The think tank interviewee’s other non-insight was to suggest that “Tehran’s strategy is to wait Trump out.” The interview, conducted before last week’s midterm elections, saw the friend of Iran
Because of the structure of the US government, the executive branch is much more autonomous in foreign policy than it is over domestic policy. In local affairs, presidents have to build consensus, court legislators, convince citizens and push laws through both chambers of Congress. As a result of the arduous nature of American legislation, presidents slam through their domestic agenda in their first two years in office, when their party often has better control of Congress.
Former President Barack Obama scored two major achievements — the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) and the Dodd-Frank law on banking — between his election in 2008 and the time his Democratic party lost Congress in 2010. Similarly, Donald Trump has crammed his signature promises into his first two years, during which Congress passed substantial tax cuts and tried to repeal Obamacare.
After losing Congress, Obama refocused his
Like Obama, Trump will increasingly feel the squeeze on his domestic interests. And, like Obama, in order to compensate for internal paralysis, Trump will refocus his attention on foreign affairs, especially Iran. Sanctions on Tehran have already kicked back in, and it is likely the president will up the ante.
Since his election in 2016, Trump has shown unparalleled interest in confronting Iran and cracking down on its destabilizing activity in the region. Trump has said that Tehran used the money it received under the nuclear deal not to improve living standards in Iran, but to fund its loyalist militias, who are sowing chaos and destruction throughout the region.
Whereas Obama saw the nuclear deal as the cornerstone of improving relations with Iran, Trump sees it as a boost for Iranian troublemaking, and thus an impediment for restoring good relations between the world and Tehran. Iran knows that Trump is not its friend, hence Iranian lobbyists in Washington spelled out the regime’s strategy: Wait out Trump.
Trump’s presidency will end in January 2021, unless he wins a second term. While Tehran and its friends hope that the Republican loss in Congress will foreshadow his presidential loss in 2020, there is little evidence that the two are connected. Losing the House relieves the president of vast responsibility for whatever policy failures happen on his watch. Unlike the past two years, during which Trump and his party controlled all branches of government, now, with the House of Representatives outside of Trump’s control, when things go wrong he can simply blame the Democrats in Congress, and thus save some face and popularity.
Furthermore, the loss of an incumbent president in his battle for re-election is a very rare occurrence in modern American politics, especially if — come summer 2020 — the economy continues its remarkable growth. Should the economy keep up its head of steam, Trump’s re-election would look almost certain, though Congress will probably remain in Democratic hands until the end of his presidency, and possibly beyond.
Such a scenario means that Iran’s strategy of waiting out Trump might have to be stretched out to six, rather than two, years, which poses questions about the ability of Iranians to survive Trump’s crippling sanctions.
A much better outcome for Iran — though counterintuitive — would have been for the Republicans to keep both chambers of Congress until 2020, which would have kept Trump busier with domestic affairs and further weakened his re-election chances. But, unlike what Tehran and its friends in Washington might think, Republicans losing the House might prove to be well against the interests of the Iranian regime.