Sure, there’s plenty of confusion, diplomatic malpractice and dysfunction in Trumpian foreign policy. But on two critical issues it is deadly functional: The administration is focused like a laser beam on
- irreversibly burning U.S. bridges to Iran and
- administering last rites to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And if you look at the administration’s actual policies, it’s clear they aren’t just meant to overturn President Barack Obama’s actions, but also to create points of no return—so that successor administrations cannot revert to past approaches even if they want to. If the administration succeeds—and it’s well on its way to doing so—it will have fundamentally damaged U.S. national interests for years to come.
The administration has now done a complete about-face. Whatever Trump’s personal inclinations to prove he’s the world’s greatest negotiator on Iran, his hard-line advisers, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, want to get rid of the mullahs who rule the Islamic Republic, not engage them. Pompeo and Bolton are now pulling out all the stops not only to provoke Iran into withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—and maybe into a fight as well—but to block a successor from engineering either a broader geopolitical pivot toward Iran or to engage in diplomacy to resolve outstanding U.S-Iranian differences. The administration’s Monday announcement that it will end all waivers of sanctions on countries still importing Iranian oil fits this pattern of relying on coercion and intimidation rather than diplomacy. As for Israel, whatever the president’s personal views on Israeli-Palestinian peace (and during the campaign they were more balanced than they are today), Jared Kushner and his team now seem hellbent on producing a “made in Israel” peace plan that will be dead before arrival and drive the final nail in the coffin of a peace process that is already on life support.
Last year, Pompeo laid out 12 extreme demands that Tehran would have to meet before the Trump administration would agree to re-engage with Iran. The demands would have required Iran to give up all its rights under the JCPOA and to stop pursuing what Tehran sees as its legitimate interests in the region—for example, helping to stabilize Iraq and supporting the government of Adil Abdul-Mahdi to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq. This diktat was swiftly and angrily rejected by the Iranian government.
No amount of economic or diplomatic pressure the U.S. brings to bear on Tehran will force it to knuckle under to these orders. But the administration’s fantastical demands have established a standard that will be used to judge any future nuclear agreement a Democratic, or different kind of Republican, administration might negotiate with Iran, which will almost certainly require both U.S. and Iranian compromises. That means a president who fails to meet these standards will be accused of appeasement, making compromise as well as domestic support for a new agreement far more difficult. The administration is not just killing the Iran nuclear deal; it’s stopping it from coming back to life.
The administration’s decision to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization is also willfully and unnecessarily confrontational, and once done, given the hardcore, militant and enduring nature of the IRGC, it will be nearly impossible to undo. A successor administration, if it did try to undo the designation, would find itself vulnerable to the charges of enabling state-sponsored terrorism. The move will strengthen hard-liners in Iran who oppose accommodation with the U.S. and weaken those elements within the country which favor improved relations with America, who will now have no choice other than to remain silent or close ranks behind the IRGC, further diminishing opportunities for future engagement and diplomacy with Iran. Empowered hard-liners will crack down even more harshly on Iranians who want less political oppression, greater respect for human rights, and more political and civil liberties. All these results were no doubt intended by Pompeo and Bolton, and work together with the economic warfare the administration is waging against Iran, which is aimed at provoking internal unrest inside the country that could ultimately lead to a toppling of clerical rule. The imposition of the total embargo on Iranian oil exports, if successful, will inflict even more economic misery on the Iranian people, hardening the perception that the U.S. government is an enemy not only of the ruling regime but also of the Iranian people—an attitude that will make it harder to ratchet down hostility toward America in the future.
In what would deliver the final coup de grace to any normalization of future U.S.-Iranian relations, Pompeo and Bolton are doing everything they can to goad Iran into a military conflict with the U.S.There is a growing risk that U.S. forces and Iranian IRGC units and Iranian-backed militias could stumble their away into an unintended conflict, especially in Iraq or Syria but also in Yemen, where the administration’s unstinting support for the Saudi Arabia’s inhumane and ineffectual military campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthis risks further provoking Houthi missile attacks on the Kingdom, creating a pretext for the Trump administration to come to the Kingdom’s defense.
