Inauguration Day will bring with it many unknowns, but one thing that is certain is there will be significantly less American diplomacy in action.
Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration have moved forward separate efforts to defund the United Nations, withhold funding from the U.S. embassy to Israel, and immediately remove all of the previous administration’s politically appointed foreign envoys.
House Republicans are drafting regulation to reduce or potentially eliminate American funding to the UN. The House’s Freedom Caucus will meet Monday to select one of two proposals, according to BuzzFeed. The first proposal would see the United States decrease the amount of funding it gives to the UN, which currently stands at over 20 percent of total UN funding. The other, more extreme, proposal would allow Congress to vote every two years on whether or not to fund the UN. The move is retaliation for a recent UN Security Council vote that deemed Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal, after the United States chose to abstain from voting and allowed the vote to pass.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Republicans are threatening to pull American funding from the UN unless it reverses its ruling on Israel’s settlements, even though the resolution is in line with international law. The push is being led by Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and has support from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and John McCain (R-AZ).
“The United Nations will regret this vote and I hope the Obama Administration will realize the massive mistake they made on their way out of the door,” Graham said in a statement.
U.S. policy for the last 25 years has been to not comment on the legality of current settlements but to oppose the continued expansion of settlements. The decision to abstain from the recent vote angered Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu and many Republicans as well as a few Democrats.
In a move that may be related, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (TX), Marco Rubio (FL) and Dean Heller (NV) introduced legislation earlier this week that would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s official capital and move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv. Under the senators’ proposal, the embassy would only receive 50 percent of its allotted funding until the move is completed.
The proposal has precedence. Congress ordered the embassy be moved to Jerusalem in 1995, but Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all chose not to push through the move due to security concerns. Palestinians want the city’s eastern sector for a capital of their future state, while Israel claims the entire city as its capital. Internationally, countries have avoided taking a position on the issue and have left it as an issue to be sorted out by Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.
Jordan, a close U.S. ally, serves as custodian of the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest shrine. Jordan’s Information Minister Mohammed Momani recently warned that moving the embassy to Jerusalem would be “crossing a red line” and could bring about “catastrophic” repercussions. Momani said the move would “inflame the Islamic and Arab streets” and could be a “gift to extremists” looking to capitalize on anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, the United States may have to enter the Trump administration with a number of key embassies unoccupied following inauguration. The Trump administration issued a blanket edict requesting all politically appointed foreign ambassadors to vacate their posts by Inauguration Day, the New York Times reported Thursday.
Political appointees are usually major donors or people close to the president. They usually leave with the outgoing president but are often afforded extensions on a case-by-case basis so that, for example, their children can finish the school year. But in an unprecedented move, the Trump administration sent a cable on Dec. 23 asking for that the diplomats leave their posts “without exceptions.”
The blanket statement has shown a stunning lack of compassion for some like the Ambassador to Costa Rica, Stafford Fitzgerald Haney, who is looking for a house for his four school-age children and his wife, who has been fighting breast cancer.
While Trump has already selected his choices for posts in China and Israel, key posts like the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany could be vacant and appointing new ambassadors could take months in some cases. American diplomacy is also not being improved by Trump’s attempts at Twitter diplomacy or informal meetings with world leaders before receiving briefings from the State Department.
This week, Congress also gave itself the power to slash the annual salary of any individual civil servant, a status which includes diplomats, to $1. They also gave themselves the ability to cut the entire budget of any federal program. While Congress is touting this as a way of holding federal workers accountable, it could be used to target Obama appointees.