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Republican win would worsen Obama's foreign policy pains

A possible Republican majority in the US Senate in the upcoming midterm elections would not only give the party full control of Congress, it could also complicate Obama’s foreign policy - with one noteworthy exception.

With an unpopular president and Republicans gaining momentum in the run-up to the US congressional elections, a conservative takeover of the Senate appears entirely possible. Analysts are divided over what a Republican victory would mean for President Barack Obama's ability to govern.

While some argue that Republicans - given their newly gained power - will be forced to finally cooperate with Obama, others think the party's conservative base will prevent that, especially in light of the 2016 presidential elections.

Republican control of Congress could have implications for

domestic policy,

such as trying to roll back

Obama's health-care reform.

But it could also make it much harder for Obama in the foreign policy arena as Congress has the so-called power of the purse and the Senate has to ratify international treaties.

DW asked two scholars to weigh in on how a Republican victory could affect five key international issues.

Fight against IS

"There will be a tougher line," said Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. Republican rhetoric would become harsher and criticism of the Obama administration's

handling of the fight against "Islamic State" militants

would increase - especially if things get worse in Syria and Iraq.

Both Bob Barker, the incoming chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee should the Republicans gain the majority and John McCain, the key figure on the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, have

long supported sending more sophisticated weapons to the Free Syrian Army

and to the moderate Syrians, said Norman Ornstein, residential scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

"But that does not mean that you are going to see a significant drumbeat from Republicans in Congress for troops in the region as they say in the clichéd boots on the ground," noted Ornstein. "That would be extraordinarily unpopular with Americans."

Atomverhandlungen mit Iran in Genf

A Republican Congress could make a deal with Iran more tricky

Nuclear deal with Iran

"This is where I think Republican control of Congress could have an effect," said Zelizer. "The Senate would obviously have to ratify any kind of treaty. And I think in general Republicans are going be leery about agreeing to any nuclear arms deal with a country they say can't be trusted."

"If the Obama administration moves for an actual deal with Iran you will have multiple hearings and the Senate foreign relations committee and the House foreign affairs committee would repeatedly bring in Secretary of State John Kerry and any of the negotiators and view any agreement through an enormously suspicious lens," said Ornstein.

Still, if Obama really gets close to a

deal that also has some bite, it

may become difficult for Republicans to block it. "But it's going to be much more of a headache and an obstacle for the president to get there even if he is actually has something in sight with the Iranians," added Ornstein.

Russia

"I think what you are going to see is a lot of Republican pressure for arming the Ukrainians and sending sophisticated arms along with significant additional pressure for more sanctions," predicts Ornstein. "And the Congressional rhetoric is going to be very harsh against the Russians."

Zelizer also expects more demands for tougher sanctions and ratcheted-up rhetoric against Putin's aggression. "But other than that there are not many options on the table that are politically viable. It's not like the Republican Congress is now somehow going to push President Obama into war with the Russians."

NSA reform

"This is an area where you could see bipartisan cooperation developing because you have a lot of Democrats who are very concerned about what they see as the abuses of the NSA and others and you have prominent Republicans like Rand Paul in the Senate joining with some of those in the House," said Ornstein.

Rand Paul

NSA critic Rand Paul could become more influential in a Republican Senate

"If Republicans are in control there might be some more interest in the Rand Paul wing to take on NSA reform," agreed Zelizer. "But then again there are limits. A lot of the Republican Party still wants to be hawkish and they understand that taking a stand on NSA reform can also be interpreted as being weak on counterterrorism."

Transatlantic relations

"I think they could deteriorate," said Zelizer. "The Republican Party in recent years has not been so supportive of transatlantic ties. They have been skeptical of many traditional European alliances. One of the things President Obama has been trying to do unsuccessfully was to improve those relations and change the image of what the US is about overseas. I would imagine if the Republicans gain the majorities in both the House and the Senate those tensions that flared under President Bush will only become worse."

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