The Great Midterm Foreign Policy Comeback

WASHINGTON -- Scott Brown did an unusual thing for a midterm congressional candidate in his quest to unseat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), something more characteristic of senators feeling out support for a presidential run: On Sept. 24, before the New Hampshire Institute of Politics in Manchester, Brown delivered a major foreign policy address.

It wouldn't be the only time that the former Massachusetts senator spotlighted foreign policy during this aggressive campaign, including a townhall on the topic with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

"A record of near-complete conformity with the president covers just about every issue of national security and defense. So if we’ve seen some bad calls at the White House, it’s a very safe bet that our senior senator has been right in line with that failed program," Brown said.

"It’s been nearly six years of confusion, uncertainty, and withdrawal in American foreign policy. For Senator Shaheen, it’s been nearly six years of just going along, with no questions for the president about his decisions – at least none that anybody remembers … no expressions of disagreement … not a single sign of independent thinking."

Brown has had plenty of current events fodder to satisfy his strategy of making this state race national, including ISIS, Ebola, Ukraine, the Middle East and terrorism in North Africa.

"[Shaheen] has insisted that the group, Boko Haram, operating in and around Nigeria, is not really an Islamic terrorist group. But let’s not be confused on this: These are the jihadist killers who kidnapped over 200 girls last spring," Brown said. "They’ve been at it a while, and back in 2012 I introduced a bill instructing then Secretary of State Clinton to designate Boko Haram as the terrorist organization that it is. The bill went to Senator Shaheen’s committee, the Foreign Relations Committee – where, once again, they did exactly nothing."

A Gallup poll at the end of September found 57 percent of Tea Party Republicans surveyed calling the "situation with Islamic militants" in Iraq and Syria "extremely important," with 51 percent of other Republicans feeling the same and 34 percent of non-Republicans ranking the issue at the top.

For all three groups, that exceeded numbers for the federal budget deficit, Obamacare, immigration, abortion and climate change. Foreign affairs in general scored an impressive 40 percent among Tea Partiers, 34 percent among the rest of the GOP and 25 percent with non-Republicans.

Exit polls released after the 2012 presidential election found around 4-5 percent of voters citing foreign policy as their top issue at the ballot box.

To compare apples to apples, on Oct. 24, 2010, while the online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill, I wrote about how international affairs were very much an afterthought in the Tea Party-driven midterm.

Back then? "Just 3 percent rated the war to be a crucial issue facing the country. Sixty percent, meanwhile, picked the economy and jobs as the most pressing issues. A Pew survey earlier this month had 43 percent of respondents following stories about the economy closely, while just 18 percent closely followed the al-Qaeda terror threat in Europe, and 11 percent followed the Mideast peace talks."

One of the "unifying themes of Tea Party candidates," I wrote back then, "has been a desire to pull back from the United Nations even if members of the movement disagree widely on U.S. interventionism policies around the world."

That Congress would have a lot on its plate. "What would be the next step against Iran and its nuclear program, for instance, after sanctions and last-ditch administration diplomatic efforts fail and tensions with Tehran keep increasing? What will come in terms of North Korea's nuclear drive as young Kim Jong-un, infamous dictator Kim Jong-il's youngest son, who was reportedly picked to succeed his ailing dad because he's 'exactly like his father,' takes the reins? With Obama's first push at peace between Israel and the Palestinians teetering on the edge of collapse, how will the new Congress advocate for a brokered solution? Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have pressed Obama to be fair toward Israel in negotiations, and more Republicans in Congress will only increase that pressure on the president."

Those were questions I asked four years ago, and since then some answers have been revealed. Solutions, though, have been elusive as each of those issues has only gotten stickier.

President Obama is reportedly planning to dance around Congress, with a big bipartisan majority skeptical of the P5+1 negotiations, to ink a final nuclear deal with Iran. The deadline is just three weeks away.