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What do the elections mean for American Foreign Policy?

November 7, 2018

Eliot Cohen, Vice Dean for Education and Academic Affairs & Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies
Eric Edelman, Roger Hertog Distinguished Practitioner-in-Residence at the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies
Sarah Sewall, Speyer Family Foundation Distinguished Scholar and Professor, Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs
Charles Stevenson, Acting Associate Director of the American Foreign Policy Program
Moderated by Daniel Serwer, Academic Director of Conflict Management & American Foreign Policy

Experts from Johns Hopkins SAIS joined a discussion to offer insight on the impact of the U.S. 2018 midterm elections on American foreign policy.

Charles Stevenson began by pointing out what he believed were the two big winners in this election, the Republicans in the red states winning more Senate seats and Democrats in suburban areas winning many House seats. Stevenson predicted that the biggest challenge in the 116th Congress will be on domestic, rather than foreign policy issues, as there is a broad consensus across the aisle on being tough on Russia, North Korea, and China, and being supportive to Israel and NATO. However, the two parties have divergence on Iran and the defense budget, he noted.

Sarah Sewall believed the new House could make a difference to the rest of the world. Given that the Trump administration has already damaged the relationship between the U.S. and its allies, she said one good sign of the election is that it delivered a message that the White House’s current approach is not necessarily the way forward and the election put a “brake and freeze” on the “freefall” of America’s commitment to the world leadership, its support for the free trade system, for alliances, and multilateralism.

Eric Edelman saw the election results as proof of the deep division of the nation, citing a sectional difference (which had not emerged since the Civil War) in which the Republicans dominate rural areas while the Democrats win urban and suburban votes. He also reminded the audience not to underestimate the chance of reelection for President Trump, whom he believed to be an adaptive and effective campaigner.

Eliot Cohen said one consequence of the election is that it would become more difficult to implement coherent foreign policies now that each party holds one chamber of Congress. However, he noted that division in the country may be less than people think it is, citing the fact that some red states such as Michigan elected a Democratic governor or that a Republican governor got elected in Massachusetts, traditionally a liberal state favoring Democrats.

Questions from the audiences ranged from how to talk to people with completely different beliefs on foreign policy issues, how to interpret partisan analysis of election results, and whether the voice of progressives will be heard more in the new House of Representatives.