An empty speaker's lectern outside the U.S. Capitol, Washington, October 2013.
Jonathan Ernst / REUTERS

As soon as Democrats captured the House of Representatives last week, the incoming committee chairs began promising vigorous oversight of the Trump administration. They plan to hold hearings, investigate wrongdoing, and propose new legislation. Foreign policy experts welcomed the chance to reverse congressional neglect of international affairs as the leading Democrats on the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Intelligence Committees vowed greater scrutiny of national security. 

Yet the reality is likely to fall short of the hype. Over the last few decades, political and institutional barriers have sprung up that could block any serious review of foreign policy and defense decisions. Despite a daunting array of problems around the world, the 2018 elections turned on domestic issues and disapproval of President Donald Trump. International relations barely registered as a problem in opinion polls, a fact that may diminish enthusiasm for major inquiries. Moreover, the House defense and foreign policy committees

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  • LINDA L. FOWLER is Professor of Government and Frank J. Reagan Chair in Policy Studies, Emerita, at Dartmouth College. She is the author of Watchdogs on the Hill: The Decline of Congressional Oversight of U.S. Foreign Relations.
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