The outcome of the American midterm elections gives us an even more divided country, confirming that the United States is in the midst of a deep crisis within its establishment.
The midterm elections represented a substantial draw for Democrats and Republicans, a defeat for the Trump administration and a clear victory for the “war party” in Washington. The House of Representatives ended up in the hands of the Democrats, who managed to overturn the results of 2016 by winning 26 seats and bringing their majority to 219, with the Republicans with 193 seats. The Republicans, despite the feared “blue wave”, have increased their representation in the Senate, with 51 senators against the 45 of the Democrats. In terms of governors, Republicans remain ahead, with 25 red states against 21 blue. After two years of fake investigations on Russiagate, continuous attacks by the US media (except for the few pro-Trump channels like Fox News), the blue Democratic wave seemed inevitable. Instead, we witnessed a minor repetition of the 2016 elections, with Trump managing to perform above expectations.
The House of Representatives performs functions mainly related to domestic politics, while the Senate is responsible for confirming important appointments such as those to the Supreme Court. The Democrats holding the majority in the House makes Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign an uphill battle. Trump will need to be able to present to his constituents from 2019 with a series of 2016 promises fulfilled. Getting one’s legislative agenda passed with the House in the hands of one’s opponents is difficult at the best of times. For Trump the task becomes almost impossible.
For this reason, we are faced with a scenario that delivers the country to the war party, that faction composed of Republicans and Democrats who respond to the interests of specific conglomerates of power and not to the citizens who elected them. The real winners of the midterms appear to be the intelligence agencies, Wall Street and the banks, the ratings agencies, the Fed, the mainstream media, think-tanks, policy-makers, and the military-industrial complex. Donald Trump has come to discover, in his first two years as president, how little autonomy he has in foreign policy, thanks to the warmongering of the US establishment.
The realist view of foreign policy on which Trump based his election campaign was swept away just a few days after his victory. Hoping to bribe the hawks in Washington, Trump surrounded himself with neoconservatives, who only ended up trying to box him into something that resembles the Washington Consensus, where every attempt at dialogue with opponents is seen as a surrender or sign of weakness.
Washington and its elites live trapped in a unipolar bubble, still convinced that the United States is the only world power left on the geopolitical chessboard. Even the Pentagon's military planners have confirmed in two official documents (the Nuclear Posture Review and National Defence Review) how international relations have shifted into a multipolar reality where the United States will have to deal with peer competitors like Russia and China.
Washington’s neoliberal inner circle views international relations in a very unrealistic and ideologically spoiled manner. This was masterfully explained by Mearsheimer in his latest book, suitably entitled The Great Delusion, where he compares the three most important “isms” of nationalism, liberalism and realism. Those who make up the overwhelming majority of the foreign-policy establishment are convinced that the United States is a benign hegemon that has a moral duty to remake the world in its own image and likeness.
In the process, bombing a country, destroying its social fabric and killing hundreds of thousands of innocents is justified by this supposedly noble end. This is end-justifies-means mentality is behind the overwhelming majority of Washington’s foreign-policy actions. Of course only people who are victims of their own propaganda can really believe that they are acting in the greater good by bringing about so much chaos and destruction. On the contrary, the rest of the world has for decades observed with disgust and dismay the imperialism of a warmongering country committed to consuming the resources of others, vainly hoping, especially since 1990s, that the unipolar moment would be cut short through the counterbalancing effect of other powers. Ultimately, it is not only Russia and China that awaits a multipolar world, but all those countries that do not intend to submit to American diktats over how they conduct their own foreign or domestic policies.
The outcome of the midterm elections could speed up this process. With the House of Representatives in the hands of the Democrats, Trump will have to abandon his realist foreign policy even more so than he has done over the last two years. The accumulation of foreign-policy concessions is starting to become disturbing. Just think of the enmity towards Iran, fomented by Israel and Saudi Arabia, the main partners of the Trump administration. The same goes for China, with the antagonism fomented by Trump himself to justify the impoverishment of the US middle class who voted in force for him to change this situation. And of course there remains the endemic hatred of Russia, a sworn enemy of the Washington establishment.
