

because that's

what voters care about,

because they are President of the US,

they end up

as foreign policy Presidents.

So, they can't avoid foreign policy.

President Obama has

a big foreign policy agenda.

The economy is far and away

issue number one

and that involves

foreign trade and foreign finance,

as well as domestic policy.

Exchange rates matter and trade,

because it's a fairly

simple observation

that if the currency is undervalued,

the country's goods could be cheaper

and competes more easily and

unfairly with production elsewhere,

including in one's own country.

I'm always impressed

by how even those who are

challenged by mathematics in school,

get basic things about numbers

that affect their pocketbook.

How will US voters expect

their newly elected politicians

to act in terms of foreign policy?

Can we expect foreign policy

to be immune from Washington's

highly partisan atmosphere?

There grew this myth

in thinking about US foreign policy

that politics stops at the water's edge

was always the phrase

and that somehow there was

no criticism of the President

if he was engaged

in international issues

or when he was travelling abroad.

That myth is just that, a myth.

I don't think

there ever was a golden period

of bipartisan consensus

on foreign policy,

or if there was,

we needed Hitler to create it.

It's not as if we had a sustained

period of mutual cooperation

and lack of political acrimony

since 1945.

The Republican Party has taken

control of Congress

and it can now fillibuster

in the Senate.

Will it use its new power to obstruct

some of Obama's foreign policy goals,

such as increased arms control?

There's no question they're

looking to weaken the President

and they don't want to give him any

victories, as we saw on health care.

They were trying to prevent that.

And they may decide

that they don't want him

to have this arms control victory,

but it's a bit of a dangerous game

for the Republicans to play,

to oppose everything that he's doing.

And how will it portray the 100 billion

US dollars spent in Afghanistan

while the economy at home suffers?

Even if Joe Six-Pack may not like

that 100 billion dollar a year expense,

he won't see it as the fundamental

argument about Afghanistan

and his leadership is

not going to either.

How much does Obama

have to look over his shoulder?

Is he set for a bumpy ride?

Is the country turning to the right?

The answer again lays

with the voters.

So, we have spoken to experts

and analysts in Washington DC

about how they see

the view from America,

but one thing

that is often remarked upon,

is that things seem different

from outside Washington.

So, we are heading out of the city

on the famous Route 66

to talk to some people on Main Street

America to see how they see things.

We stopped in the small town

of Marshall, Virginia,

a key state, which was

a surprise win for Obama in 2008.

We asked the town's voters

whether they saw Obama's domestic

or foreign policies

as more important to their support.

The domestic.

- And in particular, which ones?

Well, the health programme,

that is very important.

And getting the people back to work.

And even in this small town,

the diversity of opinions was clear.

Well, I'm worried about both,

because what he's done

here domestically,

the American people

are worried about that.

Also, if he can't do the right thing

now here in this country,

what's he going to do

for us internationally?

We also asked how people saw these

policies since Obama's election.

I have travelled a little bit

since his election

and certainly there was a lot of hope

in other countries where I had visited,

that he was going to come in

and make a real change.

The Congress and the Senate,

they have stuck together

and done everything he wanted to do,

not what the American people

wanted to do.

That's what the Tea Party is about.

I don't know if we're doing too much,

we are carrying a heavier load.

I think everybody needs to step up,

certainly with what is going on

in other parts of the world.

America always seems to be,

at least in my opinion,

the first to come

to the aid of other countries.

But, finally, it seems to come back

to all politics being local.

I still think that the local issues,

the domestic issues,

are going to be the ones

that are going to count.

Just like you did in 2008, you can

defy the conventional wisdom.

President Obama has been

back on the campaign trail.

You can't overcome the big money.

You can't elect a skinny guy

named Barack Obama.

You can't tackle

our biggest challenges.

Everybody said: No, you can't.

And in 2008 you showed them:

Yes, we can.

January the 20th 2009,

when Senator Obama

was inaugurated as President Obama

up on those steps behind me,

he arrived being hailed

as a new kind of leader

with a major international outlook,

who would change the image

of the US around the world

and lead in a more consensual way.

However, in the midterm elections

at the end of 2010,

it's domestic, not foreign issues,

which are dominating the agenda.

It could easily be said that

his election slogan could be the same

as the last Democratic President,

Bill Clinton, who said simply:

It's the economy, stupid.

