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By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
No matter where one sits on the political spectrum, there is a broad consensus that the U.S. will face many foreign policy challenges in 2018.
As the Russia investigation captivates Washington, world leaders in foreign capitals are also interested in how this investigation will unfold. They are unsure if it will lead to a constitutional crisis that will test American democracy in a way unseen since the 1970s Watergate scandal, which resulted in Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency.
Russian Investigation Worries America’s Allies
All we know so far is that Russia attempted to influence the U.S. election; we just don’t know how. So far, the Special Counsel investigation, led by former FBI director Robert Mueller, has indicted Donald Trump’s former campaign advisor Paul Manafort and Manafort’s business partner and Trump campaign staffer Rick Gates.
Also, Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn pled guilty to lying to the FBI. Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos pled guilty to lying to the FBI as well.
Did the DOJ and FBI Engage in Partisan Politics?
What we don’t know yet is whether the Russian dossier, for which the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid Fusion GPS to access, was also paid for and used by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI. They have not provided any answers.
Did the DOJ and the FBI use political campaign material from a Democratic president and paid for by the Democratic Party to support Hillary Clinton, whom former president Obama wanted to succeed him? Did they use this material to gain a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to conduct surveillance on Donald Trump and his staff?
All of these investigations could imperil Trump’s ability to carry out the programs and promises he outlined during his campaign, especially with regard to many global trouble spots.
But there would be a different impact if the investigation went in the other direction and implicated the intelligence agencies, the DOJ, the FBI and the Democratic Party for using the federal government for partisan purposes and changing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
While Washington’s focus is on Russian collusion and the alleged partisanship of the DOJ, FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies, other areas of the world still need American leadership.
North Korea Will Continue to Test the US
Since Trump became president almost one year ago, he has had to figure out what to do about the bellicose rhetoric and actions of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. North Korea has been conducting ballistic missile tests with the aim of reaching the United States mainland.
North Korea has vexed every president since Bill Clinton. In 1994, the U.S. signed a framework by which Pyongyang would renounce its nuclear weapons ambition in exchange for two light water reactors and economic aid.
Unfortunately, North Korea reneged on that agreement. In 2006, North Korea announced to the world it had successfully conducted a nuclear test.
Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were no more successful in trying to reach an agreement with Pyongyang. Bush held a series of talks involving South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan and Russia, but they proved fruitless. Obama’s strategy was to isolate North Korea, but that proved only to embolden Kim.
The question is whether Trump’s strategy will be any better. The only nation that has any leverage with North Korea is China. The U.S. has put pressure on Beijing, but so far that foreign policy tactic hasn’t proved to be successful.
When North Korea obtains a nuclear ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States mainland, the U.S. will need to respond.
The Middle East Will Continue to Vex the US
The other major U.S. concern is how to deal with the volatile Middle East region. Iran wants to become a regional power, while Russia has gained a greater foothold in the Middle East. The U.S. will need to consolidate the gains it made after the defeat of ISIS and put an end the long, bloody Syrian civil war.
The required decisions have been hampered by the Iran nuclear agreement signed in 2015. That multilateral agreement unfroze all economic sanctions and refunded to Tehran $1.7 billion. Some of that money came from the original $400 million contract for military equipment, plus $1.3 billion in interest, according to Fortune magazine.
In addition, there is a perception throughout the Middle East that the United States is pulling out of the region, thus allowing Tehran and Moscow to gain greater influence. Currently, there are ongoing conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan that will all need U.S. attention.
Also, there is the Israeli-Palestinian problem. That problem was recently made more complex when Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel and announced his intention to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.
Crisis in Venezuela Adding to Trump’s Woes
The foreign policy of the Trump administration must also pay attention to the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. This country should be a prosperous and economic powerhouse; it has the largest known oil reserves in the world.
Unfortunately, Venezuela is in the midst of a horrific economic collapse precipitated by the policies of President Nicolás Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez. The International Monetary Fund projects Venezuela’s rate of inflation will exceed 2,300 percent in 2018.
Chavez and Maduro instituted disastrous economic policies that have left many in the country in near starvation. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled to neighboring countries.
The U.S. recently placed sanctions on individual Venezuelan officials, with the potential of adding more sanctions if needed. But unless the situation changes in Venezuela, the U.S. may need to prepare for a full-blown revolution.
China Seeking Greater Dominance over Asia and South China Sea
An ambitious China is seeking to upend the global economic system that has been in place since World War II. China has asserted itself across Asia and is expanding its sphere of influence in the South China Sea. Speaking at China’s National Party Congress in October, President Xi Jinping used terms such as “great power” and “strong power” numerous times.
It may be difficult for the U.S. to respond to China’s aggressive approach, considering our own economic issues that have long been ignored. Chief among those issues is America’s staggering national debt, which many economists say will grow by another $1.7 billion as a result of the new tax code.
The Trump administration will face many internal and external issues in its 2018 foreign policy. Hopefully, it will be well prepared for all of these challenges.