How Will the 2018 Elections Impact US National Security Policy?
While national security and foreign policy did not play a role in the November 2018 Congressional elections, the outcome of that election will impact President Trump’s maneuverability in the arenas of foreign policy, and national and homeland security.
While the power of a 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 this November 6, 2018 recommendation by former Democratic National Committee Chairman Ed Rendell: “legislate, legislate, legislate; don’t investigate, investigate, investigate.”
Wendell, the former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania and mayor of Philadelphia, is aware that constituents expect their representatives to focus on district and state priorities, which require cooperation between the two Congressional chambers and the Executive Branch. Rendell’s advice is wise, based on the November 1996 and November 2012 models, which paved the road to Presidents Clinton and Obama’s second terms, dealing major blows to Republican legislators, whose top priority (during the two years preceding those presidential elections) was to paralyze the relatively-constrained Democratic administrations, rather than legislate and respond to the local needs of their constituents.
Should the Democratic-controlled House ignore these precedents and Governor Rendell’s advice — allowing investigation to supersede legislation — it would limit President Trump’s time to deal with critical challenges in the areas of international, national, and homeland security, such as: Iran’s Shite 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 pro-US Arab regimes 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 geo-strategic ties with Latin America, bolstering strategic cooperation with India, and so on.
Following in the footsteps of President Reagan and President Clinton, President Trump is expected to resurrect and bolster the US posture of deterrence, which is a critical prerequisite to minimize global unpredictability, instability, and violence, while clipping the wings of rogue regimes.
The bolstering of the US posture of deterrence — in the face of Iran’s ayatollahs and other rogue regimes — is a precondition to the restoration of faith in the US’s willingness to flex its muscle in general and on behalf of pro-US Arab countries in particular.
The positive transformation of the US strategic image in the Arab world is reflected by the November 12 statement by the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, who praised Trump’s defiance of Iran’s leaders and their Hezbollah and Houthi proxies in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.
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-US 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.
Trump is expected to increase the US defense budget, and insists on fair burden-sharing by NATO countries, demanding that NATO members allocate at least two percent of their GDP to defense. The European members of NATO are urged to follow in the footsteps of the US — which spends 3.6 percent of its GDP, almost three times as much as the average NATO member, on defense — rather than relying on the US taxpayers’ money while (frequently) undermining US foreign and national security initiatives.
President Trump is expected to persist in a unilateral rather than multilateral diplomatic, economic, and military policy, where US national security interests supersede counter-productive and hostile interests set by international and multilateral organizations — e.g., the UN, UNRWA, UNESCO, the International Court of Justice. Most of these organizations are involved, directly and indirectly, in initiatives that have severely undermined global stability and US national security interests.
Tackling reality head-on, President Trump should be aware of the failure of all well-intentioned US Middle East peace initiatives, which forced the Arabs to outflank the US 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.
Finally, the threats to the US posed by Shiite and Sunni Islamic terrorism, in addition to the unprecedented strategic cooperation between Israel and the pro-US 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. Would a Palestinian state enhance US interests? It would certainly doom Jordan’s Hashemite regime, providing a tailwind to Russian, Chinese, and Iranian stature 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 a divided Capitol Hill divert much of President Trump’s attention away from the pressing critical national and homeland security challenges, or will a Congressional gridlock push Trump further toward his foreign policy and national security agenda? This all remains to be seen.
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative.