LAWAC President Terry McCarthy with Congressman Ed Royce (right)
The US Congress is increasingly asserting itself in US foreign policy in the face of a distracted White House, according to Republican House member Ed Royce – and it is happening on a bipartisan basis. Although the two parties are very divided on domestic issues like health care and tax reform, Royce, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that in foreign policy there is substantial agreement across the aisle on the need for the US to exercise leadership and speak with one voice on North Korea, Russia and the Middle East.
Speaking at a breakfast meeting with LAWAC members on August 1, Royce pointed to the bill on sanctioning Russia which just passed 419-3 in the House and 98-2 in the Senate, despite early signs that the White House wanted to veto such sanctions. “It was high time that Putin felt the pressure,” said Royce, who said there was a feeling amongst both Republicans and Democrats that the White House “was acting not from strength but from weakness.”
Royce predicted a similar bipartisan approach in the Middle East, to preserve some US military presence after the fight to push ISIS out of Raqqa is over. He said that the US should learn a lesson from the reluctance of former President Obama to confront ISIS early on, dismissing them as the “JV team”: “We are not going to make that mistake again.” He said that might mean passing a bill “to prevent another ISIS with a different name from stepping in.” Royce said he was confident that a bipartisan plan could be drawn up, and said “it’s likely that Congress may have to override the Executive.”
On North Korea, Royce said that while the US shouldn’t rule anything out, he thought it very unlikely that the Administration would decide to “move militarily” on Pyongyang. Instead he favors increasingly punitive sanctions that would shut down hard currency going into the country, making it difficult for them to acquire the components they need for their nuclear and ICBM programs. “Buying parts – like gyroscopes for their missiles, for example - is costing them billions on the black market.” Royce said that he saw a two-stage strategy: “We need to cut off every dime of hard currency, freeze their accounts and upset their generals – it’s the only way to get leverage.”
The second part of the strategy is an information campaign – “social media, video dropping, short wave radio, so they can see what life is like outside, particularly in South Korea.” Already he said that smuggled South Korean soap operas, which show how advanced and wealthy the South is, are being widely spread around the North and causing ordinary people to begin questioning the regime they have lived under since 1953. But Royce said that the dangers of allowing North Korea to further develop its nuclear program could encourage other countries in Asia to also build their own nuclear weapons, which he said would be “incredibly destabilizing – we would see crisis after crisis.”
On Russia, Royce said that after imposing sanctions, the US should consider sending a special envoy “preferably a military man, a retired general or former defense secretary” – and have an honest discussion on the issues that face both countries, like the future of Syria. “We have to work together and it is in Russia’s best interests to do so also,” he said, pointing to the very high rate of radicalization of Muslims in southern Russia, that could destabilize the Russian state from within. “We have to force this conversation and it has to be about a win-win for both of us.”
Overall Royce said that while the Congress had some misgivings about some of the statements coming from the Administration, there was a broad level of support across both parties for the four main players involved in advising the president on foreign policy and national security: Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Adviser H R McMaster, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “To both Democrats and Republicans, they are professional and well-suited, they exhibit discipline and great focus, and we are delighted to have them in those positions.”