Making predictions about American politics and foreign policy in 2023 is not easy. However, some trends are clear, and if we watch a few key developments, we can better anticipate the coming year’s events better.
First, although the Republican Party failed to gain the majority in the American Senate, it will control the House of Representatives. And here is the first key development to watch: if the Republican representatives in early January elect Kevin McCarthy as leader of the House of Representatives, President Joe Biden will face a constant headache.
McCarthy is from the right-wing of the Republican Party that rejects any negotiation or compromise with Biden and the Democratic Party. Already McCarthy’s allies are criticizing Republican senators who cooperated with the Democratic Party on the new 2023 budget. It is very possible that the House of Representatives under the leadership of McCarthy will force the American government to suspend many of its operations as the two parties argue about the 2024 budget. (This suspension will not include the Pentagon.)
And in the meantime, we will see the House of Representatives start investigations of the business activities of Biden’s son Hunter, the Biden administration’s handling of the immigration and border controls and also the withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. It won’t be enjoyable for many in Biden’s cabinet.
Because Biden likely will face a total Republican blockade of his domestic agenda, he will focus more on foreign policy issues. Most of attention of the Biden administration’s defense and diplomatic leaders will be on Ukraine. They will work towards two goals: first, to maintain support for Ukraine despite unease among some European countries and second, to contain the economic damage from the war.
There is no other way to explain the visit of Brett McGurk, Biden’s top Middle East advisor, to Algeria earlier this month unless he wanted to speak about natural gas exports to Europe and building an international consensus about Russia’s invasion. McGurk was not there to discuss the Western Sahara, for example.
The Biden team is cautious about direct confrontation with Russia. They want a diplomatic settlement and they will have a problem with conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives who are tired of giving aid to Ukraine.
From there, the next priority will be the Biden administration efforts to contain China, especially by means of strengthening alliances. Biden and his secretaries of state and defense will meet many Asian leaders in 2023 to talk about strategies to deter Chinese military and cyberattacks.
Finally, the Biden administration will face the new right-wing Israeli government and the Middle East. Being frank brings comfort: this is not the White House of George Bush the father with his friend and Secretary of State James Baker.
In 1990 Baker publicly told Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to call the White House when Israel was ready for peace with the Palestinians; he even reminded Shamir sarcastically of the White House telephone number. In 1991 George Bush the father decided to confront Israel’s friends in Washington and delay financial aid to Israel until Shamir agreed to suspend building in Israeli settlements.
Those days are finished. Biden will not risk paying the political price that Bush had to pay.
In addition, and in part due to Israeli pressure, the Biden administration will wrestle with the Iranian nuclear program. Biden last week said the 2015 deal is dead, but he “prefers not to say it.” Why not? The reason is that he hopes to find a diplomatic strategy to delay undertaking a military strike.
We will have to watch Iranian actions. If they restart some cooperation with international monitors of their nuclear facilities and avoid building a bomb, Biden will incline away from an attack. However, if Iran moves forward to assembling a nuclear bomb, and of course if it tests a bomb, the pressure in Washington on Biden will be huge.
Biden regrets his 2002 vote in favor of the Iraq war, and he knows that a few military airstrikes will not solve the problem of the Iranian nuclear program and regional ambitions. What Iran chooses to do, or chooses not to do, will determine Biden’s response.
My last prediction is easier: by the end of 2023 the American presidential election campaign will be underway. Donald Trump will suffer in the early competition against Florida Governor DeSantis DeSantis.
Already opinion polls show support for Trump in the Republican Party is diminishing, especially after Trump’s comment that perhaps the American Constitution should be suspended because of purported fraud in the 2020 election. And Joe Biden will announce that he will aim for reelection even though most Democratic Party voters would prefer a different candidate.
We can expect a bitter political war in Washington by the end of the year.