While the presidential campaign was still in progress it was possible to think that there might be some positive change in America’s broken foreign policy. Hillary Clinton was clearly the candidate of Washington Establishment hawkishness, while Donald Trump was declaring his disinclination for democracy and nation building overseas as well as promoting détente with Russia. Those of us who considered the foreign policy debacle to be the most dangerous issue confronting the country, particularly as it was also fueling domestic tyranny, tended to vote on the basis of that one issue in favor of Trump.
On December 1st in Cincinnati, president-elect Donald Trump made some interesting comments about his post-electoral foreign policy plans. There were a lot of good things in it, including his citing of $6 trillion “wasted” in Mideast fights when “our goal is stability not chaos.” And as for dealing with real enemies, he promised to “partner with any nation that is willing to join us in the effort to defeat ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism…” He called it a “new foreign policy that finally learns from the mistakes of the past” adding that “We will stop looking to topple regimes and overthrow governments, folks.”
Regarding the apparent inability of governments to thoroughly check out new immigrants prior to letting them inside the country, demonstrated most recently in Nice, Ohio and Berlin, Trump described how “People are pouring in from regions of the Middle East — we have no idea who they are, where they come from what they are thinking and we are going to stop that dead cold. … These are stupid refugee programs created by stupid politicians.” Exaggerated? For sure, but he has a point, and it all is part and parcel of a foreign policy that serves no actual interest for people who already live in the United States.
But, as so often with Trump, there was also the flip side. On the looney fringe of the foreign and national security policy agenda, the president-elect oddly believes that “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” So to reduce the number of nukes we have to create more of them and put them in more places. Pouring gasoline on a raging fire would be an appropriate analogy and it certainly leads to questions regarding who is advising The Donald with this kind of nonsense.
Trump has promised to “put America first,” but there is inevitably a spanner in the works. Now, with the New Year only six days away and the presidential inauguration coming less than three weeks after that, it is possible to discern that the new foreign policy will, more than under Barack Obama and George W. Bush, be driven in significant part by Israeli interests.
At least Obama had the good sense to despise Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but that will not be true of the White House after January 20th. Trump’s very first telephone conversation with a foreign head of government after being elected was with Netanyahu and during the campaign, he promised to invite Bibi to the White House immediately after the inauguration. The new president’s first naming of an Ambassador-designate to a foreign nation was of his good friend and bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman to Israel. Friedman had headed Trump’s Israel Advisory Committee and is a notable hard liner who supports the Israeli settler movement, an extreme right-wing political entity that is nominally opposed by existing U.S. government policy as both illegal and damaging to Washington’s interests. Beyond that, Friedman rejects creation of a Palestinian state and supports Israel’s actual annexation of the West Bank.
U.S. Ambassadors are supposed to support American interests but Friedman would actually be representing and endorsing a particularly noxious version of Israeli fascism as the new normal in the relationship with Washington. Friedman describes Jerusalem as “the holy capital of the Jewish people and only the Jewish people.” Trump is already taking steps to move the U.S. Embassy there, making the American government unique in having its chief diplomatic mission in the legally disputed city. The move will also serve as a recruiting poster for groups like ISIS and will inflame opinion against the U.S. among friendly Arab states in the region. There is no possible gain and much to lose for the United States and for American citizens in making the move, but it satisfies Israeli hardliners and zealots like Friedman.
The Trump team’s animosity towards Iran is also part of the broader Israeli agenda. Iran does not threaten the United States and is a military midget compared either to nuclear armed Israel or the U.S. Yet is has been singled out as the enemy du jour in the Middle East even though it has invaded no one since the seventeenth century. Israel would like to have the United States do the heavy lifting to destroy Iran as a regional power. If Washington were to attempt to do so it would be a catastrophe for all parties involved but that has not stopped hardliners from demanding unrelenting military pressure on Tehran.
Donald Trump is not even president yet but he advised Barack Obama to exercise the U.S. veto for the resolution condemning Israeli settlements that was voted on at the United Nations Security Council on Friday, explaining that “As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties, and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations. This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis.”
This is a straight Israeli line that might even have been written by Netanyahu himself. Or by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which fumed “AIPAC is deeply disturbed by the failure of the Obama Administration to exercise its veto to prevent a destructive, one-sided, anti-Israel resolution from being enacted by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). In the past, this administration and past administrations have rejected this type of biased resolution since it undermines prospects for peace. It is particularly regrettable, in his last month in office, that the president has taken an action at odds with the bipartisan consensus in Congress and America’s long history of standing with Israel at the United Nations.”
