It used to be said that U.S. midterm elections were considered a referendum on the president's performance in office. If this is true, the country's rejection of President Barack Obama has been left clear. Decisive. Final.
Whereas Obama, not without nobility, immediately recognized this, expressing willingness to work more with the opposition. This is the Republican Party, which today clearly dominates the country's government. In the House of Representatives — the control of which was lost by Democrats in 2010 — Republicans have the most comfortable situation since 1928. In the Senate — lost for now for the Democrats, for the first time since 2006 — they have more of a voting gap than was expected. A defeat lasts, something that must be politically destructive for Obama. Like those before him that, in their moment, suffered, including Richard Nixon in 1974 and Bill Clinton in 1994.
There will be 100 women occupying benches in the new Congress. This is 18.7 percent of the total. Among them is the youngest federal lawmaker in history, 30-year-old Elise Stefanik, who triumphed in one of the New York district elections on the Canadian border.
This time the minorities didn't come in as big a number to vote, as in 2008 and 2012. It appears that the worry with regard to the uneven recovery of the economy is on everyone's minds, in addition to doubts about Obama's capacity and efficacy in the role. With all this in mind, the final image becomes more negative: It highlights a president that is undecided and dubious. This image was so negative that some Democratic candidates asked him if they could be excused from his campaigns, so as not to be infected with his toxic bad luck.
Obama will now have to procure a consensus on some relevant domestic topics in which he has a different vision than that of the opposition, such as the tax policy regarding businesses, the regulation of the energy sector, the construction of the delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which will transport Canadian crude oil to the American market, or urgently improving an obsolete national infrastructure. Therein, Obama, who has revealed his disposition to work with everyone, plays his own relevance.
History suggests that some American presidents that suddenly found themselves in positions similar to Obama’s strongly focused on the matter of exterior politics, as Ronald Reagan did. Reagan worked hand in hand with Mikhail Gorbachev during the collapse of communism. Or like Bill Clinton when, in Camp David, he diligently tried to reach an agreement for the Middle East, and nearly came close to achieving it.
There will also be important opportunities for Obama to act in external matters. The first of these has already arrived at his door. It deals with the possibility of acting in a way that will end in successful ongoing international negotiations with Iran, with respect to the Iranian nuclear threat. Preferably before the agreed-upon period for the president closes, which threatens to be next November 24.
Obama must concentrate the progress of his administration on that of his own Congress. As it happens, some Republican leaders’ negotiators have been quite patronizing; to put the pressure on, they think that it is time to increase economic sanctions on Iran, without which they suppose that they won’t be able to make the opposing party capitulate, as they hope. All this despite the fact that it could run the risk of the collapse of negotiations, and forgetting, along the way, the grand coalition, including Russia and China, that today supports Iran. Without this multilateralism, there will be no guaranteed results.
The moment to reach an agreement is, for the most part, favorable. It’s happened that the fall in the international price of crude oil hurried Iran along. Due to this external factor, Iran needs to remember, now more than ever, that by thus allowing the rise of sanctions it has conversely enormously deteriorated its own economy.
We’re talking about the American sanctions, accompanied by, additionally, the tax sanctions on Iran in parallel to the EU, Japan, South Korea, Australia and the United Arab Emirates. Without these sanctions, Iran would still be in recession and, essentially, excluded from the financial and capital markets, suffering huge shortages. Like today.
It’s also worth noting that Russia has, in a time frame of an eventual agreement with Iran, an opportunity to improve its relations with the West, which are nearly non-existent — as happened previously with the agreement with Syria regarding chemical weapons. It has been reported that Iran has given its consent to send the majority of its uranium stores, allegedly destined for its only commercial power plant, to Bushehr in Russia. This is something that would help overcome the current negotiations, since it would leave Iran with less bomb-usable uranium at its disposal.
It’s evident that it will not to be simple to end the negotiations. There are still other key points left open, such as the number of centrifuges that could continue operating, the future of the reactor that produces plutonium, the inspection mechanisms that allow countries to anticipate well in advance Iran’s military intentions regarding the use of its uranium stores, or the duration of the same agreement. It’s about an international strategy that essentially aims to increase the time Iran would have to construct a nuclear bomb, if it suddenly decided to do so. Therefore, it is to allow the international community the chance of detecting this possibility before it happens — and to confront it. Instead of prevention in hindsight, it’s about prevention with foresight.
As it happens, the possibility that Iran may produce nuclear weapons depends, in essence, on the amount of enriched uranium the country has, as well as the number and capacity of centrifuges (of the 19,000 the country already has) that can operate simultaneously to purify the uranium at a velocity that far exceeds the speed of sound, and convert it into a suitable substance that can be used for military purposes.
This time, again in Oman — where a year ago the separate parties reached the first temporary agreement that dealt with this subject — the negotiations with Iran have an opportunity to move forward and conclude later with agreements in Vienna. Obama should be careful not to become frustrated by disagreements or failed meetings between the U.S. executive and legislature.
If they manage to reach an agreement on the question of nuclear power — only after Congress pronounces the details — it will be possible to moderate the antagonism, somewhat reduce the distance that, since 1979, has existed between Iran and the United States, and concentrate on the necessary actions needed to confront a more dangerous issue and a common enemy with a degree of success: the Islamic State. And thus begin to stabilize the Middle East, damaged by the terrible rebel war between the Sunnis and Shiites that has split up Iraq and Syria.
Also, the crisis that exists for Russia since the country illegally annexed Crimea and Sebastopol could transform itself into an area of cooperation between Obama and his Congress. During his campaign, the U.S. president was criticized on this topic for his apparent weakness when confronting the events. This is why it is not impossible to be vigorously urged to adopt a strong stance that could include new economic sanctions.
Another important driving point between President Obama and his Congress is the international treaties that the United States negotiates in pursuit of free international trade, such as the transatlantic trade agreement with the European Union, or the project that is slowly advancing toward the Asian countries. Obama’s own party members, that is to say the Democratic lawmakers, weren’t able to concede to him the necessary powers to continue at a good pace and with possibilities of certain success, and allow him the “fast track.” The Republicans’ predominance in Congress can now make it possible.
For the Republican Party, included within the task that awaits them is the task of shaping a new identity, one that is modern and attractive in addition to demonstrating ability in the capacity and efficiency in management. This will be decisive at the hour of attempting — who would want to end up being their presidential candidate to beat Hillary Clinton, who again has signed up to live in the White House, transforming herself into the first woman in history to be U.S. president?
Finally, one wonders whether — as a consequence of the recent election — there will be some substantial change in the relationship between the United States and our region. Except in the cases of Mexico and of other open Pacific countries, everything will probably carry on as normal, with our subregion almost nearly off the radar. With the possible exception of Brazil, a country that — by its own weight — should move with the view of repairing its relationship with the United States, which today is distant. The general attitude can be said to be similar to that of Henry Kissinger’s latest novel about the world order, which wastes almost no ink on Latin America. Without saying anything, it is to be irrelevant.
With respect to Argentina, some Republican lawmakers know us well, and will probably be less condescending with us than the Democrats. The Republicans will avoid falling into the challenges and provocations that appear. They will keep predictably cold, until they reach the obvious changes in behavior capable of changing the situation.