There are a number of steps the U.S. could take to mitigate the risks of an unintended conflict with Iran. But the administration has failed to create diplomatic or operational arrangements for communications and crisis management with Iran, suggesting that its goal is not to prevent such a conflict but to deliberately provoke one. And predictably, the IRGC designation has met with a hostile Iranian response: The Iranian Majlis (parliament) has declared every American soldier in the Middle East a terrorist. Thousands of U.S. military personnel are now wearing targets on their backs. Because they operate in close proximity to IRCG units and Iranian-backed militias in Syria and Iraq, the odds have increased dramatically that there will be some kind of confrontation with a high risk of escalation. In other words, U.S. actions have helped set the stage for a U.S.-Iranian conflict that could rule out reconciliation for many more years.
A less confrontational relationship with Iran isn’t this administration’s only casualty. It is also doing all it can to kill and bury the long-standing policy of seeking a two-state solution to achieve a conflict-ending settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Over the past year, the administration has waged a relentless campaign of economic and political pressure against the Palestinians—
- closing the PLO office in Washington,
- withdrawing U.S. assistance from the U.N. agency that supports Palestinian refugees and
- cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority.
While the details of the Kushner plan have been shrouded in secrecy for over a year, the way his team has operated and leaks to the media suggest a plan that gives priority to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s politics and needs—one that is reportedly heavy on economic issues and light on the core issues of
- refugees and
- Palestinian statehood.
Even if the words “two-state solution” were uttered, the administration’s view of the Palestinian state is clearly a far cry from the size and contiguity that any Palestinian leader could accept as part of a deal. In this way, the Trump administration’s policies don’t just roll back the very idea of a meaningful two-state solution and push the Palestinians further away from engaging seriously in negotiations leading to a settlement. They also, in aligning so closely with Netanyahu’s vision, make a deal much less likely in future.
For example, the administration’s gratuitous decision—untethered from any U.S. national interest—to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and open an embassy there
- inflicted serious damage on U.S. credibility as a mediator,
- marginalized the Palestinian Authority as a key U.S. interlocutor, and
- subordinated U.S. policy toward the Palestinians to U.S. policy toward Israel.
The administration’s treatment of Jerusalem has drawn a clear hierarchy: Israel’s needs are indisputable and sacred, Palestinian needs are negotiable and worldly. The prospects for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem are now more remote than ever: With continuing Israeli efforts to formalize their control over all of Jerusalem and the presence of more than 300,000 Israelis living there, it’s hard to imagine there will be either political or territorial space for the establishment of a real Palestinian capital.
Once annexed, there will be no possibility of any solution that involves separating Israelis and Palestinians, thereby condemning them both to live in a one-state reality that is a prescription for unending conflict and violence. In the cruelest of ironies, the administration’s plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could extinguish any hope of a diplomatic solution to separate Israelis and Palestinians, and instead guarantee perpetual conflict.
So if the chances of the plan’s success are slim to none, especially in light of the recent Israeli election and the emergence of a very right-wing government, why launch it? The answer is obvious: We believe the administration has defined success in other ways. With zero chance of getting an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, the administration’s real end game is to fundamentally alter U.S. policy toward the conflict and to do everything possible to raise the odds that no successor can reverse the new ground rules. And there may be no time better than now. Listen to U.S. Ambassador David Friedman—a key influencer of the administration’s policy—at last month’s AIPAC conference: “Can we leave this to an administration that may not understand the need for Israel to maintain overriding security control of Judea and Samaria and a permanent defense position in the Jordan Valley?” he asked. “Can we run the risk that one day the government of Israel will lament, ‘Why didn’t we make more progress when U.S. foreign policy was in the hands of President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo, Ambassador Bolton, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, and even David Friedman?’ How can we do that?”
The goal isn’t just to drive a stake through the peace process but to ensure that America’s traditional conception of a two-state solution won’t rise from the dead.
Why couldn’t a new administration truly committed to engaging Iran and pushing forward on a two-state solution simply return to traditional policies? We cannot rule this out; but this possibility faces very long odds, particularly if the Trump administration is in charge until 2024.
Even under normal circumstances with a committed and highly skilled administration, Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are excruciatingly difficult issues even to manage, let alone resolve. Success depends on leaders America can’t control who have conflicting interests and their own domestic constraints and, in the case of Iran, on bitterly suspicious adversaries; the issues are politically radioactive for all parties and perceived to be existential, too. And the longer these conflicts persist the more entrenched attitudes become and options for progress contract. Indeed, time is an enemy not an ally; and even under the best of circumstances, any number of deal breakers are always present. In its own inimitable way, the administration is well on its way to hanging “closed for the season” signs on both improving relations with Iran and on a two-state solution and, sadly, irreversibly damaging American credibility and national interests in the process.
