Where Congress Will Push Prez Overseas

The impending historic shift in power on Capitol Hill, especially in the House, guarantees challenges not only to President Obama's domestic policies, but on national-security matters, too.

The re-invigorated Republicans will conduct rigorous oversight through public hearings (with administration witnesses), staff briefings and document requests that will only add to Obama's throbbing election hangover.

Here are some foreign-policy and defense matters you can expect the Republicans to put Team Obama on the hook for:

Iran: There hasn't been much -- OK, any -- progress on stopping the runaway train that is Iran's nuclear (weapons) program. Members will want to know whether -- and how -- the administration plans to prevent the mullahs from getting the bomb and protect us from Iran's ballistic missiles, especially an ICBM due out in 2015.

Missile Defense: Iran's progress heightens concerns about a missile shield -- especially Obama's canceling of the Bush-era Third Site in Poland and the Czech Republic, aimed at Iran. Conservatives will likely dig in hard on Obama's new approach, which may not be sufficient to meet the growing threat from Tehran, Pyongyang -- or others.

Russia: At least some Republicans will take aim at the White House's Kremlin policy, seeing it as way too soft on Russian behavior. For example, Russia built -- and fueled -- Iran's first nuclear reactor; it's now promising the same for Venezuela. It still has troops occupying parts of Georgia and sold billions in arms to both Syria and Venezuela despite the administration's repeated mashing of the "re-set" button.

New START: Obama needs two-thirds of the Senate to ratify the US-Russia Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which conservatives are concerned will have an adverse effect on missile defense, the Prompt Global Strike system (ICBMs with conventional warheads) and the counting of Russian rail-mobile missiles.

Afghanistan/Iraq: The arbitrary Afghan withdrawal date Obama imposed for next year strikes many as a blatantly counterintuitive way to get a tough enemy to submit. On Iraq, the GOP will want to know what kind of ties Washington will have with Baghdad, how much influence Tehran will wield and under what conditions the 50,000 US troops will leave the country.

Terror: The new Congress will inquire into Obama's plans for dealing with Yemen, a growing source of terror plots (including the recent air-cargo caper), and Pakistan, a hotbed of extremism that's also crucial to Afghanistan's future.

Defense Budget: The new powers-that-be will ask whether we have the forces needed to achieve "national objectives" -- especially beyond the War on Terror. What's our ability to fight a major conventional war? To support regional allies? How badly are our nuclear forces atrophying?

China: Beijing is engaged in a huge military build-up that may come to challenge US superiority in the Pacific. There are also concerns about the trade deficit, barriers to US firms doing business there and the value of China's currency.

Gitmo: The Republicans will want to know what Obama plans to do with the detention facility that he promised he'd close two years ago. Moving it to America and holding trials in New York City isn't the answer they want to hear -- but the administration hasn't come up with any other detailed plans.

Diplomacy: Obama's hand on the tiller of the ship of state has been shaky, fraying ties with US allies and friends such as Israel, Colombia, Poland and even the United Kingdom. Expect more pointed questions about the "kid-glove" approach to the likes of Iran and Venezuela.

Trade: Most Republicans are unhappy Obama hasn't moved on a number of free trade agreements -- such as the ones with South Korea, Colombia and Panama -- that might help boost our economy; they'll be expecting plans and progress on getting them implemented.

Foreign and defense policy wasn't front and center in the recent campaign, but it's still on people's mind, especially with brave US troops deployed overseas and the world growing more dangerous. Obama needs to answer for a lot here -- and the Republicans will rightfully be asking.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in The New York Post