Trump can erase Obama for­eign pol­icy legacy

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s for­eign pol­icy legacy rests in part on a foun­da­tion of uni­lat­eral ac­tions that his suc­ces­sor Don­ald Trump could re­verse with the stroke of a pen. Due to take of­fice on Jan 20, Trump, the win­ner in Tues­day’s elec­tion, cam­paigned at times to dis­man­tle Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and to re-im­pose sanc­tions Obama eased on Cuba. Trump also dis­agreed with for­eign pol­icy de­ci­sions that in­cluded the way Obama has de­ployed troops abroad to com­bat Is­lamist mil­i­tant groups.

In his most notable for­eign pol­icy achieve­ments, Obama, a Demo­crat, used ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­i­ties that of­fered a con­ve­nient le­gal path around a Repub­li­can-con­trolled Congress com­mit­ted to block­ing his agenda. The US Con­sti­tu­tion gives a pres­i­dent broad ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers to en­act for­eign pol­icy. Both Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic pres­i­dents have sought to ex­er­cise those pow­ers by is­su­ing ex­ec­u­tive or­ders, pres­i­den­tial mem­o­randa and what are called find­ings. “He (Obama) re­lied on ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity to build a for­eign pol­icy legacy,” said Thomas Wright, di­rec­tor of the Project on In­ter­na­tional Or­der and Strat­egy at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion. “That is all vul­ner­a­ble to coun­ter­vail­ing ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity by a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion,”Wright said. Obama had hoped to pass his legacy on to Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton, his for­mer sec­re­tary of state, but she lost the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to Trump, a Repub­li­can busi­ness­man who has never held pub­lic of­fice or served in the mil­i­tary.

Trump Plans Un­clear

Of­ten con­tra­dict­ing him­self dur­ing the cam­paign, Trump made it dif­fi­cult to know for sure what poli­cies he would pur­sue. Ma­jor con­straints in­clude bud­get caps, laws he can­not re­verse with­out Congress, and the pres­sure that will emerge to re­place poli­cies he chooses to aban­don. Trump said in an Oc­to­ber speech that he would “can­cel ev­ery un­con­sti­tu­tional ex­ec­u­tive ac­tion, me­moran­dum and or­der is­sued by Pres­i­dent Obama” on his first day in of­fice, with­out say­ing who would de­ter­mine their con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity. A Trump spokes­woman did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment on Thurs­day on his lat­est plans.

Ex­ec­u­tive Or­ders, En­acted and Re­scinded

Per­haps nowhere has Obama faced more con­gres­sional op­po­si­tion than in his pur­suit of the 2015 deal with Iran, which Repub­li­cans and some Democrats said put too few re­stric­tions on Iran’s nuclear pro­gram in re­turn for too much sanc­tions re­lief. Trump has vowed to dis­man­tle it, al­though his state­ments on the deal have been con­tra­dic­tory. A pres­i­dent may tighten and re­lax economic sanc­tions by ex­ec­u­tive or­der. “Any­thing en­acted by ex­ec­u­tive or­der can be re­scinded by ex­ec­u­tive or­der,” said Zachary Gold­man, a for­mer US Trea­sury of­fi­cial now at New York Univer­sity. Obama drew enough sup­port from Democrats to block a Repub­li­can-led res­o­lu­tion re­ject­ing the Iran deal, achiev­ing a political vic­tory but fall­ing short of a con­sen­sus. Trump will have the added ad­van­tage of work­ing with a US Sen­ate and a House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives con­trolled by fel­low Repub­li­cans. Sen­ate Repub­li­can Leader Mitch McCon­nell said on Wed­nes­day he hoped Trump would “see how much he can undo the uni­lat­eral ac­tions the pres­i­dent took all by him­self, which would not re­quire us”.

Cuba, Drones

Break­ing with long­stand­ing US pol­icy on an­other is­sue, Obama re­stored diplo­matic ties with Cuba in 2015. But fac­ing op­po­si­tion in Congress to lift­ing a broad economic em­bargo, espe­cially from Repub­li­cans, he used ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions to ease some US sanc­tions. Obama capped his Cuba ef­forts last month with a sweep­ing “pres­i­den­tial pol­icy di­rec­tive”, which also is rev­ersible and sets forth man­dates for gov­ern­ment en­gage­ment, peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes, and greater US busi­ness ties.

Trump has taken con­tra­dic­tory po­si­tions on whether he sup­ports the em­bargo or not. Obama’s aides said the eas­ing of re­stric­tions was aimed at se­cur­ing enough ben­e­fits for US busi­nesses and trav­el­ers that it would be dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble, for any Repub­li­can pres­i­dent to re­verse the open­ing to Cuba. Trump could roll back Obama’s ef­forts to cre­ate greater trans­parency about drone strikes. Obama is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der in July re­quir­ing annual dis­clo­sures about such strikes.

Mil­i­tary Power

As com­man­der-in-chief, Trump will wield the power to mo­bi­lize the US mil­i­tary on short no­tice and with­out first seek­ing ap­proval from Congress. Obama de­ployed US troops to Iraq, Syria and Libya to help fight the Is­lamic State mil­i­tant group by re­ly­ing on the au­thor­ity Congress granted Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush to battle Al-Qaeda. That same au­thor­ity would al­low Trump to ramp up US de­ploy­ments in fights against Is­lamist mil­i­tants if he chose to do so. One for­mer US in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity, said the pres­i­dent can ap­prove covert ac­tion and needs only to brief rel­e­vant lead­ers in Congress once the op­er­a­tion is un­der way. Trump’s pow­ers, how­ever, are lim­ited. He pledged to ex­pand the Army, grow the Ma­rine Corps, boost the Navy from 276 to 350 ships and sub­marines, and raise the num­ber of Air Force tac­ti­cal air­craft from 1,100 to 1,200. For starters, that would re­quire that Congress scrap gov­ern­ment spend­ing caps un­der the Bud­get Con­trol Act. —Reuters

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