Research: Commentary

How are we going to respond to a Trump presidency?

Center for International Policy, December 6, 2016 | Press Release, Letter


Date    18 November 2016

To:      CIP board, staff and supporters

From:  Bill Goodfellow

Re:      How are we going to respond to a Trump presidency?

There is no denying that the recent election results will make our work a lot more difficult. So much of what we have accomplished is now at risk. With both the House and Senate controlled by Republicans, and soon the Supreme Court as well, the Trump administration seems poised to run roughshod over progressives.

But is this really the case? Remember that Donald Trump lost the popular vote, and won by razor-thin margins in the four swing states that put him over the top. Only 23.7% of the voting-age population voted for Trump; 42.2% didn’t vote at all. Moreover, many senior Republicans, including some key members of Congress, and virtually all Democratic members of Congress, are gearing up to oppose most of Trump’s agenda. 

But it will be the millions of highly motivated and organized citizens who will be our most important allies. Students are spilling into the streets, and environmentalists, peace activists and civil liberties groups are all mobilizing. Between now and the inauguration, we will be ramping up our programs so we can be ready to take on the Trump administration from day one. Meanwhile, here are some initial thoughts from program directors and senior staff about what we can do.

Military budget

All of our peace and security programs will be focusing on the Pentagon budget. During the campaign, Trump pledged to “rebuild our military by eliminating the defense sequester and expanding military investment.” According to Bill Hartung, director of CIP’s Arms and Security project, the U.S. already spends over $600 billion per year on the military, more than the amount spent at the peak of the Reagan buildup of the 1980s. The U.S. spends four times as much as China on the military and ten times as much as Russia. We must discredit the idea that spending more on the military will make Americans safer here at home, for in fact, the opposite is true.

In opposing any increases in the military budget, Bill Hartung will emphasize that Pentagon spending is a dead-end economically. A study by economists at the University of Massachusetts indicates that spending on infrastructure creates one and one-half times the number of jobs per dollar spent on the Pentagon. If Trump wants to create jobs, he should pursue investment in infrastructure and education, not in weapons we don’t need at prices we can’t afford. And if he is going to cut taxes on corporations and the rich, he will not be able to increase the Pentagon’s budget without running massive, unsustainable deficits. 

The Overseas Contingency Operations Fund is a special “war-fighting” fund that is in addition to the standard Pentagon budget. This fund pays for the conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East, which continue to cost tens of billions of dollars a year. Almost everyone agrees that America’s regime change and nation building in the Middle East have failed, yet tens of thousands of U.S. troops remain in Iraq and Afghanistan, with smaller numbers in Syria and Libya, and these conflicts have destabilized the entire region. We believe that political settlements can be reached in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya that would allow the United States to withdraw combat forces and help rebuild societies shattered by decades of conflict.

We are focusing on the longest of these wars, the 15-year conflict in Afghanistan. CIP is launching a campaign to build public and congressional support for a negotiated political settlement that would lead to a power-sharing agreement between the Afghan government and members of the Taliban. Not only would a peace agreement end the fighting in Afghanistan, it could provide a model for ending other conflicts in the Middle East and northern Africa. 

Our Security Assistance Monitor program brings needed transparency to U.S. security assistance programs, including arms sales and police and military training. This will be especially important given Donald Trump’s infatuation with autocrats, which seems like a throwback to the Reagan administration when the United States lavished aid on every tin-horn dictator across the globe. 

We must ensure that human rights conditionality is adhered to and that our aid is not undermining democratic institutions and promoting corruption in the security sector. The Security Assistance Monitor is an essential tool for journalists, activists and members of Congress who will be on the front lines fighting the Trump administration’s policies.

