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Matthew Hoh Headshot

The Midterms and the Role of Domestic Politics in Foreign Policy

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By the time this is posted the polls for America's 2010 midterm elections will have closed. This year's midterm elections bore many similarities to our nation's last midterm in 2006: record levels of campaign spending, anger and disappointment at the president translated into popular sentiment against the governing party (and incumbents in general), conversation and debate between campaigns possessing the maturity and intellectual rigor of kids yelling at each other on the playground, etc. However, the lack of debate on the war in Afghanistan, something 6 of 10 Americans think is now a lost cause and something that is scheduled for review by a divided and conflicted Administration, is striking. All the more striking as the war in Iraq was a significant reason, if not the reason, for many voters to push the Democrats into control of Congress in 2006.

The Democrats' win in 2006 provided the political incentive and energy to force President Bush to adjust US strategy in Iraq. This included the resignation of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and the adoption of recommendations from the Iraq Study Group, which included a focused troop surge for a limited duration (18 months, the same length of time as the President ordered last December for the surge in Afghanistan), and the acceptance of the necessity for a road map to transition to Iraqi control and US departure within a given time frame. I have little doubt, in reality close to none, that had the 2006 midterm campaign (starting in earnest in the fall of 2005) have not had such a focus on Iraq and had the US voters not handed President Bush's party a decisive loss in 2006, four years later we would still have American troops engaged in combat in the Euphrates and Tigris River Valleys of Iraq.

Of course, there are many factors why less than 1 in 10 Americans identified Afghanistan as being of primary concern in this year's elections. Contrast the very real and personal effects of a depressed American economy to a war waged by a continually deployed professional military force that only 10 million Americans have any personal connection to, or contrast the circumstances for our initial involvement in Afghanistan as opposed to the false and unproven premises for our invasion of Iraq and I think you understand some of the reasons why voters were angry in 2006 and disinterested in 2010.

I've been told to expect both increased media and congressional attention to Afghanistan in the months ahead, particularly during next month's White House review and in the springtime as we near President Obama's supposed July 2011 date to transition to Afghan responsibility for the war and to begin a withdrawal of US forces. However, and unless the exit polling proves me wrong, a significant portion of voters will have voted today without taking into consideration the 100,000 US troops fighting in Afghanistan, including the thousands that have been killed and wounded this year, or the $119 billion the US is planning to spend in FY 2011 in Afghanistan, a country with a GDP of $14 billion. The unfortunate reality is that neither our troops or our money in Afghanistan seriously effect al-Qaeda, the stated reason behind our continued involvement in Afghanistan and whose most recent attack consisted of a lady Fed-Exing two bombs hidden in printer cartridges from Yemen, and that this fact was not a important part of this year's public debate and referendum. So, if the exit polls show in the next day or two that apathy among voters towards the war in Afghanistan held true, don't expect the Administration to feel much compulsion to change a failed strategy as President Bush was forced to do in 2006.