US Foreign Policy Adrift As Trump’s Bombast Makes Enemies
US Foreign Policy Adrift As Trump’s Bombast Makes Enemies At Home And Abroad
INSIGHTS ABOUT THE NEWS - The headline-grabbing hyperbole of US President Donald Trump threatening North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen before” made US political and foreign policy experts weigh up the prospects of him unleashing America’s deadliest weaponry.
As our US correspondent reports, they give him little chance of gaining Chinese, Japanese or South Korean support – unless the North attacks the US, its Asian military bases or its allies. The possibility of nuclear fallout alone is cited as a compelling reason for their position.
But if Trump were to evoke international condemnation by pressing on toward fulfilling his threat in the absence of any North Korean provocation, there is a strong view either the Joint Chiefs of Staff would intervene to inhibit use of the nuclear option or Congress would act to refuse authority, possibly through legislation expressly to forbid it.
That there may be an appetite for the legislative route was signalled by respected Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain when he remarked recently that under the US Constitution the Congress is the second and co-equal partner of the President.
Senators and members of the House of Representatives regard this partnership as a cornerstone of American democracy. Several Washington insiders think only the objections of Republican congressional figures have stopped Trump firing his Attorney-General, former senator Jeff Sessions, for his failure to put an end to investigations of Russian meddling in the presidential elections.
There are 15 months to the next midterm Congressional elections, when the Republicans face the threat of losing their majorities in the House and the Senate. Effectively they have two choices – stay with Trump and lose control of both Houses or try to depose the President before then.
A strongly held view among Democrats is it is unlikely Republicans will be able to unify around a strategy to dump the President, with the proviso that the Grand Jury empanelled by the Special Prosecutor to look into evidence of Russian election meddling does not come up with a “smoking gun” revelation.
Views that the Republicans face an electoral bath if Trump is still in office are reinforced by statistics of past elections. They relate to 106 relatively affluent voting districts in major cities. Republican Ronald Reagan won 92 of the districts in 1984, but Trump lost 89 of them last year.
Democrats consider the predominantly white, white-collar, married suburbanites in these districts were a bastion of Republican support in the Reagan years. However, the same people’s distaste for Trump means they are likely to turn on Republican candidates at the midterm elections.
Republicans’ unhappiness about their electoral prospects resonate in the corridors of the State Department. More than 20 Assistant Secretary of State positions are unfilled. These secretaries are a vital element in the interplay between political and professional outlooks on foreign policy issues.
This is the level where policies are sanded and smoothed ready for acceptance by the Secretary of State and the President. As one insider put it, “this is where the rubber meets the road.”
The absence of so many Assistant Secretaries means there is a significant shortage of professional diplomatic input into areas where the White House has no, or little, interest. It is not considered an administrative recipe for sound decision-making, and offers a reason why the US is floundering in many areas of bilateral and multilateral dealings.
Advice for New Zealand foreign policymakers is broadly: lie low and await the outcome of the political turmoil gripping the US capital.