As usual, the president makes his predecessors look better.
Suppose you’re the type of smart conservative reluctantly inclined to give Donald Trump a pass for his boorish behavior and ideological heresies because you like the way the economy is going and appreciate the tough tone of his foreign policy, especially when it comes to Islamic fundamentalism.
These last few weeks haven’t exactly validated your faith in the man, have they?
.. The president has abruptly undermined Israel’s security following a phone call with an Islamist strongman in Turkey. So much for the idea, common on the right, that this is the most pro-Israel administration ever.
.. Contrary to the invidious myth that neoconservatives always put Israel first, the reasons for staying in Syria have everything to do with core U.S. interests. Among them: Keeping ISIS beaten, keeping faith with the Kurds, maintaining leverage in Syria and preventing Russia and Iran from consolidating their grip on the Levant.
.. Powers that maintain a reputation as reliable allies and formidable foes tend to enhance their power. Powers that behave as Trump’s America has squander it.
.. But leave that aside and consider the Trump presidency from a purely Israeli standpoint. Are Israelis better off now that the U.S. Embassy is in Jerusalem? Not materially. The move was mostly a matter of symbolism, albeit of an overdue and useful sort. Are Israelis safer from Iran now that the U.S. is no longer in the Iran deal and sanctions are back in force? Only marginally. Sanctions are a tool of strategy, not a strategy unto themselves.
.. What Israel most needs from the U.S. today is what it needed at its birth in 1948: an America committed to defending the liberal-international order against totalitarian enemies, as opposed to one that conducts a purely transactional foreign policy based on the needs of the moment or the whims of a president.
.. From that, everything follows. It means that the U.S. should not
- sell out small nations — whether it was Israel in 1973 or Kuwait in 1990 — for the sake of currying favor with larger ones. It means we should
- resist interloping foreign aggressors, whether it was the
- Soviets in Egypt in the 1960s, or the
- Russians and Iranians in Syria in this decade. It means we should
- oppose militant religious fundamentalism, whether it is
- Wahhabis in Riyadh or Khomeinists in Tehran or Muslim Brothers in Cairo and Ankara. It means we should
- human rights,
- civil liberties, and
- democratic institutions, in that order.
Trump has stood all of this on its head.
He shows no interest in pushing Russia out of Syria. He has neither articulated nor pursued any coherent strategy for pushing Iran out of Syria. He has all but invited Turkey to interfere in Syria. He has done nothing to prevent Iran from continuing to arm Hezbollah. He shows no regard for the Kurds. His fatuous response to Saudi Arabia’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi is that we’re getting a lot of money from the Saudis.
He speaks with no authority on subjects like press freedom or religious liberty because he assails both at home. His still-secret peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians will have the rare effect of uniting Israelis and Palestinians in their rejection of it
.. If you think the gravest immediate threat to Israel is jihadist Hezbollah backed by fundamentalist Iran backed by cynical Russia, the answer is no.
.. If you think the gravest middle-term threat is the continued Islamization of Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan — gradually transforming the country into a technologically competent Sunni version of Iran — the answer is no.
.. If you think that another grave threat to Israel is the inability to preserve at least a vision of a future Palestinian state — one that pursues good governance and peace with its neighbors while rejecting kleptocracy and terrorism — the answer is no.
And if you think that the ultimate long-term threat to Israel is the resurgence of isolationism in the U.S. and a return to the geopolitics of every nation for itself, the answer is more emphatically no.
The good thing about John Bolton, President Trump’s new national security adviser, is that he says what he thinks.
The bad thing is what he thinks.
There are few people more likely than Mr. Bolton is to lead the country into war.
.. no one was a more vociferous proponent of that disastrous invasion than Mr. Bolton, a position he has not renounced. At the time, Mr. Bolton said Iraqis would welcome American troops. He also said the United States’ military role would be over quickly as Iraqis exercised their new freedom from Saddam Hussein and established a democracy. It was the sort of simplistic and wrongheaded position that he takes on most policies.
.. He is known to play a ruthless inside game as he maneuvers to win bureaucratic battles and freezes out people he thinks have crossed him.
