Pundits are furiously assessing the broader consequences of the Democrats’ upset Senate victory in Alabama on Tuesday, but there is less there than meets the eye. True, the Republican Senate majority now hangs by a thread, forcing even harder fights for every legislative victory.
Nonetheless, Republican chances for major gains in November 2018, perhaps six or seven Senate seats, remain strong. Moreover, Democrat Al Franken is resigning his seat any day now because of sexual misconduct charges, bringing another totally unexpected Republican opportunity.
Of course, any statewide Democratic victory in Alabama is stunning, but there were also stunning reasons for it. Republican Roy Moore was a flawed candidate even before allegations of sexual misconduct emerged – and he still lost by just one percentage point.
The winner, Doug Jones, will likely be defeated at the next regular election in 2020. The stakes have unquestionably been raised, but President Trump and Republicans hold a strong hand.
At some point, Democrats will have to declare what they believe in. Just as Hillary Clinton, the “inevitable” 2016 victor, fell from grace when she revealed her beliefs, so too will legions of aspiring Democrats.
Trump is also demonstrating how a President can continue to command the national agenda, regardless of the comings and goings of domestic politics. For all these reasons, those who think Alabama marks the beginning of the end for Trump should think again. This is not even the end of the beginning.
There is no better proof of this than his foreign policy moves thus far.
They have not only shown him to be a dogged defender of American interests but an effective one too. Take his announcement that the US will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It is further unassailable evidence that he is not a status quo President.
Despite the anticipated opposition across the Middle East and Europe, apocalyptic predictions of mass rioting by the “Arab street” and the destruction of the “peace process”, Trump proceeded nonetheless.
The evidence so far is that widespread violence has not materialized and, inevitably, the Arab-Israeli peace process will rise again. Trump’s decision was an act of leadership, a paradigmatic act of realpolitik, not isolationism.
American leadership requires acting before others are willing to do so, not following some ephemeral global consensus, or waiting for Europeans or others to make up their minds.
Moreover, the Jerusalem precedent is consistent with the picture of Trump the “disrupter”. He withdrew America from the Paris Climate accord and from negotiations over a Global Compact on Migration. Similar steps to protect American sovereignty will almost certainly follow.
Trump’s rejection of “feel good” treaties in favor of concrete steps to protect American citizens and national interests will be vindicated. Indeed, the greatest “disrupter” decision for Trump may still lie ahead: how to correct nearly three decades of failure in the nuclear counterproliferation crusade, as North Korea and Iran grow close to becoming nuclear powers.
The same Establishment foreign policy cognoscenti who rejected Jerusalem as Israel’s capital have insisted for 25 years that the judicious application of diplomacy and economic sanctions would resolve the Iranian and North Korean nuclear-proliferation threats.
But this conventional wisdom has been proven flatly wrong. No less a representative of this perspective than Susan Rice, Barack Obama’s last national security adviser, conceded this summer that it had not delivered: “You can call it a failure. I accept that characterization over the last two decades.” No kidding. And no wonder Trump is looking for alternatives.
Twenty-five years of diplomatic failure has significant consequences. Endless negotiations and failed sanctions have wasted the most precious resource of all: time — time which has allowed Iran and North Korea to overcome the scientific and technological obstacles to building nuclear weapons.
Accordingly, Trump now faces extremely unattractive choices. The most pressing concerns North Korea. Unless China acts decisively, cutting off fuel and food shipments to the regime, forcing reunification with South Korea or replacing the Kim family dictatorship, the White House will soon face a binary choice: either Washington must accept a nuclear North Korea, or military force will be required.
The unpleasant alternative of pre-emptive military force is decidedly risky, but considerably less so than a future in which the world is subject to nuclear extortion by Kim’s bizarre regime — a regime perfectly prepared to sell nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to any bidder with the requisite hard currency.
Tut-tutting about where the United States locates its embassy in Israel simply obscures the far harder choices ahead. Let’s keep our priorities straight. Trump has shown every evidence he can do so.
John R. Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is Chairman of Gatestone Institute, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad”.
This article first appeared in The Daily Telegraph and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.