Trump faces new hurdles on foreign policy

Trump faces new hurdles on foreign policy
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Trump speaks to rebel Libyan general attacking Tripoli Dem lawmaker: Mueller report shows 'substantial body of evidence' on obstruction MORE is facing new challenges in his foreign policy as he contends with shifting international alliances and the specter of a Democrat-controlled House that will hold oversight power for the next two years. 

The president returned late Sunday from a weekend trip to France, which laid bare the tensions between the U.S. and its traditional allies. French President Emmanuel Macron warned of the spread of "nationalism" in a thinly veiled shot at Trump, underscoring the growing divide between Trump and some of his European counterparts. 


The visit illustrated the shifting dynamics of foreign policy under Trump, who has championed an “America First” agenda that has roiled long-standing partnerships with France, Germany, Canada, Mexico and others, and embraced dialogue with traditional foils like Russia and North Korea. 

It also hinted at how the relationship between the U.S. and its allies could grow more strained over the next two years as leaders like Macron appear to take a more defiant stance against Trump’s policies. 

“It reinforces the underlying sentiment in Europe about President Trump and the deeply held skepticism in many European capitals about his foreign policies,” Erik Brattberg, director of the Europe Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said of the president’s trip to France. 

Trump has already alienated many traditional allies with some of his unilateral foreign policy moves, such as withdrawing from the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, imposing steep tariffs on Canada and the European Union, and relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

He has also struck a confrontational tone with Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May, among others, over cost-sharing for NATO, military support and other issues. 

Macron, whose subtle shot at Trump over the weekend was a notable departure from the warm embrace he shared with his American counterpart at the White House earlier this year, has emerged as one of the most vocal allies to criticize Trump’s nationalist agenda. 

The French president suggested just prior to Trump's visit that Europe should prepare to defend itself against cyberattacks from Russia, China and even the U.S. 

Separately, the European Union has sought in recent months to skirt potential penalties from the U.S. for remaining in the Iran nuclear deal. 

“Europe wants to do more, wants to play a role separate of the United States and in many ways in direct contradiction to United States policies,” Brattberg said, while noting that the EU still faces its own obstacles to countering Trump. 

Trump also faces potential foreign policy hurdles on the domestic front. 

With control of the House soon to be in their hands, Democrats have listed a number of areas where they want to take a deeper look at or rein in Trump’s foreign policy. 

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithTrump team spurns Adam Smith with its trade stance Top Armed Services Republican: 'I don't think anybody is satisfied' with Space Force proposal Overnight Defense: House votes to condemn transgender military ban | 5 Republicans vote against ban | Senate bill would block Turkey getting F-35s over Russia deal MORE (D-Wash.), poised to be the next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has said he wants to conduct more vigorous oversight of special operations around the world in light of last year’s deadly ambush in Niger. 

Smith and other top Democrats are also pushing for Trump to cut off all military support for Saudi Arabia’s operations in Yemen’s civil war.

The administration announced Friday that it’s ending the U.S. military’s aerial refueling of Saudi coalition aircraft. Smith and others welcomed that as a positive development but said all U.S. military assistance to the Saudis in Yemen needs to end.

Democrats are likely to raise questions about Trump’s tendency in his first two years in office to embrace authoritarian figures in Russia, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. The party also hopes to use what leverage they can to curb Trump’s penchant for casting aside international treaties.

For example, after Trump announced he intends to withdraw from a Cold War–era arms treaty with Russia, Smith and the likely next chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelDem House chairs: Mueller report 'does not exonerate the president' Live coverage: Frenzy in DC as Congress, White House brace for Mueller report House Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report MORE (D-N.Y.), warned the administration they “will neither support, nor enable, a precipitous course of action that increases the risk of an unconstrained nuclear arms race.”


Congress is limited in its power to prevent Trump from withdrawing from the treaty, but it could block funding for any new missiles that would be out of compliance with the accord.

More generally, it’s unclear to what extent a divided Congress will impede Trump's foreign policy over the next two years.

“I don’t think [the midterms are] going to have a significant impact on the substance of foreign policy going forward, though they may have a considerable impact on tone,” Jim Lindsay, senior vice president and director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said on a conference call after the elections last week. 

Stewart Patrick, who worked in the State Department from 2002 to 2005 and is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the foreign policy landscape of the next two years is difficult to project in large part because Trump’s presidency has strayed from America's traditional role abroad.

 “In the past, most presidents have been internationalists to a large degree, and so much of Donald Trump’s focus is really nationalist and domestic,” Patrick said. 

“There’s no sense in which the midterms have left his chastened,” he added.