The United States held elections last night, and nothing changed. Barack Obama remains president. The Democrats remain in control of the Senate with a non-filibuster-proof majority. The Republicans remain in control of the House of Representatives.
The national political dynamic has resulted in an extended immobilization of the government. With the House -- a body where party discipline is the norm -- under Republican control, passing legislation will be difficult and require compromise. Since the Senate is in Democratic hands, the probability of it overriding any unilateral administrative actions is small. Nevertheless, Obama does not have enough congressional support for dramatic new initiatives, and getting appointments through the Senate that Republicans oppose will be difficult.
There is a quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson: "That government is best which governs the least because its people discipline themselves." I am not sure that the current political climate is what was meant by the people disciplining themselves, but it is clear that the people have imposed profound limits on this government. Its ability to continue what is already being done has not been curbed, but its ability to do much that is new has been blocked.
The gridlock sets the stage for a shift in foreign policy that has been under way since the U.S.-led intervention in Libya in 2011. I have argued that presidents do not make strategies but that those strategies are imposed on them by reality. Nevertheless, it is always helpful when the subjective wishes of a president and necessity coincide, even if the intent is not the same.
In previous articles and books, I have made the case that the United States emerged as the only global power in 1991, when the Soviet Union fell. It emerged unprepared for its role and uncertain about how to execute it. The exercise of power requires skill and experience, and the United States had no plan for how to operate in a world where it was not faced with a rival. It had global interests but no global strategy.
This period began in 1991 and is now in the process of ending. The first phase consisted of a happy but illusory period in which it was believed that there were no serious threats to the United States. This was replaced on 9/11 with a phase of urgent reaction, followed by the belief that the only interest the United States had was prosecuting a war against radical Islamists.