Who’ll be jammed up more by this, congressional Democrats or Trump?
“It’s that important to me,” [Graham] told CNN. “This is a road we haven’t gone down before. If you can’t show the American people that international organizations can be more responsible, there is going to be a break. And I am going to lead that break.”
“I will do everything in my power, working with the new administration and Congress, to leave no doubt about where America stands when it comes to the peace process and where we stand with the only true democracy in the Middle East, Israel,” Graham added. He later told CNN’s Dana Bash that US funding accounts for 22% of the UN’s budget…
“Trump is a good negotiator. Let’s see if this give him some leverage,” he said, adding if the world body overturned the measure, the UN “has got a chance to reset and let the new administration restart the peace process.”
Ted Cruz chipped in yesterday:
Spoke w/ Israeli PM @netanyahu tonight to wish him Happy Chanukah & assure him of strong support in Congress. No US $ for UN until reversed.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) December 24, 2016
To reverse last week’s Security Council vote on the settlements, which went 14-0 with the U.S. abstaining, you’d need to flip nine votes and have none of the permanent members of the Council — Russia, China, the UK, and France — veto the repeal resolution, even though each of them voted yes last week. Not gonna happen. So what’s Graham’s strategy here with a “repeal or defund” push? If this idea catches on among Republicans and the UN won’t re-vote on the resolution, Trump will start his presidency forced to choose between a standoff with the UN over funding and Israel or a standoff with the pro-Israel wing of his own party if he refuses to back Graham’s and Cruz’s brinksmanship. The fallout from that would be unpredictable. What penalty would the U.S. suffer at the UN for withholding funding? Is Trump comfortable with potentially forfeiting a lever of diplomatic power within his first few weeks in office in order to make a point about U.S. support for Israel? Would other countries walk out in protest of the U.S. trying to extort the UN financially into changing a policy that had unanimous support in the Security Council and wasn’t even opposed by the U.S. just because there’s a new administration in Washington?
I suppose there’s a third option: Trump could try to boot the issue to Democrats by declaring that he’d sign a bill that defunds the UN if it can get through the Senate. Can it? Chuck Schumer, a pro-Israel Dem, would be caught in a bind in which he’d have to choose between supporting Trump in undoing Obama’s UN policy, which the left won’t like, or opposing Trump and Israel on grounds that defunding the UN is too draconian a response to last week’s resolution. And he’d have to do so without being sure that there are 60 votes to defund even if he does back Trump. Remember, Schumer was one of only four Democrats to vote against Obama’s Iran deal despite the obvious risks the deal posed to Israel. Republican hawks will be all-in on defunding, but what about centrists like Collins and Murkowski? Are they prepared to nuke America’s relationship with the UN? Are Rand Paul and Mike Lee? How many Democratic votes could Trump count on with liberals demanding that Senate Dems protect Obama’s policy and America’s obligations to the UN?
If you’re wondering, by the way, how America’s share of the UN’s budget compares to other nations’, it’s no contest. The U.S. pays 22 percent of UN expenses; the next largest contributor is Japan at a little more than 10 percent. China and Russia kick in a combined total of slightly more than 7.5 percent. Other countries could in theory try to mimic America’s brinksmanship by threatening to withhold funding if they’re aggrieved by a Security Council vote, but no one has nearly the same amount of muscle that the U.S. does. Coalitions of countries could bring the same financial pressure to bear, but even then it would take a group of first-world economies to match America’s clout. Germany, France, Italy, and the UK combined pay roughly the same share of the UN’s budget that America does. Maybe that’s where Trump would find room to maneuver politically if he ends up in a standoff with the UN over funding — rather than defunding the institution, he could argue that the U.S. is paying more than its fair share and that other nations, particularly China and Russia as permanent member of the Security Council, need to kick in more. Trump likes that line of argument, that smaller nations are free-riding on U.S. largesse, in the context of NATO. It’d be natural for him to apply it to the UN too. If there’s going to be a diplomatic platform for other countries to block the interests of the U.S. and its allies, the least those countries can do is pony up a bigger share of the rent.