Will President Trump be removed from office?
Mr Trump, as president of the US, has played havoc with many of his country's achievements in the foreign policy arena that have contributed over many decades to making that country the greatest power in the world. He has unravelled the US's long-established relations with old allies in Europe and other regions of the world, withdrawn from overarching multilateral compacts and trade agreements, undermined the established multilateral trade and economic orders, destabilised the geopolitical balance in different regions of the world.
In the Middle East, he has renounced the US's long-established policy equilibrium towards Israel and the Palestine, and has provoked the Saudi-Iran hostility. Under the influence of John Bolton, his hawkish National Security Adviser, whom he recently fired, Trump almost triggered a war with Iran in June (2019). Trump shows unexplained affinity towards Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, despite the fact that there was serious allegation that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.
President Trump's policies tack and veer abruptly and unpredictably and his responses to issues seem mostly knee-jerk reactions -and not based on good homework or in-depth analyses of the US's interests. Because of his tactless, undiplomatic and inconsistent dealings with foreign heads of government and state, and the impulsive way in which he conducts himself, many considers him psychologically unfit for the presidency of the United States, which to this day is regarded as the number one country in the world. Reportedly, even the Republican Party's leadership implicitly deems Trump unfit for the highest office in the land.
Voicing his disapproval of Trump's withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal and his decision to impose trade tariffs on Europe, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, urged the EU leaders to form a united European front against his actions. The EU leaders were also strongly opposed to Trump's moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In March (2019), Donald Trump recognised the Golan Heights as part of Israel through a presidential proclamation.
The US was thus the first country, other than Israel, to recognise Israeli claim of sovereignty over the Golan Heights region occupied by Israel from Syria during the 1967 war. Trump's unconcealed bias towards Israel has further damaged the already fading hopes of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The US's involvement in the crises and the geopolitics of the Middle East has exacerbated the Saudi-Iran hostility.
In a most recent development, the House of Representatives on Oct 16, 2019 "dealt a stinging bipartisan rebuke" to President Trump for his decision to withdraw American troops from northern Syria. It was an overwhelming bipartisan denunciation in Congress of a move that has flung the region into a "bloody chaos and unravelled Middle East policy". In a rare departure from their unwillingness to criticize Trump, two-thirds of House Republicans, including all of the party's elected leaders, joined Democrats in approving a resolution that denounced Trump's acquiescence to the Turkish assault against the Kurds, who had been crucial American allies in the fight against the Islamic State. It was the strongest bipartisan rejection yet of any of Trump's actions since he assumed office. The House reproached the withdrawal as "beneficial to US's adversaries, including Russia, Syria and Iran".
The resolution was not the first bipartisan reprimand by Congress of Trump's "mercurial approach to foreign policy". Republicans have previously joined Democrats to denounce his administration's persistent support of Saudi Arabia after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist.
According to Stewart Patrick, a political analyst and an author, "The Trump presidency represents nothing less than an existential threat to the liberal world order, forcing America's closest allies, particularly in Europe, to go it alone or deepen their relations with America's strategic competitors, such as China". America's traditional allies and partners that look to it for leadership, security and support, are in a predicament without stable, strong and consistent backing from Trump's America. They are hiding most of their anti-Trump views and biding their time until Trump's possible departure through the next US presidential election in 2020, if not earlier through an impeachment, to get their old relations with the US back on an even keel.
Although economically the US is experiencing an economic boom under President Trump, many economists believe the boom is unsustainable. Trump is circumventing WTO rules; and opting for economic nationalism and isolationism. Under him, the US is developing a radically bilateralist trade policy. He seems contemptuous of multilateral institutions and calls for massive cuts in foreign aid and contributions to international organizations, including the UN.
With the Democrats' majority in the House of Representatives since the midterm elections, Trump has been in troubled waters.
But he seems to be in deeper trouble since the revelation by a whistleblower on September 25 that he pressed Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky over the telephone in July (2019) to investigate former US vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden (who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company) over allegations of corruption.
Trump had withheld $400 million in US aid to Ukraine shortly before he asked President Zelensky for the investigation. Trump has accused Joe Biden, a major contender for the Democratic Party's nomination to run against him in the 2020 election, of inappropriately assisting his son's business ventures in Ukraine and China. The Mueller's report "stopped short of accusing Trump of colluding with Russia to interfere with the election in 2016"; also, it could not establish beyond doubt that he had obstructed justice. That boosted Trump's confidence to some extent; and the possibility of an impeachment initiative by Democrats seemed remote.
However, the matter of his telephone call to Zelensky has now put Trump in a big predicament. This prompted Democrats to accuse him of misusing US foreign policy to promote his own political fortunes and the House started a formal impeachment investigation against him in late September. Not all this, however, has deterred Trump from doing a similar thing again. On October 04, he again sought Ukraine's and China's help to investigate Biden and his son.
Now, to "impeach" means to bring charges in Congress, which form the basis for a trial. The process of impeachment has to begin in the House of Representatives; and it only needs a simple majority to pass. If the House passes it, it then goes to the Senate for trial, where a two-thirds vote is necessary for removal of the president from office upon conviction, but "this milestone has never been reached in America's history".
Although many presidents have encountered threats of impeachment during their tenures, only two -namely Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson - have actually been impeached; but not removed from office. In President Clinton's case, the House passed the impeachment proposal with a simple majority. However, when the trial reached the Senate (in 1999), it failed to get close to the requisite two-thirds backing in order to remove him from office. And, although President Johnson was impeached by the House in 1868, he too could not be removed from office as the two-thirds majority was missed by just one vote. In his context, President Nixon might come to our minds. No, President Nixon averted impeachment by astutely quitting office of his own accord when he sensed the tide had turned against him.
One may ask, "If Trump is impeached, would he be removed from office?" Well, since Republicans control the Senate, President Trump would not be removed from office unless they turned on him.
The vast majority of Republicans are still loyal to him. Moreover, "in the wider public, the appetite for impeachment is low". Therefore, in all probability, Mr. Trump would remain in the White House even if he is impeached, due to the support he enjoys amongst Republicans.
The writer is former ambassador and secretary