Capitol Hill has quietly terminated a noisy presidency—at least where foreign affairs are concernedby Helen Thompson / September 12, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Charlottesville was the latest disaster that Washington sages warned could end Donald Trump’s presidency. But for all the heat over the racists wreaking havoc in August, in one crucial and underappreciated respect his presidency had, in effect, ended the week before.
The fateful moment came when Trump signed the sanctions bill against Russia, Iran and North Korea that Congress passed with only five dissenting votes. Although he put his signature to the law, the decision about whether or not to do so was purely symbolic—when there is a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate, any presidential veto can be overridden. So Trump had to choose between getting with the congressional programme, or wielding an ineffective veto and exposing himself as impotent—something such a proud individual was never going to do. Instead, he signed but didn’t disguise his substantive and constitutional objections to the legislation.
Make no mistake, this was an almighty surrender, because Trump came into office with an ambitious and very different foreign policy of his own. He wanted to improve relations with Russia, and to switch the aim of policy in Syria from the removal of Bashar al-Assad to the elimination of Islamic State. That agenda played a significant part in his victory. It worked to depress the Democrat vote among dovish Bernie Sanders supporters, who were unhappy with Hillary Clinton’s willingness to risk military confrontation with Russia to pursue a Syrian no-fly zone. Moreover, foreign policy is the one field in which, despite the wider gridlock in Washington, the president can ordinarily count on getting their way.