And the buck stops

with the President.

We got real problems at home.

With an unemployment rate

that is over 9%,

with economic anxiety

about the loss of manufacturing,

a problem that all western countries

face, but is acute here too,

with all the recent

financial meltdowns,

with a concern about

overspending and underinvesting,

with the retirement

of the baby boomers,

upward escalatory trends

in health care cost...

Put it all together

and Americans are uneasy

about the economic times

in which they live.

I feel that we're in an area

where there's not very many jobs.

So, it's kinda like communities

helping each other.

But how could this affect

his foreign policies?

An incumbent is held accountable

for certain things.

We all know that list starts

with the economy

and then moves on to the general

state of stability in the world.

A turbulent world is not a good thing

for a president seeking re-election.

Even when presidents intend

to focus on domestic issues,

because that's

what voters care about,

because they are President of the US,

they end up

as foreign policy Presidents.

So, they can't avoid foreign policy.

President Obama has

a big foreign policy agenda.

The economy is far and away

issue number one

and that involves

foreign trade and foreign finance,

as well as domestic policy.

Exchange rates matter and trade,

because it's a fairly

simple observation

that if the currency is undervalued,

the country's goods could be cheaper

and competes more easily and

unfairly with production elsewhere,

including in one's own country.

I'm always impressed

by how even those who are

challenged by mathematics in school,

get basic things about numbers

that affect their pocketbook.

How will US voters expect

their newly elected politicians

to act in terms of foreign policy?

Can we expect foreign policy

to be immune from Washington's

highly partisan atmosphere?

There grew this myth

in thinking about US foreign policy

that politics stops at the water's edge

was always the phrase

and that somehow there was

no criticism of the President

if he was engaged

in international issues

or when he was travelling abroad.

That myth is just that, a myth.

I don't think

there ever was a golden period

of bipartisan consensus

on foreign policy,

or if there was,

we needed Hitler to create it.

It's not as if we had a sustained

period of mutual cooperation

and lack of political acrimony

since 1945.

The Republican Party has taken

control of Congress

and it can now fillibuster

in the Senate.

Will it use its new power to obstruct

some of Obama's foreign policy goals,

such as increased arms control?

There's no question they're

looking to weaken the President

and they don't want to give him any

victories, as we saw on health care.

They were trying to prevent that.

And they may decide

that they don't want him

to have this arms control victory,

but it's a bit of a dangerous game

for the Republicans to play,

to oppose everything that he's doing.

And how will it portray the 100 billion

US dollars spent in Afghanistan

while the economy at home suffers?

Even if Joe Six-Pack may not like

that 100 billion dollar a year expense,

he won't see it as the fundamental

argument about Afghanistan

and his leadership is

not going to either.

How much does Obama

have to look over his shoulder?

Is he set for a bumpy ride?

Is the country turning to the right?

The answer again lays

with the voters.

So, we have spoken to experts

and analysts in Washington DC

about how they see

the view from America,

but one thing

that is often remarked upon,

is that things seem different

from outside Washington.

So, we are heading out of the city

on the famous Route 66

to talk to some people on Main Street

America to see how they see things.

We stopped in the small town

of Marshall, Virginia,

a key state, which was

a surprise win for Obama in 2008.

We asked the town's voters

whether they saw Obama's domestic

or foreign policies

as more important to their support.

The domestic.

- And in particular, which ones?

Well, the health programme,

that is very important.

And getting the people back to work.

And even in this small town,

the diversity of opinions was clear.

Well, I'm worried about both,

because what he's done

here domestically,

the American people

are worried about that.

Also, if he can't do the right thing

now here in this country,

what's he going to do

for us internationally?

We also asked how people saw these

policies since Obama's election.

I have travelled a little bit

since his election

and certainly there was a lot of hope

in other countries where I had visited,

that he was going to come in

and make a real change.

The Congress and the Senate,

they have stuck together

and done everything he wanted to do,

not what the American people

wanted to do.

That's what the Tea Party is about.

I don't know if we're doing too much,

we are carrying a heavier load.

I think everybody needs to step up,

certainly with what is going on

in other parts of the world.

America always seems to be,

at least in my opinion,

the first to come

to the aid of other countries.

But, finally, it seems to come back

to all politics being local.

I still think that the local issues,

the domestic issues,

are going to be the ones

that are going to count.

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