Ah yes, the fabled negotiations for a two state solution, regularly employed to enable Israelis to do nothing while expanding their theft of Arab land and one wonders how Trump would define what is “fair to the Palestinians?” So we are already well into Trump’s adoption of the “always the victim argument” that the Israelis have so cleverly exploited with U.S. politicians and the media.
Not content with advising Obama, Trump also reportedly took the Palestinian issue one step further by directly pressuring the sponsoring Egyptians to postpone any submission of the resolution. Expecting to have a friendly president in the White House after January 20th, Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi complied on Thursday but the motion was reintroduced by New Zealand, Venezuela, Senegal and Malaysia on the following day. The resolution passed with 14 yes votes and a courageous U.S. abstention after Obama finally, after eight long years, developed a backbone. But unfortunately, Trump’s interventions suggest that nothing critical of Israel will be allowed to emerge from the U.N. during his term of office. Referring to the U.N. vote, he said that “things will be different after January 20th.”
The United Nations resolution produced an immediate reaction from Israeli Firsters in Congress and the media, led by Senator Chuck Schumer and the Washington Post. The Post featured a lead editorial entitled The Obama Administration fires a dangerous parting shot and an op-ed The United States just made Middle East peace harder by no less a redoubtable American hero than Eliot Abrams. Look in vain for any suggestion of what might be construed as an actual U.S. interest in either piece. It is all about Israel, as it always is.
The problem with Israel and its friends is that they are never satisfied and never leave the rest of us Americans alone, pushing constantly at what is essentially an open door. They have treated the United States like a doormat, spying on us more than any ostensibly friendly nation while pocketing our $38 billion donation to their expanding state without so much as a thank you. They are shameless. Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer has been all over American television sputtering his rage over the United Nations settlements vote. On CNN he revealed that Israel has “clear evidence” that President Obama was “behind” the resolution and he announced his intention to share the information with Donald Trump. Every American should be outraged by Israel’s contempt for us and our institutions. One has to wonder if the mainstream media will take a rest from their pillorying of Russia to cover the story.
For many years now, Israel has sought to make the American people complicit in its own crimes while also encouraging our country’s feckless and corrupt leadership to provide their government with political cover and even go to war on its behalf. This has got to stop and, for a moment, it looked like Trump might be the man to end it when he promised to be even-handed in negotiating between the Arabs and Israelis. That was before he promised to be the best friend Israel would ever have.
Israel’s quarrels don’t stay in Israel and they are not limited to the foreign policy realm. I have already discussed the pending Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, a bipartisan effort by Congress to penalize and even potentially criminalize any criticism of Israel by equating it to anti-Semitism. Whether Israel itself wants to consider itself a democracy is up to Netanyahu and Israeli voters but the denial of basic free speech rights to Americans in deference to Israeli perceptions should be considered to be completely outrageous.
And there’s more. Israel’s government funded lawfare organization Shurat HaDin has long been using American courts to punish Palestinians and Iranians, obtaining punitive damages linked to allegations regarding terrorist incidents that have taken place in Israel. Now Shurat HaDin is using our courts to go after American companies that do business with countries like Iran.
Last year’s nuclear agreement with Iran included an end to restraints on the Islamic Republic’s ability to engage in normal banking and commercial activity. As a high priority, Iran has sought to replace some of its aging infrastructure, to include its passenger aircraft fleet. Seattle based Boeing has sought to sell to Iran Air 80 airplanes at a cost of more than $16 billion and has worked with the U.S. government to meet all licensing and technology transfer requirements. The civilian-use planes are not in any way configurable for military purposes, but Shurat HaDin on December 16th sought to block the sale at a federal court in Illinois, demanding a lien against Boeing for the monies alleged to be due to the claimed victims of Iranian sponsored terrorism. Boeing, meanwhile, has stated that the Iran Air order “support(s) tens of thousands of U.S. jobs.”
So an agency of the Israeli government is taking steps to stop an American company from doing something that is perfectly legal under U.S. law even though it will cost thousands of jobs here at home. It is a prime example of how much Israel truly cares about the United States and its people. And even more pathetic, the Israel Lobby owned U.S. Congress has predictably bowed down and kissed Netanyahu’s ring on the issue, passing a bill in November that seeks to block Treasury Department licenses to permit the financing of the airplane deal.
The New Year and the arrival of an administration with fresh ideas would provide a great opportunity for the United States to finally distance itself from a toxic Israel, but, unfortunately, it seems that everything is actually moving in the opposite direction. Don’t be too surprised if we see a shooting war with Iran before the year is out as well as a shiny new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem (to be built on land stolen from Palestinians, incidentally). Trump might think he is ushering in a new era of American policy based on American interests but it is beginning to look a lot like same-old same-old but even worse, and Benjamin Netanyahu will be very much in the driver’s seat.