US President Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore, [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia
While national security and foreign policy did not play a role in the November 2018 midterm Congressional election, the outcome of the election will impact U.S. President Donald Trump’s maneuverability in the arenas of foreign policy and national and homeland security.
While the power of the newly-elected, Democratic-controlled House will be substantially neutralized by the Republican-controlled Senate, the House may choose to focus on its power to investigate the President, ignoring a November 6, 2018 recommendation by a former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Ed Rendell: “Legislate, legislate, legislate; don’t investigate, investigate, investigate.”
Rendell, the former Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania and Mayor of Philadelphia, is aware that constituents expect their Representatives and Senators to focus on district and state local priorities — which require cooperation between the two Congressional Chambers and between the Legislature and the Executive — or else constituents “shall remember in November” of 2020, which is around the corner.
Rendell’s advice was backed by the November 1996 and November 2012 precedents, which paved the road to the second terms of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, dealing major blows to Republican legislators whose top priority (during the two years preceding the elections) was to paralyze the relatively-constrained Democratic administrations, rather than legislate and respond to the local needs of their own constituents.
Should the Democratic-controlled House ignore these precedents and Rendell’s advice — allowing investigation to supersede legislation — it would tax Trump’s time dedicated to critical challenges in the areas of international, national, and homeland security: Iran’s Shiite megalomaniacal ayatollahs; ISIS and other Sunni terrorist regimes; the proliferation of Islamic terrorism in the Argentina-Paraguay-Brazil tri-border area; ensuring the survival of all pro-US Arab regimes, which are threatened by the ayatollahs’ subversion and terrorism; pacifying North Korea; reducing tension and enhancing cooperation with China and Russia; restructuring NATO’s financial base; upgrading commercial and security coordination with Mexico; expanding geostrategic ties with Latin America; bolstering strategic cooperation with India, an emerging superpower, etc.
Still, national security and foreign policy may preoccupy much of Trump’s agenda as a by-product of increasing clear and present lethal threats to US national and homeland security, and as a result of a potential Congressional gridlock in the domestic legislative arena.
Following in the footsteps of Reagan (1980) and Clinton (1992), Trump is expected to reiterate the message of “Make America Great Again” in a bid to resurrect and bolster the U.S. posture of deterrence, which is a critical prerequisite for minimizing global unpredictability, instability, and violence, while clipping the wings of rogue regimes.
The bolstering of the U.S. posture of deterrence in the face of Iran’s ayatollahs and other rogue regimes is a precondition to the restoration of faith in America’s willingness to flex its muscle in general, and to do so on behalf of the pro-U.S. Arab countries in particular. The latter expressed their disenchantment with Obama’s feeble policy toward the ayatollahs by venturing closer to Russia and China.
The positive transformation of the U.S. strategic image is reflected by the November 12, 2018 statement made by the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, who praised Trump’s defiance of the ayatollahs and their Hezbollah and Houthi proxies in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, “who have perpetrated terrorism in the Middle East and Europe.”
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states are encouraged by Trump’s realization that the conventional capabilities and supreme ideology of Iran’s ayatollahs constitute a machete at the throat of every pro-U.S. Arab regime in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula. The Trump administration is aware that the ayatollahs do not aim at peaceful-coexistence with fellow Muslim countries, let alone with the “infidel” Christian, Hindu, or Jewish countries. The ayatollahs are not driven by economic gains, but by a megalomaniacal vision, which aims at dominating the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East, and beyond.
The ayatollahs’ and many other rising threats are expected to increase the U.S. defense budget, while Trump insists on fair-burden-sharing by NATO countries, demanding that NATO members appropriate at least 2% of their GDP to defense. The European members of NATO are urged to follow in the footsteps of the U.S. (which spends 3.6% of its GDP on defense — almost three times as much as the average NATO member), rather than relying on the U.S. taxpayers’ money while frequently undermining U.S. foreign and national security initiatives.
Contrary to Europe, Israel dedicates 5.2% of its GDP to defense, while extending America’s strategic and intelligence reach, functioning as the most productive battle-tested laboratory for hundreds of U.S. military systems and enhancing their competitiveness in the global market, thus contributing to U.S. research and development, export, and employment.
Trump is not expected to pursue an isolationist policy. Instead, he will persist in a unilateral — rather than multilateral — diplomatic, economic, and military policy, where U.S. national security interests supersede counter-productive and hostile interests set by international and multilateral organizations (e.g., the U.N., UNRWA, UNESCO, and the International Court of Justice). Most of these organizations are involved, directly and indirectly, in initiatives that have severely undermined global stability and U.S. national security interests.
Tackling reality head-on, Trump should be aware of the failure of all well-intentioned Arab-Israeli U.S. peace initiatives, which forced the Arabs to outflank the U.S. from the maximalist/radical side, creating additional hurdles on the very long, greasy, uphill road to peace. Moreover, they were based on the false, counter-productive principle of moral-equivalence between hate-educators and aggressors on the one hand, and the intended victim on the other hand. The track-record documents that the U.S. played a critical role in sealing — not initiating — the only two successful peace initiatives: Israel-Egypt and Israel-Jordan.
Finally, the threats to the U.S. posed by Shiite and Sunni Islamic terrorism, in addition to the unprecedented strategic cooperation between Israel and the pro-U.S. Arab countries, shed light on the Middle East reality and the reality of the Palestinian issue, which has never been a crown-jewel of Arab policy-making — neither a cause of Middle East turbulence, nor the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Would a Palestinian state enhance U.S. interests? It would certainly doom Jordan’s Hashemite regime, providing a tailwind to the stature of the Russians, Chinese, and ayatollahs in the Middle East.
Will the outcome of the November 2018 Congressional election produce more cooperation or confrontation between the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate? Will it yield more legislation or arm-wrestling with the White House? Will the 2019 divided Capitol Hill divert much of Trump’s attention away from the pressing critical national and homeland security challenges — or will a Congressional gridlock push Trump further along his foreign policy and national security agenda? The answer remains to be seen.
Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger is the director of The Ettinger Report: Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative Click here to read more of this writer’s work in The Jerusalem Herald.