The nuclear agreement with Iran

There is no public support for another war in the Middle East, yet withdrawing from the six-party Iran nuclear agreement would start the U.S. down the road to war with Iran. Donald Trump told an AIPAC meeting in March, “My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”

Although Trump could refuse to lift additional sanctions on Iran, the other signatories are unlikely to re-impose or tighten sanctions. Meanwhile, Iran could threaten to stop observing nuclear restraints. The collapse of the agreement could lead Iran to accelerate its nuclear program, which would renew pressure on the U.S. or Israel to attack Tehran’s nuclear infrastructure. The agreement requires constant upkeep. The sanctions relief granted to Iran by President Obama must be renewed every four to six months, depending on the statutes involved. The fear is that President Trump would withhold renewal of sanctions relief while he tries to renegotiate the deal.

Last year, the Win Without War coalition helped lead a campaign to build public support for the Iran agreement, the Obama administration’s signal diplomatic accomplishment. Win Without War coalition members generated a million calls and letters to Congress in support of the agreement, and will do so again next year if Trump moves to abandon the agreement. Win Without War’s director, Stephen Miles, has added a new digital director and a program associate, and he has also hired Bill French, the foreign policy coordinator for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Mobilizing the millions of Americans who supported Sanders’ candidacy is the key to saving the Iran agreement and avoiding another disastrous war in the Middle East.

Opening to Cuba

Initially candidate Trump endorsed President Obama’s opening to Cuba, then, in an effort to court Cuban-American votes in Florida, he reversed himself and said he would “halt further concessions to Cuba” and even “take a few back.” 

Because the opening to Cuba was accomplished by executive action by President Obama, Donald Trump could rescind the executive orders once he becomes president. However, Robert Muse, an international lawyer and CIP consultant, told the Miami Herald, “I think it’s unlikely that he would do a wholesale repeal of Obama’s executive actions. It’s a bigger decision than it might appear.”

Robert Muse and Cuba program director Elizabeth Newhouse will intensify their outreach to the business community, whose support is key to convincing the Trump administration that they would pay a high price for turning back the clock to the days before the opening. They have been working with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and trade associations representing the banking industry, tourist industry and agricultural exporters. Cuba is a major customer for farm products from states in the Midwest, and Republican members of Congress from agricultural exporting states have been among the most enthusiastic supporters of normalized relations with Cuba. Close to a million U.S. tourists will visit Cuba this year. Major U.S. airlines soon will operate a total of 155 flights a week to ten Cuban cities, Sheraton and Marriott are opening new hotels and Cuba is Airbnb’s fastest growing market. There is no public support for resuming hostilities with Cuba.

Paris Climate Agreement          

Trump has promised to “cancel” the Paris Climate Agreement, which CIP’s environmental programs worked so hard to support. In the short term, there is little anyone can do to block this, but if other nations continue to honor their climate commitments, and if green technology continues to dramatically advance, it may not matter. There is even talk of a European carbon tax on American imports if Trump “rips up” the Paris agreement!

In the long run, only mass education will convince the public that steps must be taken to combat climate change, and one of the most effective ways to reach Americans is through television and film documentaries. CIP staff member Jeff Horowitz co-produced episodes of the Emmy Award winning series Years of Living Dangerously, which is being broadcast on the ABC/National Geographic channel this fall and winter. The program will reach an enormous worldwide audience with the compelling message that global warming is real and already we are feeling its impact. Jeff was also the co-producer of a feature-length documentary, Time to Choose, directed by Oscar-winner Charles Ferguson. Millions of filmgoers saw the documentary in theaters and soon it will be available for home viewing. And as storms and droughts intensify, the outcry to respond to a warming climate will force governments, even the one headed by Donald Trump, to respond.

Finally, CIP’s Global Progressive Hub project will strengthen all of CIP’s work by helping to bridge the divides that have limited the effectiveness of the peace and environmental community. Michelle Dixon and Jeff Blum have brought together representatives of the peace, human rights, civil rights, women’s and environmental communities to forge a united response to the threat posed to all of us by the Trump presidency. By breaking down the artificial boundaries separating these movements and creating a powerful united front of a broad spectrum of progressive organizations, we can muster the forces we will need to fight not only for our progressive agenda, but in a real sense, for the fate of the earth.  

CIP in the Press