The Trump presidency has prematurely, yet effectively, entered into its lame-duck phase on the eve of the G-20 summit.
Instead of stepping into the spotlight of victory touting his new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), dubbed the USMCA, Trump was on his back foot contending with the fallout from the latest Michael Cohen revelation.
The optics were revealing, a president that is withdrawn walking with a heavy step and a preoccupied mind. America First approach is being challenged by Trump’s impending legal woes.
Cohen, the president’s former fixer and longtime lawyer, took Robert Mueller’s plea deal whereby confessing to lying to Congress about statements relating to the Trump organization’s dealings in Russia during the election campaign.
Reported details claim that he, Cohen, on behalf of the Trump organization was in contact with the Russians well into 2016. Cohen now claims, that during that time he was, in fact, negotiating a real estate deal which Vladimir Putin himself would have accepted a $50 million penthouse were the deal come to fruition. We now know that such a deal was never agreed upon.
The significance of these revelations is in how it contradicts the assertions made by Trump while the Russia negotiations were taking place. During the campaign, Trump emphatically denied any dealings with Russia, leaving himself no wiggle room when he said: “For the record, I have zero investments in Russia.”
His stance after the revelation is he has not broken the law even if Cohen was telling the truth. As correct as that may be, the appearance of pay-for-play negotiations with Russia while being the Republican Party’s front-runner allows Russia undue leverage over him.
The Robert Mueller investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia collusion allegations has been widening in scope. So far, five former Trump advisers and 26 Russian nationals have been indicted or entered a guilty plea among other persons and entities bringing the total 36, the latest of which is Michael Cohen.
The long and short of it is this: Trump is quickly sinking in political quicksand. The minutiae of how and why is not as important as what comes next. As much as I hate to make a prediction, I will be remiss not to reflect on possible short-term US foreign policy maneuvers.
If Republicans and Democrats both retreat to their political corners, come January, the new Democratic House of Representatives will have the necessary votes to initiate the impeachment processWalid Jawad
Trump inevitably will be mired in the muck of a Russiagate for months to come. Probably distracting him from effective presidential leadership for the rest of his term - and we are not even at the halfway mark yet. Knowing Trump, he will position himself to emerge victoriously, but will that include firing Mueller? It is possible but unlikely. Firing the special counsel is politically risky as it opens a Pandora’s Box of a constitutional crisis.
If Republicans and Democrats both retreat to their political corners, come January, the new Democratic House of Representatives will have the necessary votes to initiate the impeachment process. In the event the Democrats succeed in impeaching him, the majority Republican Senate will defeat any measure to impose judgment on him.
As it currently stands, it is safer for Trump to rely on Whitaker, the acting Attorney General, to squeeze Mueller into a corner in an attempt to limit the scope and depth of the investigation. Unfortunately for Trump, both options are a bit too late to be effective.
There are other options at his disposal, but none seem to be immediate and/or effective. Trump’s solution for his political conundrum might be in refocusing the nation’s attention on international challenges.
Local problem, international solution?
The US is becoming increasingly ineffective globally unless the prospect of war brings the US front and center back onto the international stage. Such a scenario should deflect away from Trump’s woes. When threatened or attacked, there are very few situations as powerful as war to unite a nation behind its leader; North Korea is a source of concern, ISIS and its ilk can be juicy targets, and Iran is egging the US on.
North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un is scheduled to meet with the US President in January or February. Trump will continue to claim victory in the name of peace as he shakes Kim’s hand. ISIS is a headless cancer of a lose terrorist organization. In the absence of a notorious villain leading ISIS, Trump doesn’t have a target. This leaves Iran as a top candidate.
On Saturday, Iran test-fired mid-range ballistic missiles for the first time this year. A less than smart tactic by the Mullahs. This is bad news for the suffering Iranian people. Americans are in agreement on the reality of the threat. Saudi Arabia is already in confrontation with the Iranian regime in Yemen, and Israel bombed Iranian targets in Syria only days ago.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Saturday “The Iranian regime has just test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile that’s capable of carrying multiple warheads. This test violates UNSCR 2231. Iran’s missile testing & missile proliferation is growing. We condemn this act and call upon Iran to cease these activities.”
What currently would be a war of choice for the Trump administration, will turn into a war of necessity if the Iranian regime continues with its foolish threatening acts against the US, American interests in the region, and Saudi Arabia. Iran has been playing with fire in the straits of Hormuz and Bab el-Mandeb. Persian coast guard vessels repeatedly engaged in dangerous maneuvers in the Strait of Hormuz.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia temporarily halted oil shipment through the narrow strait of Bab el-Mandeb after the Iranian-backed Houthis militia attacked two of its oil tankers. While Iran hides behind its proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen (among others) in its war of attrition, this time around the regime will not be able to avoid the threat of war if the Mullah continue with their reckless aggression.
The regime’s ill-advised escalation in this game of chicken with the US will probably end with war. Although Iran’s miscalculations can provide Trump with much-needed relief from his political troubles, no one will second guess his retaliatory actions if the regime continues down their current path of regional destruction.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at US Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.