Security Brief

The Future of Republican Foreign-Policy Making

What the growing post-Trump divide within the party means for its policy platform.

Surrounded by fellow House Republican members, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on May 27 in Washington.
Surrounded by fellow House Republican members, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on May 27 in Washington. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief.

What’s on tap today: Republicans reckon with their foreign-policy future after U.S. President Donald Trump leaves office, the National Guard pours into the nation’s capital, and a new battle brews over the U.S. Space Force moving to Alabama.

If you would like to receive Security Brief in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.


The Elephant in the Room  

Donald Trump will be a historic U.S. president, but not like he intended. As expected, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for the second time on Wednesday, just a week after a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in attempt to stop the certification of electoral votes in a rampage that left five dead. Trump now has the ignominious title of the only U.S. president to be impeached twice.

The moves have left Republicans on Capitol Hill, boxed in by a seven-foot fence and flanked by thousands of National Guardsmen, pondering the future of their party for at least two years in the opposition.

In the foreign-policy arena, the widening fissures between the party’s two factions will play out for years to come. An old guard faction of more traditional Republicans seeks to maintain the party’s platform on hawkish defense, free trade, and ironclad commitments to U.S. allies. On the other side is the MAGA faction—skeptical of the United States’ global military footprint, convinced U.S. allies are freeloading off Washington’s defense budget, and in full support of Trump’s protectionist trade ideology.

Leading the breakaway from Trump in the House is the chamber’s third-ranking Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney, the former vice president’s eldest daughter, who has long pushed for larger Pentagon budgets. Her embrace of impeachment has prompted infighting within the Republican caucus, with Trump ally Rep. Jim Jordan and members of the Freedom Caucus circulating a petition for a special meeting that could force Cheney to resign her post, Politico reports.

Even as the party remains split over Trump’s legacy, most Republican lawmakers are dead set on what they consider to be the biggest national security threat facing the United States: China, China, China.

The more interesting divide among Republicans over the next four years could be between Trump loyalists hoping to see an end to the so-called forever wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and party members wary of a resurgence of terror groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Sen. Josh Hawley, widely criticized for challenging President-elect Joe Biden’s electors in key states, has praised Trump’s troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq and called for taxpayer dollars to be spent countering China or at home. Other Republican leaders, such as soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have compared the rapid drawdown from the Middle East to the haphazard American pullout from Vietnam in 1975.

The faction that gains the upper hand will be something to watch in the next Congress and the run-up to the 2024 election cycle.


What We’re Watching

U.S. Space Force moves south. Alabama has won two major competitions this week: a national championship in college football and the right to be the new home for the U.S. Space Force. On Wednesday, the U.S. Air Force announced that the Army’s Redstone arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, would host the nascent military service, as AL.com first reported.

But not everyone is happy with the newest branch’s gravy train—including all its federal funding and jobs—heading south. Furious Colorado lawmakers are urging Biden to reverse the decision and make the Space Force’s permanent home in Colorado instead, as Politico reports. (One argument in Colorado’s favor: Netflix’s version of Space Force is based in Colorado.)

Losing its voice. Reporters and editors at Voice of America (VOA) are calling for the immediate resignation of its Trump-appointed director and deputy after the congressionally funded broadcaster demoted and reassigned multiple staffers in the last several days, Vox’s Alex Ward reports. Senior White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara was reassigned after asking Secretary of State Mike Pompeo questions as he left a VOA event.

Vox also reported that Yolanda Lopez, the newsroom director seen as trying to protect reporters from political interference, has been demoted.

Twitter chief defends Trump ban. On Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey defended the platform’s controversial ban on Trump’s account after the U.S. Capitol attack last week. He said the move was the “right decision” in an “extraordinary and untenable circumstance” as the president refused to condemn the rioters in the hours after the attack, which forced Twitter to “focus all of our actions on public safety.”

But Dorsey also said that his company and other internet giants, such as Facebook, could have a long-term impact that would be “destructive to the noble purpose and ideals of the open internet.” Russia’s foreign ministry, never one to let a good U.S. crisis go to waste, has called the ban a blow to Western democratic values.


Movers and Shakers

Marshalling his forces. Trump, kicked off of Twitter and mostly out of sight, is still rewarding loyalists with plum jobs in the last days of his administration. On Wednesday, the State Department’s special envoy for arms control, Marshall Billingslea, was moved into a temporary role as acting undersecretary for arms control and international security, officials told Foreign Policy.

The move is causing concerns within Congress that the departing administration could seek to rush sensitive arms sales, such as the more than $23 billion deal with the United Arab Emirates that includes F-35 fighter jets. But with only a week left before political appointees at State are kicked out of their job, it’s unclear what Billingslea could accomplish in his acting role.

Power move. Biden continues to fill out his incoming administration, making well-known former journalist and human rights campaigner Samantha Power his nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development on Wednesday. Biden will also elevate the position to be a member of the National Security Council (NSC).

Asia hands. Biden plans to tap Kurt Campbell, the former top State Department official for Asia, as his Indo-Pacific coordinator, overseeing the entire region on the NSC. Under him, Brookings Institution China Director Rush Doshi is expected to be Biden’s China director, while Biden’s former deputy national security advisor from his time as vice president, Ely Ratner, will take the Pentagon’s top Asia job.


Quote of the Week

“With Putin, we didn’t get anything done. We’re nowhere with China on national security. We’re in a worse place today than we were before he came in, and I didn’t think that was possible.”

—Rex Tillerson, Trump’s former secretary of state, in an exclusive interview with Foreign Policy


Foreign Policy Recommends

Learning from experience? The violence at the Capitol last week kicked the Washington foreign-policy blob into overdrive on international implications, with some experts voicing concerns it will undercut U.S. moral standing and democracy promotion for years to come.

Here’s another take, from Edward Joseph: There’s never been a better time for the United States to promote democracy abroad.

The gist of his argument: Is your country facing political strife, instability, even insurrection in the capital? Well, so have we, and we’re getting through it.


The Week Ahead

The Senate reconvenes on Jan. 19 to take up the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said will not be completed before the end of the current administration.

Biden is set to be inaugurated on Jan. 20—amid heavy security in Washington.


Odds and Ends

Mistakes happen. But here’s our favorite correction of the week, from CNN’s blockbuster story on how the latest impeachment effort arose out of the riot at the U.S. Capitol: “CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated that Rep. Ted Lieu grabbed a crowbar before leaving his office. He grabbed a ProBar energy bar.”


That’s it for today.

For more from FP, subscribe here or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or typos to securitybrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola