What can we expect from a president Trump who is strengthened in his personal choices in foreign policy? On three subjects, we can think that the President will raise the stakes.
- First, on China: as Vice President Pence's recent speech showed, there is currently an alignment in the United States between the traditional Republican Party line (China is a "strategic competitor"), Mr. Trump's personal tropisms (the "zero-sum game" in trade) and the hardening/disenchantment of big business vis-à-vis China. However, this pattern could be qualified if Mr. Trump again felt he needed Beijing on the North Korean issue or even if at some point president Trump asked for the help of the Chinese to counter a possible downturn of the economy.
- Secondly: Europe. Europeans must expect the President to put considerable pressure on European car sales in the United States and on trade in agricultural products once again.
- Thirdly: Iran. The exemptions granted to certain countries (China, India, Turkey, Iraq and Italy in particular) with regard to the implementation of oil sanctions should not be an illusion. The administration will continue its strategy of "maximum pressure", all the more determined because this is in fact a subject on which there is bipartisan agreement in Congress, including in the House of Representatives.
Does this mean that we have entered a phase where the presidency has completely overtaken Congress in the development of foreign policy? A phase where the personal summits – Trump-Wi, Trump-Kim, Trump-Putin, or Macron etc. – are at their highest and definitively replace the slow emergence of consensual attitudes within the specialized committees of the Senate and the Chamber? You don't have to go that far. Experts from the Washingtonian world have shown that despite the extreme polarization of American politics, areas of consensus still exist in foreign policy. For example, we have seen a Republican-dominated Congress vote to protect foreign affairs and foreign aid budgets from cuts proposed by the Executive, impose new sanctions on the President against Russia, or adopt "red line" resolutions on the transatlantic relationship or the non-removal of US troops from North Korea. A good specialist on this topic, Jordan Tarma, went so far as to refer to an "anti-presidential bipartisanism" (as opposed to the classic bipartisanism of support to the Administration).
In this respect, the policy towards Saudi Arabia will probably very quickly become a case study: it would be logical for the House of Representatives, under Democratic leadership, to push for tough measures such as ending support for the Saudi campaign in Yemen, or requirements concerning the Khashoggi case. It is likely that the Republicans share the same approach and therefore that bipartisan pressure is exerted on the Administration.
In other words, for the United States' partners, it remains important to cultivate the Capitol Hill assiduously. In the coming months, in the run-up to the presidential elections, we can expect an escalation of tension within an American political system that is more divided than ever. Trump's foreign policy will be largely dependent on the domestic policy battle. Depending on unforeseeable circumstances, Congress may have to play a more important strategic role than a media dramaturgy organized around President Trump alone would suggest.