Trump still seems to possess a bit of Mearsheimerian realism in foreign policy. But following his defeat in the House, if he wants to get anything passed, he will need to grant much more of a free hand in foreign policy to the neoliberals, who are chomping at the bit to revive the Bush and Obama foreign policy. Without any concessions from the House, all of Trump's domestic promises to his constituents will be hobbled.
The permanent political civil war in the United States seems destined to intensify over the next two years, and the prospect of an even less independent administration in foreign policy will impel the rest of the world to rely less and less on Washington and begin to look elsewhere. Even European countries like France, Germany and Italy seem to have understood that an exclusive alliance with Washington is not beneficial and is in fact destined to fail as a result of of the chaos in US politics. In this context, the events of the past few days are particularly important and certainly worthy of elaboration in a future article. While many Eurasian countries like India, Japan, Turkey, Iran, Russia, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan try to overcome their differences by creating international cooperation frameworks, Washington pushes unnecessarily on the accelerator of disorder. A shining example of what Washington's decline means can be clearly seen in Korea. Without the direct involvement of the United States, Seoul and Pyongyang seem to be heading towards peaceful reconciliation. Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un interact every day, and the progress made on the DMZ speaks for itself, such as with renewed railway connections. Such an example, reflecting the global model that tends towards resolving problems, represents the basis on which to build bilateral, direct and negotiated solutions between relevant parties.
Such examples are numerous and concern, for example, the disagreements between India and China, as well as the territorial disputes between Japan and China and Japan and Russia. The goal is always the same: to overcome obstacles that stand in the way of mutual gain. It is a way of approaching international relations that differs from the bipolar past, but above all from the unipolar one where the attention of all international actors has been focused on the interests of Washington above even one’s own.
The continuing division within the American political class will only accelerate the loss of America’s pre-eminence in the existing the world order. The United States finds itself in the middle of an evident decline, without even a united and compact political front as was the case during the days of Bush and Obama. But with Trump in office, the House in the hands of the Democrats, and the Senate in the hands of Republicans, we are facing a situation that is set to downsize Washington's role in international affairs.
There is still an even crazier and more devastating scenario for America’s role in the world. Trump's impeachment, which can be initiated by the House of Representatives, would significantly add to the chaos in the United States and risk bringing the country to the brink of socio-political collapse. While this scenario is very unlikely, it cannot be totally excluded, especially given the ideological folly of the Washington establishment.
A Pence presidency would best represent the interests of evangelical conservatives, who are closely linked to Israeli Zionism. For this reason, the impeachment of Trump could find allies in the Republican minority, not to mention the fact that such a move by the Democrats would open the way for the Republicans to win in 2020, stamping the Democrats as spoilers only able to oppose and unable to build anything. Such a possibility cannot be excluded, and with the victory of the war party in the midterms, a President Pence would represent the greatest effort of the American establishment to impose its will on the rest of the world on the basis of “American exceptionalism”.
Prolonging the unipolar dream seems to be the new goal of the war party, and the reconquest of the House is the first step in this endeavour. Trump can adapt or give battle, but observing how he immediately came to terms after his victory in 2016, it is no surprise that if he stays in charge and tries to win the 2020 election, he will cede foreign policy to the neocons, neoliberals, Zionists and Wahhabis.
Allies and enemies alike must prepare to withstand the shock waves emanating from the struggle between the elites in Washington, understanding that it is not possible to rely on Trump, let alone the war party, especially when the damage produced by both has negative effects on even allies. Europe, for example, suffers from the blowback of a Middle East and Africa sunk into chaos by the war party, and also suffers economically from the sanctions placed on Russia and Iran.
What is more, Trump’s economic warfare, using tariffs and sanctions, has only worsened the international financial economic arrangement, accelerating the complete de-dollarization of world economies.
The midterms were what Washington's allies and enemies had been waiting for in order to understand the direction of US foreign policy in the next few years. The election results present allies and enemies with an even more divided and chaotic United States, suggesting that it is time for them to stop waiting for Washington. Given that Trump does not control his foreign policy, any attempt to engage in dialogue with him is pointless. The sooner allies and enemies realize this, and act accordingly, the better off they will be.
Washington and her elite seem too caught up in domestic dynamics to notice that their behaviour is only accelerating the transition to a multipolar world order
The next two years will settle the question over whether our present reality is already multipolar, or whether the unipolar order remains, with Washington the indispensable nation for friends and enemies alike.