Remember the vacant pivot to Asia that was to accompany Barack Obama’s movement away from conflicts throughout Mesopotamia? His partisan supporters touted him a America’s first Asian president. Having absolved the US of its sins abroad, however, team Obama never felt obliged actually to fortify US posture throughout an emerging Indo-Pacific region.
Instead, it fell to his successor to craft a policy aimed at answering Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea, sailing US Navy ships through the Taiwan Strait in defiance of Beijing, while corralling smaller Asian nations throughout the southern Chinese littoral that remain historically hostile to Chinese geopolitical ambitions.
Team Trump had to manage peeling Manila away from Beijing while servicing the US Seventh Fleet in Yokosuka, Japan; the opening of Vietnam to US diplomatic entreaties as well as to the Japanese navy embodied fears that have long been dormant in Beijing about US regional intentions. All of this happened while managing nuclear deterrence with Pyongyang.
All of this hangs in the balance with the midterm massacre that in effect gave the lower chamber of the US Congress to President Donald Trump’s political enemies. The impact of this loss will be felt abroad, because the Democratic Party seeks a weak Defense Department. Someone has to fund America’s broken unfunded entitlements; progressives are about to discover how expensive defense really is.
The Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives’ Armed Services Committee has already revealed the tenor and direction of the opposition. It openly seeks a more robust oversight agenda, one that in effect closes down US policy in Yemen, secret operations throughout Africa and numerous overseas contingency operations that mask “the long war against terror.”
We should anticipate profound acrimony as congressional oversight becomes deeply politicized. It means that the US republic takes on the tenor of parliaments: deeply antagonistic, personal and dysfunctional. Watch as the Pentagon and the president get pulled into pitched battles with members of Congress as the Pentagon seeks to sustain minimum procurement requirements articulated in the National Defense Strategy document.
Regarding Yemen, the US has backed Saudi Arabia’s defense posture because the kingdom has absolutely no defense industrial base nor does it possess a strong social base among its subjects from which to counter Iranian policy of encirclement. Adam Smith, the Democrats’ ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, has publicly released its incoming policy objective of abandoning Saudi Arabia into the hands of Iran.
As for Niger and the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), Defense News reported on a defense conference held on September 5 to the effect that congressional Democrats seek to shut down all secret operations in Africa.
Finally, President Trump has sought to strengthen US nuclear deterrence by openly calling for the procurement of limited tactical nuclear weapons. With a divided Congress, the Nuclear Posture Review and its qualified recommendations are over. We should expect identical outcomes regarding the US pullout of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and space.
All said, policy architecture will grind to a halt as Trump’s cabinet leadership remains subject to immediate dismissal. Having to nominate and secure leadership positions in a deeply contested US Senate chamber will jeopardize any gains the US has procured throughout the Indo-Pacific region. We expect the confirmation of the rumored resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis. All of these momentous policy and personnel changes will have profound consequences abroad. Remember Ronald Reagan’s contentious late second term; it nearly obliterated his ability to govern.
Reagan’s ambassador to the United Nations and national security adviser Jeanne Kirkpatrick survived a personal shoving match with Reagan’s attorney general Ed Meese over the constitutionality of amendments that fundamentally denigrated the power of the presidency regarding foreign affairs.
The American founders knew history. They understood why every republic in history had failed. They failed because political leadership openly sought to criminalize political differences.
The socio-political background of acrimony has begun. Reagan barely survived it. Will Trump?