.. his rejection of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his endorsement of a book by the anti-Muslim activist Pam Geller
Bibi has been, for Israelis, a pretty good prime minister
.. Economy: Since Netanyahu returned to power in 2009, the economy has grown by nearly 30 percent in constant dollars — nearly twice the growth rate of Germany or the United States. Some 3.6 million tourists visited Israel in 2017, a record for the Jewish state. On Monday, Israel announced a $15 billion dollar deal to export natural gas to Egypt from its huge offshore fields.
.. Diplomacy: Netanyahu’s personal ties to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are exceptionally close, as they are with Japan’s Shinzo Abe. Israel’s relations with African countries and the Arab world are the best they’ve been in decades
.. Security: In 2002, at the height of the second intifada, Israelis suffered more than 400 terrorism fatalities. In 2017 there were fewer than two dozen.
.. For the most part, Israel has been able to strike Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah targets at will.
.. Diaspora Jews were infuriated last year by the government’s backtracking on a plan to let men and women pray together at the Western Wall.
.. The central complaint of Netanyahu’s critics is that he has failed to make good on the promise of his 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, where he claimed to accept the principle of a Palestinian state.
.. Subsidiary charges include his refusal to halt settlement construction
.. Israel’s political left was not destroyed by Netanyahu. It was obliterated one Palestinian suicide bombing, rocket salvo, tunnel attack and rejected statehood offer at a time. Bibi’s long tenure of office is the consequence, not the cause, of this.
.. the two great lessons of the past 30 years.
- First, that separation from the Palestinians is essential — in the long term.
- Second, that peace with the Palestinians is impossible — in the short term.
.. it’s hard to imagine any other sort of approach, which is why any successor to Netanyahu will have to pursue essentially identical policies
.. For all of his flaws, few have done it as well as Bibi, which is why he has endured
The Trump administration is nearly finished drafting its Mideast peace proposal and will release it soon, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Thursday.
.. Haley added that U.S. negotiators Jared Kushner and Jason D. Greenblatt are “still going back and forth,”
.. Haley added that U.S. negotiators Jared Kushner and Jason D. Greenblatt are “still going back and forth,”
.. Palestinian leaders have said the Jerusalem decision means the United States can no longer be an honest broker.
.. David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, pressed Haley on whether the United States would propose an independent Palestinian stat
.. “It’s for them to decide,” Haley said
.. Axelrod asked Haley about proposals to cut legal migration “by 40 percent,”
.. She advises Trump directly and is among the most hawkish voices on issues including Iran and Israel, sometimes putting her at odds with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
.. Kissinger, she said, had advised her that negotiations go better when one tries to understand an adversary’s goals and motives. That applies in international affairs and in politics, she told the students.
“You don’t have to agree with them – most times you won’t. But you have to understand where they’re coming from,” Haley said.
“This is a skill that I am afraid is being lost in America today,” along with perspective on political differences, she said.
To the casual observer, Israel has never looked more secure and prosperous. Its Arab neighbors are in disarray. Iran’s nuclear program has been mothballed for a while. The Trump team could not be friendlier and the Palestinians could not be weaker. All’s quiet on the Tel Aviv front. …
Look again. In fact, the foundations of Israel’s long-term national security are cracking.
.. Israel is overstretching itself by simultaneously erasing the line between itself and the Palestinians — essentially absorbing 2.5 million Palestinians, which could turn Israel into a de facto Jewish-Arab binational state — and drawing a line between itself and the Jewish diaspora, particularly the U.S. Jewish community
.. Netanyahu is setting himself up to be a pivotal figure in Jewish history — the leader who burned the bridges to a two-state solution and to the Jewish diaspora at the same time.
.. I won’t waste much time on Bibi’s deft manipulation of President Trump to shift all the blame onto the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas for the absence of progress in the peace process. Bibi masterfully distracted Trump with a shiny object — a video of extreme statements by Abbas (with no mention of extremist actions by Israeli settlers).
“Bibi, you win every debate, but meanwhile every day the separation of Israel from the Palestinians grows less likely, putting Israel on a ‘slippery slope toward apartheid,’ as former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak recently warned. Where is your map? What are you going to do with 420,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank? Where is your imagination for how to reverse this trend that will inevitably lead to the end of Israel as a Jewish democratic state?”
.. About 75 percent of the 10 million diaspora Jews are non-Orthodox, mostly followers of the Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism.
.. Netanyahu bowed to the demands of the Orthodox parties and canceled a 2016 agreement to create a distinct egalitarian prayer space adjacent to the Western Wall of the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem — the holiest site of the Jewish faith — where men and women of the non-Orthodox movements could pray together. The Orthodox rabbis who control the Western Wall insist that men pray in one area and women in a separate, smaller area.
