Foreign policy snafus
Certainly President Donald Trump deserves some criticism of his conduct of foreign policy. Bombast and hyperbole are not recommended as a means of communicating with foreign powers, particularly the North Koreans. When it comes to overstatement, they have no peers and give the misleading impression that they have a hair-trigger. Trump constantly has to be balanced by his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. But as heavy-handed or -thumbed the president appears to be, he is not alone.
Congress, led by Hawks, Democrats and Republicans, gives off confusing signals. For instance, the sanctions on Russia for its interference in the U.S. election. Trump denounced the bill, although he signed it, as “seriously flawed” and possibly “unconstitutional.” He may have a point, given that other Congressional initiatives, such as the War Powers Act of 1973, have been eroded. In the 1950s, when Republicans attempted to curb presidential prerogatives to negotiate treaties, they had to put it in a constitutional amendment — the so-called Bricker amendment. It did not pass.
The fact that the bar was extraordinarily high to alter the power of the executive branch to conduct foreign policy that it required a constitutional mandate speaks volumes about presidential power in foreign affairs. But the Congress is determined to place Trump in a straightjacket when it comes to orchestrating a shift away from a stultifying Cold War approach to a 21st Century reality-based policy. Moreover, the Russia investigation desires to essentially criminalize any deviation from the National Security state. Put crudely, it desires to lock in American supremacy with few alterations.
That other nations might object does not appear to be a consideration. Germany and many European Union members see the sanctions as a means to muscle in on their energy markets.
Of course, this drew little attention in the United States since we regard Europe as apart from our sphere of influence and anything our allies might feel is of no consequence. If anything, it was Congress and not Trump that was being bellicose.
With Syria, the Congress, particularly Democrats, desired a conflict to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. Smartly, President Barack Obama did not accede to these demands.
But the problem with Trump is that he is not smooth. He makes no addresses to the American people explaining why he sees a re-altered foreign policy as a paramount priority.
He has an argument, and a good one, that the Americans need to cooperate with existing powers rather than trying to undermine those governments. Richard Nixon tried to do so and was undermined during the Watergate affairs.
As with Watergate, foreign policy was at the bottom of all things. Nixon’s approach was considered far too conciliatory to the USSR and PRC.
For all the criticism of Trump for having an obsession to win, Congress is not far behind. War or peace may, in fact, lay with Congress and not the White House.