Obama's midterm drubbing: the world weighs in

The Republican takeover of Congress is prompting speculation about the future of international trade negotiations, Obama's foreign policy – and even the Keystone pipeline. 

John Sommers II/Reuters
US Republican Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky waves with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and McConnell's wife, former United States Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, at McConnell's midterm election night victory rally in Louisville, Kentucky, on Tuesday.

Policymakers and business leaders from Toronto to Singapore woke up asking the same thing Wednesday morning: What does the Republican sweep in US midterm elections mean for me? 
 
Many international observers were quick to declare Tuesday's election the start of President Obama's lame-duck term, noting his unwanted distinction of having lost the most congressional seats of any president since World War II. While few weighed in immediately on what the shift might mean to Obama's foreign policy, they also pointed to several high profile trade issues – from pipelines to major trade pacts – that could gain traction in the GOP-controlled Congress.

With pro-business Republicans set to control both chambers of Congress for the first time in nearly a decade, much overseas commentary has focused on international trade.
 
The Strait Times, a Singapore-based newspaper, reports that Republicans will likely bring renewed hope to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). A recent deadlock between the US and Japan has stalled negotiations over the ambitious trade pact, which covers 12 countries and nearly 40 percent of global economic output. When completed, the agreement is expected to eliminate tariffs on goods and services and better coordinate trade regulations between countries in the region.

While Republican control of Congress does not mean the TPP is a done deal, reports the Japan Times, it could have a significant effect on the negotiations.

One of the keys to a breakthrough between the U.S. and Japan on the TPP is whether or not the Republican Congress will grant the Democratic president trade promotion authority (TPA). This would allow Obama to negotiate the TPP without congressional debate on the final agreement. Other nations, especially Japan, are reluctant to cut trade deals unless they know Obama has the authority to get it passed in Congress.

In Canada, the Toronto Star speculates that the Republican sweep might have "created the winning conditions" for the construction of the contentious Keystone XL pipeline
 
"Good news for Canadian jobs & economy," tweeted Jason Kenney, Canada's minister of Employment, Social Development, and Multiculturalism. "It looks like the new US Senate will have the 60+ votes needed to ensure that Keystone XL is approved."
 
Outside of global business circles, international reaction to the midterm election results has varied more widely. Some experts predict that Obama will shift his focus to foreign policy amid diminished chances of reaching agreements with Republicans on domestic issues.
 
Andrew Hammond, an associate at LSE Ideas, a London-based think tank, said Obama could still secure significant achievements in foreign policy  "to consolidate his presidential legacy."
 
"On the defence and security fronts, this includes the prospect of a significant depletion of so-called Islamic State's territorial foothold and capabilities in Iraq and Syria," Mr. Hammond wrote in a column published in the Independent, a British newspaper.
 
But others argue that the midterm defeat could embolden US rivals to push the limits of American power. In Asia, China's mounting assertiveness in the South China Sea is a key concern for the White House, which has worked to reassure allies such as Japan and the Philippines, as well as others.
 
"Obama has become the incredible shrinking president," Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University's campus in Tokyo, told The Washington Post. "He's very much weakened by the midterm results, and that's going to diminish him in his foreign policy."
 
The crisis in Ukraine, meanwhile, likely informed the Russian reaction to the midterm results. Relations between Washington and Moscow have plummeted to their lowest level since the cold war, and lawmakers were quick to call the Democratic defeat just another example of Obama's weakness. Aside from Ukraine, Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have also disagreed on how to address the civil war in Syria.

"I believe this 'democratic failure' is a personal defeat of Obama, the result of his very low ratings, a sharp deterioration of his image, as he has evolved from the president of hope to the president of disappointment," Alexey Pushkov, who heads the foreign affair committee in Russia's lower house of parliament, told Russian state news agency TASS.

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