1) Congress doesn't have too much sway over foreign policy. Sure, things like foreign aid and treaty ratification rely on the legislature, and the election results will affect those dimensions of foreign policy. But think back to 1994 and 2006, in which both houses of Congress turned over to the opposition party. Was there any real change in U.S. foreign and security policy? The Clinton administration was still able to send troops to Bosnia, and the Bush administration was able to launch its "surge" strategy.
Foreign economic policy might be an exception. After both of those elections, the president found it harder to get trade deals through Congress. Given that this president hasn't been all that keen about trade anyway, I don't think the midterms will matter all that much -- though the South Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) might finally be put to a vote with the hope of securing GOP support.
2) In a sour economy, presidents don't get much of a bump for foreign policy successes. The best foreign-policy president of the past four decades was George H.W. Bush. How many terms did he serve?But it's not a yawn for Gideon Rachman over at the Financial Times, who notes how Obama thought he was changing things--and how it may turn out to have been just an idle fancy:
[A] nasty thought is occurring to the foreigners who invested so much hope in the new president. Perhaps Mr Obama represented not a new beginning in American relations with the rest of the world, but a temporary aberration? Maybe, after a brief stab at internationalism and engagement with the rest of the world, the US will revert to a more unilateralist and nationalist foreign policy?
[T]the difficulties that Mr Obama has encountered in foreign affairs also matter. Back in 2008, the polls suggested that his promise to improve America’s standing in the world swayed many voters. But now Mr Obama is being portrayed as a man who has failed to deliver – abroad as well as at home. On the contrary, his opponents claim, the president has specialised in grovelling to foreigners, snubbing allies, frittering away American prestige and pursuing chimerical peace initiatives.
Most of that critique is unfair. And yet what is true is that Mr Obama’s stress on a foreign policy of engagement and “reaching out” has delivered fairly meagre results....
The personality and beliefs of the commander-in-chief still matter in foreign policy – as the world may rediscover, if Mr Obama loses power to a Republican in 2012.
[O]ne belief that seems to unite most American conservatives is a belief in America’s exceptional virtue and unique role in the world. Mr Obama’s “on the one hand, on the other” answer to a question about whether he believed in “American exceptionalism” (posed to him by the Financial Times’ Edward Luce, some 18 months ago) is still remembered and regularly denounced by Republicans. Ms Palin recently took to Facebook to bemoan the fact that: “We have a president, perhaps for the very first time since the founding of our republic, who doesn’t appear to believe that America is the greatest earthly force for good the world has ever seen.”
The problem with a foreign policy grounded in a belief that America is uniquely powerful and virtuous is that it assumes that the rules that apply to other nations do not apply to the US as well. ...That, in turn, risks leading to an unstable foreign policy that is aggressive, self-righteous and self-pitying in equal measures.
Mr Obama has clearly not been able to deliver on all the exaggerated hopes that he deliberately encouraged back in 2008. But the world may miss him, when he is gone.