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Richard Fontaine @RHFontaine
, 22 tweets, 4 min read Read on Twitter
With the midterms over and a return to divided government in January, a few thoughts on the implications for foreign policy and national security:
1. First the basics: the Pres retains extraordinary powers to manage foreign affairs, from conducting diplomacy with NKorea and trade negotiations with Japan, from requesting defense budgets and commanding military forces to setting the terms of relations with Russia and China.
2. Congress’ powers – of the purse, to authorize the use of force, to approve trade agreements and ambassadorial nominations, to impose sanctions and the like – often have an indirect effect on the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
3. But more interesting: there are several areas in which the new Democratic majority in the House will prompt shifts in Washington’s foreign policy and national security approaches.
4. An obvious candidate here is trade. The old trade politics paradigm – Dems generally opposed free trade agreements and Rs favored them – has been upended in recent years, making the outcome of new initiatives difficult to predict.
5. Pres Trump will face an early test when he seeks passage next year of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement. Democratic support for the pact (esp among members from farm states), in light of Trump’s threat to withdraw from NAFTA, is probable but uncertain.
6. The new politics dims even further the flickering possibility that the United States will anytime soon reenter TPP, and may make other deals harder. Rep. Neal, incoming Ways and Means chair, opposes a deal with the Philippines, for example, given Manila’s human rights record.
7. Expect more pressure from the Congress – esp the House but not only – to enforce Russia sanctions and perhaps add more; to condition weapons sales to Saudi on progress in ending Yemen war; and to highlight human rights abuses (eg Myanmar/Rohingya).
8. Then there are the coming House investigations. The foreign policy implications are unpredictable, but it’s almost certain that a closer look into past and present Russian meddling in U.S. democracy will be among them. This can be constructive.
9. A Democratic House would solidify the preexisting moves toward a lower defense budget. Trump announced that he’ll request a budget for the next FY that is $16 billion lower than the current level, and DOD is planning toward the target.
10. A divided Congress is far less likely than before to push the number back up, and it may even reduce it further. Rep. Adam Smith, who will chair the HASC, has publicly said that defense spending is too high.
11. If Republicans and Democrats are unable to work out a new budget deal that covers fiscal years 2020 and 2021, sequestration will kick back into effect, with predictably malign, draconian effects.
12. The increased R Senate majority has a pent-up list of noms waiting for consideration, given admin delays and stasis in Congress. Nearly two years into the Trump administration, there remains no Asst Sec of State for Asia, the Middle East, or for Democracy and Human Rights.
13. Perhaps most striking: a divided Congress is unlikely to oppose the increasingly hardline China policy. POTUS encounters pushback on most foreign policy issues – his approaches to NKorea, Iran, trade, NATO, NAmerica and more generate counterreactions. Not so on China.
14. Both Democrats and Republicans have largely welcomed a more confrontational approach to Beijing, and the business community has offered quiet support.
15. Many disagree with the President’s objectives – focusing on the trade deficit, for instance, more than unfair investment rules, the manipulation of SOEs, forced technology transfer and the theft of intellectual property – but generally concur on the need for a reckoning.
16. Add to this Beijing’s conduct in the South and East China Seas, its deteriorating human rights practices (including reeducation camps in Xinjiang), and its cyber attacks and military modernization, and concerns about China’s trajectory are high and rising.
17. Trump has a relatively free hand to remain tough on Beijing, and worries that he will cut a symbolic trade deal and relax the pressure currently exceed anxiety about the dangers of U.S.-China confrontation. The possibility of bipartisan support on China policy is strong.
18. Our foreign friends will try to read midterm tea leaves to predict 2020. But Tuesday’s vote tells us little – and perhaps nothing – about the likely outcome of the presidential election.
19. Recall that in 2010 Pres Obama lost more seats in the House than Trump did last night, and Dems lost seats in the Senate as well. The story of 2020 is not yet written, and it'll be based on economic conditions and political outcomes that cannot currently be seen.
20. Paradoxically, divided government has sometimes produced better outcomes and more deal-making than single-party rule: think Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, for example, teaming up to balance federal budgets and reform welfare.
21. We are in less productive political times these days, and so gridlock and partisan sniping is likelier than grand bargains and win-win outcomes. But unpredictability reigns as well, in foreign policy as well as domestic. So one hopes. END
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