Trump impeachment: Foreign policy consequences

Iranian Diplomacy | Kaveh L. Afrasiabi: US President Donald Trump faces one of the biggest challenges to his presidency, in the form of congressional impeachment accusing him of abuse of power and obstruction of US Congress. 

Much as Trump and his allies have sought to minimize the importance of this development as a “hoax” and or “witch hunt,” the mere fact that the House of Representative has found sufficient ground for Trump’s trial in US Senate represents an inescapable harm to his presidency, particularly as it pertains to an important foreign policy matter and Trump has now been officially labeled as a “threat to national security of the United States.”  Without doubt, this will compound the “legitimation deficits” of Trump’s presidency, harking back to the 2016 elections and Trump’s victory through the arcane electoral college system despite coming second in terms of popular votes, as well as the litany of other accusations against Trump, such as the fact that Trump has much enriched himself during the past couple of years by virtue of letting his family conduct business as usual, mixing lucrative business with politics.

Of course, it is nearly certain that the Republican-dominated Senate will exonerate Trump after a speedy show trial, without the benefit of calling important witnesses to testify, yet the impeachment process carries significant implications not reducible to the net outcome in the Senate.  Chances are that some Republican senators backing Trump will be ousted in the future for their blind support for a president who has by all indications shown callous disregard for the US Constitution and rule of law (both domestic and foreign), and who has engaged in such utterly repugnant policies such as separating immigrant parents from their children and putting thousands of refugee kids in cages.  Without doubt, the global image of US has suffered a great deal as a direct result of Trump’s transgressions, which have now made him a candidate for removal by the will of US lawmakers.  As a result, Trump may escape the impeachment knife but not the impeachment stigma stemming from the pile of irrefutable evidence of his misbehavior cited in the Congressional Impeachment Report.  This report is a solid reference for all the evidence gathered by the Congressional committees investigating Trump’s “quid pro quo” with respect to Ukraine, his Machiavellian manipulation of the US foreign service for the sake of personal gain, his ruthless animosity toward the veteran diplomats unwilling to toe the line, and his audacity to prevent a dozen White House officials from complying with the congressional subpoena, thus obstructing the impeachment inquiry.

A big question is how will the impeachment of President Trump impact his foreign policy conduct, which features so many examples of rogue behavior? With respect to Ukraine, within 2 days of the White House whistleblower going public in August, 2019, the White House released the military aid to Ukraine, which it had held back as a leverage to force Ukraine’s new president to open a new criminal investigation of the former vice-president Joe Biden’s son.  Yet, a clue that Trump despite all the public scrutiny has not yet given up on that issue, he sent his controversial personal attorney, Rudy Guiliani, to Ukraine, in a clear sign that he is undeterred by the Democratic-led offensive against his ‘imperial presidency’.  Instead of showing any remorse and or sign of apology, for conducting foreign policy for personal political gains, Trump has upped the ante against his Democratic opponents and, in all likelihood, will intensify his incendiary rhetoric against the Democrats once the Senate trial begins.  This is already manifest in Trump’s furious (and venomous) 3-page letter to the House of Representative, reflecting a boundless attack that illuminates Trump’s penchant for dictatorship and subverting democracy.

Assuming for a moment that, somehow, the upcoming Senate trial gains traction for one reason or another, e.g., further public disclosure of Trump’s “quid pro quo” by some ex-officials, then it is not inconceivable that the Hobbesian president would manufacture a foreign crisis in order to deflect attentions, somewhat similar to President Bill Clinton who on the eve of an important impeachment vote in December, 1998 ordered aerial strikes on Iraq.  It is therefore entirely possible that in order to stave off the impeachment process, President Trump may resort to some foreign adventures, such as with respect to Iran in Persian Gulf region, as a deflection tactic. Needless to say, that would be a highly dangerous gambit on Trump’s part, which, to reiterate, has a low probability given the Republicans’ domination of Senate.  Still, in light of the legitimation damages to his presidency due to the impeachment sting, Trump may find redeeming value in instigating a foreign crisis, in order to whip up jingoistic nationalism with the help of compliant US media giving him a helping hand to mobilize the Americans around the flag.  The main reason for this potential possibility is that no matter what the outcome in the Senate, the prestige of Trump’s presidency has suffered a major blow that requires an urgent uplift, which may come in the form of a more interventionist and war-mongering administration after the (failed) impeachment, given the urgency of Trump’s re-election priorities.  In this connection, another important question is: will Trump’s exoneration embolden him to engage in more abuses of power and greater disregard for the rule of law?  Representing a clear and present danger to the viability of American democracy, Trump’s presidency is apt to veer more in the direction of ‘imperial presidency’ for the remainder of his presidency, with definite (negative) ramifications for global peace and security.  In conclusion, one can only hope that the American voters and their representatives keep in mind the Trumpian threat to the American democratic tradition and that the impeachment stigma will help defeat him at the polls, for the sake of not only American national interests but also the interests of world community.