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Trump’s Foreign Policy After the Midterms

The midterm results will have some practical effects on Trump's foreign policy.
President Donald Trump poses for photos with ceremonial swordsmen on his arrival to Murabba Palace, as the guest of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, Saturday evening, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Dan Drezner considers how Trump’s reaction to the loss of Republican control of the House may tell us something about how he will conduct foreign policy over the next two years:

What does any of this have to do with American foreign policy? Trump’s response to the midterms highlights two important pathologies in his decision-making calculus. First, he simply has no ability to process or respond to negative feedback. He simply chooses to ignore it if at all possible. Second, his perception of the actual strength of his bargaining position is usually wide of the mark.

Those observations line up with what we have seen from Trump before the midterms. Trump has famously made a habit of dismissing any information that doesn’t please or flatter him as “fake news” and he thinks that he can use pressure tactics to compel other governments to capitulate without offering anything in return. That makes him oblivious to the problems with and negative consequences of his own policies, and it ensures that the governments he is trying to force into making concessions will refuse to cooperate. North Korea has made it clear that unless the U.S. is prepared to offer some sanctions relief the negotiations aren’t going anywhere. Iran refuses to negotiate with the U.S. under duress and won’t consider negotiating unless the U.S. changes course and rejoins the JCPOA. The pathologies that Drezner identifies in Trump are more broadly shared among the hard-liners in and around his administration.

The midterm results will have some practical effects on Trump’s foreign policy. As I suggested last night, House Democrats could shut down U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen. Among the other things that the Foreign Affairs Committee will be investigating, they could also closely scrutinize the administration’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and the UAE and the reasons for Trump’s exceptional coziness with those client states. Trump hasn’t had to worry about resistance and scrutiny from Congress for the last two years, but now he and his Cabinet officials will have to take that into account. That won’t cause major reversals of policy, but it will put some constraints on the administration.

A more worrisome effect that the midterms may have is that the loss of the House will cause Trump to focus even more on foreign policy, and that could take the form of escalating current wars or starting some new reckless intervention. It might also lead him to launch new trade wars. When presidents have suffered political setbacks at home, there is a temptation for them to try to make their “mark” abroad. Trump is surrounded by hawkish advisers and Cabinet members that are likely to encourage Trump to do just that.



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