POLITICAL SCIENTISTS ABOUT this time in the election cycle normally mutter about all politics being local. Chad for them is a ballot nuisance before it is a Muslim country in Africa. For the 2002 elections they find themselves in uncertain terrain. For one thing, does terrorism now qualify as a local issue? Some polls suggest it does, with 60 percent of voters listing national securityÐ related issues as their top concern.
That's one reason Congress handed President George Bush a resolution favoring use of force against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But the resolution was also a way for lawmakers to put the business of war behind them and get out of town. Once Congress recessed, most reverted to campaign issues that are perennial vote-getters.
Still, the outcome on Nov. 5 will send important signals about U.S. foreign policy over the next two years. A shift of only one seat in the Senate could throw Republicans-with Vice President Dick Cheney acting as tie-breaker-back into the majority, giving them control of committee chairs. With Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) out as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, and ranking Republican Jesse Helms retiring, the likely successor to the post would be Indiana Senator Richard Lugar (who is not up for reelection this year).
By contrast to Mr. Helms's outspoken conservatism, Mr. Lugar is a pragmatist-a hydrant to the well-known Helms fire. Mr. Lugar joined Mr. Biden in drafting a watered-down resolution on Iraq. He voted against Mr. Helms and other conservatives to ratify the Chemical Weapons Treaty. He voted against military action on Kosovo. On trade he wrote his own legislation to overturn economic sanctions on regimes like Cuba, North Korea, and Libya-a bill that would have handcuffed the United States when it comes to penalizing rogue states. Several Republican committee staff members, anticipating a tougher row to hoe for conservatives after the Helms term ends, have moved to jobs within the Bush administration.
If Democrats hold onto the Senate, expect their agenda to shift course. Mr. Biden will press to hold hearings on something called CEDAW, or the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. CEDAW is a controversial UN treaty that requires signatory countries to be graded on their progress in purportedly strengthening women's rights. Secretary of State Colin Powell formally asked Mr. Biden to postpone hearings on the grounds that CEDAW would promote abortion and supersede U.S. laws. Already the CEDAW committee has protested Ireland's laws against abortion and complained about the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in setting public policy.
Mr. Biden, a pro-abortion Catholic, is also likely to give ground to a campaign to overturn the president's freeze on funds to the UN's population control program. Mr. Bush suspended this year's appropriation to UNFPA after it was linked to China's one-child policy.
Existing bans on funding those groups that promote abortion overseas also are likely to be challenged once elections are over. If Democrats pick up even a handful of seats in the House, pro-life representatives will have a harder time keeping the restrictions in place.
In addition to family planning, Republicans have taken the lead on religious freedom issues. To continue to do so, in this case, is likely to lead to conflict with the Bush administration. It wants stable relations with countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Indonesia at a time when Christians and other religious minorities in those places face harsh treatment.
Despite State Department moves to improve relations with the Islamic regime in Sudan, lawmakers passed (and the president signed on Oct. 21) the Sudan Peace Act, which requires the executive branch to report to Congress on Khartoum's progress toward ending its war on south Sudanese Christians. Without pressure from Capitol Hill, the State Department will push for negotiations with the Khartoum jihadists who once sheltered Osama bin Laden.
In the last midterm elections in 1998, both Republicans and Democrats made campaign fodder of a 445-page independent counsel report on then-President Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. But at the same time, the Republican Congress buried a plan by the CIA to renew covert action against Iraq. It also let stand a flawed agreement on nuclear weapons with North Korea despite the findings of a House panel that Kim Jong-Il was increasing both nuclear weapons and missile-delivery capacity.
Wise lawmakers will not want to ignore such national security threats this year-and will not allow them to return with the seven-fold force of demons coming back to a recently swept house.