.. At the same time, Bibi caved and endorsed an Orthodox party bill in the Knesset that handed the ultra-Orthodox what amounts to a monopoly over conversions to Judaism in Israel “by pulling government recognition for private conversions” — basically those done by non-Orthodox rabbis
.. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency pointed out that Israel’s Orthodox parties and Chief Rabbinate essentially control “all Jewish marriage in Israel, and immigrants who wish to wed there must first prove they are Jewish according to Orthodox law. … The Chief Rabbinate’s antipathy to Reform and Conservative rabbis is well documented.”
.. Netanyahu “just gave the finger to a huge chunk of American Jews
.. After an outcry led by the American pro-Israel lobby Aipac, Bibi negotiated a six-month freeze on putting the conversion legislation in effect. But it is a time bomb.
.. “Does Israel view itself as the nation-state of Israelis or as the nation-state of the entire Jewish people — nearly 60 percent of whom live outside of Israel? Is the purpose of Israel to serve the continuing resilience, prosperity and existence of the Jewish people, as the founders of Zionism envisioned, or just its own well-being?
..Former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren .. the machinations of Bibi and the Orthodox parties constituted an “abandonment of Zionism. The [Western Wall] belongs to the Jewish people as a whole.”
.. “For years the diaspora’s rabbis were not recognized by Israel’s government, but their political support was sought and their congregants’ money was requested. Israeli politicians who voted against the diaspora’s interests in the Israeli Parliament begged for the stage at the Aipac convention in Washington
.. Israelis have long taken for granted the fact that America — the world’s greatest superpower —
- is a steadfast supporter of Israel in the U.N.,
- looks the other way on settlements,
- secures Israel’s technological edge over its enemies through defense systems like the Iron Dome, and
- just promised Israel $38 billion in security aid over 10 years.
.. Most Israelis, said Grinstein, “are ignorant of the fact that this astonishing reality is the outcome of tireless work by hundreds of thousands of Jews — Democrats and Republicans, most of them non-Orthodox
.. Today, Israel’s very identity is at a crossroad:
- Runaway Jewish nationalism threatens to meld Israel with the Palestinians in the West Bank, while
- runaway Orthodox politics threatens to disconnect Israel from its most committed supporters.
Policy vs. personality in Middle East politics.Real policy differences over Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and the terms of the nuclear deal with Iran caused innumerable disagreements, many of them quite public. But during my time representing the United States here, I found that the caricature of universal Israeli hostility to Obama was overstated... the arrival of a president who “at last” would support Israel unconditionally and not pressure the country to limit settlement growth or make concessions to the Palestinians.Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, declared, “Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state.”.. revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations toward a two-state solution, with the support of key Arab states.. With Obama, Israelis may not always have gotten everything they wanted. But they always got consistency. Obama held as a firm principle the idea that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security was unconditional... relationship mature enough and durable enough to withstand such differences — but they needed to know that the United States was a reliable ally when it mattered most. And he delivered.. they came to appreciate was Obama’s style of leadership: steady, thoughtful, knowledgeable... he had the maturity, the discipline and the judgment to reach well-informed decisions that benefited Israel’s security... The result was a period of unprecedented intimacy between our militaries and intelligence services... I was struck by the depth of appreciation that senior Israeli military officers and intelligence officials expressed for Obama’s contributions to Israel’s security, often drawing a contrast with sentiments expressed by their politicians or the public... Amos Gilad, a longtime senior defense official.. told me: “It’s easy to criticize Obama. But on the military front, the relationship was incredible.”.. His unpredictability .. was already a source of anxiety.. Israelis now have to ask which Trump will show up for work each day — the friend who pledges his loyalty or the adolescent who can lash out at allies such as Australia and Canada, and perhaps one day Israel?.. His lack of knowledge, compounded by his aversion to reading and short attention span.. His carelessness.. shaken the confidence of the Israeli intelligence services in the reliability of the United States as a partner.. indifferent to democratic values and institutions and enamored of authoritarian leaders is harming the United States’ standing globally, which is never good for Israel... off the record, officials are beginning to acknowledge that something has changed... erratic, unreliable leader?.. David Ben-Gurion, gave President John F. Kennedy.. The best way you can help Israel, Ben-Gurion told him, is “by being a great President of the United States.”