All 177 foreign embassies located in Washington, D.C. are no doubt attempting to read the tea leaves and figure out what President-elect Donald Trump’s foreign policy will look like. But his inconsistencies and contradictions render this nearly impossible.
Therefore, rather than speculate, I’ll focus on what U.S. policy in one region, the Middle East, should be, starting with some general guidelines and then turning to specifics.
Given that this is perennially the most volatile area of the world, the goal is modest: to minimize problems and avoid disasters. The prior two presidents failed to achieve even this, and did so in opposite ways. George W. Bush tried to do too much in the Middle East: recall his goals of nation-building in Afghanistan, bringing freedom and prosperity to Iraq, establishing democracy in Egypt, and resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict – every one of which spectacularly flamed out. Reacting against Bush’s “imperial overstretch,” Barack Obama did the reverse, withdrawing prematurely from conflicts, drawing red lines he later abandoned, declaring a fantasy “pivot to Asia,” and granting nearly free reign to Kremlin ambitions.
George W. Bush and Barack Obama both botched the Middle East.
America’s future policy should find a median between these twin excesses: protect Americans, advance American interests, and stand by American allies. Don’t aspire to fix the region but also don’t retreat into isolationism. Make promises carefully and fulfill them reliably. Think before you leap.
Applied to the Middle East, how does this common-sense approach translate regarding major problems such as those involving Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, and the Arab-Israeli conflict?
Iran is overwhelmingly the greatest concern. The new administration should immediately and completely abrogate the weird non-treaty known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a.k.a. the Iran deal. The president can unilaterally take this step and it should be followed by an ultimatum: unless the Iranians shut down their entire nuclear weapons project by a date certain, the U.S. government will accomplish this task on their behalf. Only in this way can the Islamic Republic of Iran certainly be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons, something imperative not just for Israel and other Middle East countries, but also for Americans, as Tehran must be assumed to be building an electromagnetic pulse capability that could destroy the U.S. power grid and lead to the deaths of 90 percent of the population.
The Iran Deal: the greatest diplomatic folly ever?
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long been a hostile ally of the United States, serving both as a crucial supplier of energy even as it sponsored an obscene form of Islam. Lately, Riyadh has taken on a new role, as the regional leading power standing up to Iran, making the monarchy’s security more important than ever to Washington. Fortunately, the younger generation of Saudi leadership appears willing to moderate the traditional Islamist aggressiveness were the U.S. government to push hard enough.
While the Obama administration’s once-active romance with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has slumped to its demise, Washington nonetheless pretends that Ankara remains a stalwart ally, publicly ignoring that the government has turned into a hostile dictatorship with growing ties to Russia and China. The make-nice school of diplomacy having clearly failed to arrest Erdoğan’s ambitions, the time has come to make clear to the Turks how much they will lose in terms of trade, military assistance, and diplomatic support unless they quickly change course.
China’s Xi and Russia’s Putin: best friends forever of Turkey’s Erdoğan?
Obama’s indecision in Syria results from the hostility and repulsiveness of three out of the country’s four main actors: the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS); the Turkish-, Qatari-, and Saudi-backed Sunni Arab rebels, mostly Islamist; and the Assad regime, backed by the Iranian and Russian governments. Only the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), consisting of the mostly-Kurdish People’s Protection units (YPG), are decent and friendly. In a near-Hobbesian state of all fighting all (except that ISIS and Assad steer clear of each other), the Obama administration cannot find a policy and stick with it. Commendably, it helps the SDF, but the over-emphasis on destroying ISIS leads it to misbegotten alliances with Ankara, Tehran, and Moscow. Instead, Washington should assist its only ally while encouraging the other three actors to battle themselves into oblivion.
Insisting on the principle of favoring democratic leaders, even if dubiously elected and hostile, the Obama administration has, by withholding armaments and aid, sought to punish Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for coming to power through a coup d’état. This gratuitous estrangement needs quickly to be changed so that Americans can help a barely-competent Egyptian leader stave off famine and defeat the Islamists, thus helping him to stay in power and keeping the Muslim Brotherhood out.
