There are still a few races to be decided, but the overall results of the 2018 midterms are clear. The hoped-for “blue wave” turned out to be a blue trickle, but Donald Trump’s era of completely unfettered action is over. Voter suppression and gerrymandering stack the deck in favor of Republicans, yet there was enough disgust with Trump and congressional Republicans to swing about 30 seats in the House of Representatives to the Democrats. Republicans still gained at least two—probably three—seats in the Senate, despite the fact that Democrats got nearly 13 million more votes in the Senate races. That’s not a great indicator for the state of democracy in the United States.
It wasn’t the rebuke of Trump’s behavior and policies that some hoped for, but given the ongoing strength of the U.S. economy, the Republican losses still mean something. Democratic control of the House creates a check on Trump’s worst excesses, at least domestically.
In foreign policy, the gains will be more meager and harder to gauge. Congress still holds considerably more power over domestic affairs than foreign, and that is even more true for the opposition party in a divided Congress. Read more at LobeLog
Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump wanted to change US policy toward both Israel-Palestine and Iran. When Obama arrived in the Oval Office, he brought an ambitious foreign policy plan with him. He wanted to diminish the heavy U.S. footprint in the Middle East, “pivot toward Asia,” and rebuild the confidence in the United States as a sober actor on the world stage that George W. Bush had undermined with his calamitous invasion of Iraq.
At the beginning of his first term—after he made his initial speech indicating a willingness to improve relations with Iran—Obama devoted his efforts and political capital to trying to bring a Palestinian state into being. He knew there would be political costs, and although he underestimated them, he understood that it would take all the political capital he had to have any chance at productive talks.
By 2012, Obama recognized that he was not going to get the grand bargain between Israel and the Palestinians that he had hoped for. So he turned his attention toward Iran. Working with U.S. allies in Europe and through the United Nations, he pushed for sanctions to bring Iran to the table. The pressure paved the way for the nuclear talks that would eventually lead, in 2015, to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal.
Obama recognized that Israeli-Palestinian peace and the Iran nuclear deal were each very expensive in terms of political capital. He couldn’t afford to pursue both. It’s a lesson Donald Trump still doesn’t understand. Read more at LobeLog
In 2002 and 2003, as the United States geared up for the invasion of Iraq, many protests broke out across the country, as did a passionate public debate about why America was going to war and whether it should. That debate, sadly, was not proportionately reflected on Capitol Hill, but it still mattered.
The invasion destroyed Iraq as well as the dual containment policy that, despite its many flaws, had kept a relative lid on Iraq’s ambitions and Iraq’s ability to upset regional stability. The ensuing years of combat spawned the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, and destabilized the entire region, most severely affecting Syria.
Now, the same forces have come together to take down the most significant diplomatic achievement in the Middle East in recent memory and create a new, highly unstable future. Donald Trump today announced the reimposition of sanctions on Iran, putting the United States in direct violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), colloquially called the Iran nuclear deal. In Iraq, the United States went in with no exit strategy. The Trump administration likewise has no plan for the day after exiting the Iran nuclear deal. In both cases, however, the real goal is regime change. Read more at LobeLog
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu loves to indulge in theatrics from time to time. On Monday, he cleared out prime time space in Israel for what was billed as a “big announcement” regarding Iran.Barack
Netanyahu spent the time outlining the proof that Iran had, in fact, maintained a nuclear weapons program from 1997-2003. He made a big deal about “catching Iran lying,” and neglected to mention that the information he was “revealing” was well known. In fact, the National Intelligence Estimate of 2007, which described how Iran had halted the program, contained most of what was revealed in Netanyahu’s presentation. Read more at LobeLog
French President Emmanuel Macron likely wrote the epitaph for the Iran nuclear deal as he was leaving Washington. Based on his statements, U.S. relations with Iran and North Korea as well are becoming increasingly dangerous.
“(President Donald Trump’s) experience with North Korea is that when you are very tough, you make the other side move and you can try to go to a good deal or a better deal,” Macron said. “That’s a strategy of increasing tension … It could be useful.”
Trump accordingly believes that North Korea has agreed to talks because Kim Jong Un was intimidated by Trump’s belligerence. But this is unlikely to be the case. Colin Kahl, the former national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, wrote on Twitter that “Trump likely misreads Kim Jong Un’s reasons for agreeing to a summit: to legitimize rather than dismantle his nuclear program. Remember, Kim said North Korea could stop testing because the nuclear program was already complete.”
Although no one can be certain of Kim’s thinking, Kahl’s interpretation is much more consistent with what is known about Kim and the current diplomatic state of play. So, what does the US leaving the Iran nuclear deal mean for the relationships with Iran and North Korea? Read more at LobeLog
On Monday, I spoke with David Swanson of Talk Nation Radio about the appointment of John Bolton as Donald Trump’s new national security adviser. You can hear the interview here.
Since John Bolton was appointed as Donald Trump’s national security advisor, I have spent a good deal of time talking about it. Those conversations have been with colleagues in the policy world, friends, and the media. In honor of the Passover season, here are four questions that have been broadly discussed, and my responses to them. Read more at LobeLog