The Arab-Israeli conflict, once the Middle East’s most dangerous flash-point, has receded (at least temporarily) into the background. While low-level violence continues unabated, it has less potential to escalate in an era of Middle Eastern cold and hot war. The new administration must immediately signal that it considers Israel to be America’s closest and most important Middle East ally; it should also abort the endless pressure on Jerusalem to make concessions to the Palestinian Authority. Better yet, it should discard the nearly-25-year-old pretense that Palestinians are Israel’s “partner for peace” and instead encourage Israelis to impress on the Palestinians the need for them unequivocally and permanently to recognize Israel as the Jewish state.
A simple policy of protecting Americans and their allies offers great opportunities to fix a legacy of ruinous bipartisan mistakes.
Mr. Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum.
A Sa’ar 4.5-class Corvette of the Israeli Navy fires its canons during a naval exercise off the coast of Israel.
Israel’s Defense Ministry on Sunday announced a series of deals for the purchase of combat systems from local defense industries in the amount of $420 million by the end of this year. This is part of a project to acquire warships whose mission would to protect natural gas platforms within Israel’s “economic waters” in the Mediterranean against military threats.
An Israeli soldier training in Krav Maga.
Several dozen members of the Indian military are currently learning how to protect themselves using the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga, India Today reported this weekend.
“I brought Krav Maga to India in year 2002 after intensive training in Israel,” Vikram Kapoor — the head instructor at the International Krav Maga Federation — was quoted as saying. “This is the only self-defense technique that is being evolved every moment and that is why it is the best.”
Culminating a three-year process, delegates at the Mennonite Church USA assembly in Orlando on Thursday adopted a resolution titled “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine,” with approximately 98 percent voting in favor. The resolution calls on members to “avoid purchase of products associated with the occupation or produced in settlements in occupied territories.” It also establishes a process for the church to review its investments “for the purpose of withdrawing investments from companies that are profiting from the occupation.”
Rabbi Steven Wernick says Netanyahu recruited progressive Jews to find a compromise for the holy site; now that the PM has reneged, world Jewry won’t be silent
The fight for pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall is a battle already won by Jewry’s Conservative movement. For some 20 years, Conservative Jews have inhabited a spiritual home at Jerusalem’s contentious holy site, which they won through a series of Supreme Court cases — in a section allocated to the Davidson Archaeological
Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. (Photo credit: hebron.com)
In a secret ballot held at the World Heritage Committee’s 41st annual summit in Krakow Poland, on Friday, UNESCO voted twelve to three in favor declaring the Holy City of Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs “Palestinian world heritage sites”.
The resolution described a Muslim history of the city while blatantly ignoring the Biblical narrative describing 3,000 years of Jewish connection to the site. Six countries abstained from the controversial vote which, at the request of Poland, Croatia, and Jamaica, was a secret ballot; a first for such a vote.
During last month’s 2017 Chicago Dyke March, the true face of “inclusion” among “progressives” finally surfaced. According to the Chicago based newspaper Windy City Times, the march proceeded calmly with people “of all races, genders and gender identities” attending, until “the Dyke March Collective ejected three people carrying Jewish Pride flags (a rainbow flag with a Star of David in the center).”
Something is terribly broken in the relationship between American and Israeli Jews. I say this as an American Jew who has lived in Israel for almost half a century. But if anyone thinks this started with Women of the Wall or PM Netanyahu’s recent – and I believe unfortunate – backtracking on the agreement over egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, he is suffering from selective memory, if not total denial.
gentleman from times gone by. He was soft-spoken, courtly, and wore his pants hoisted high and held up by suspenders; clearly, a European who had personally endured horrors in the last century.
Indeed, he had personally survived the Holocaust in Poland. Therefore, I could not immediately understand why he now attends a very left-wing synagogue—but, totally incomprehensible, was his unexpected and rather passionate defense of Poland and of the Poles. He argued on their behalf as if his very life still depended upon it.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s decision to visit Jerusalem but not Ramallah has prompted much comment.
The expectation of equal treatment goes back to the Oslo Accords’ signing in Sep. 1993, when the prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, represented his government in the handshake with Yasir Arafat, the much-despised chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. No one found it strange or inappropriate at the time but things look differently nearly a quarter century later.
Matthew Healy at the Atlantic, one of the few remaining liberal anti-censorship magazines, offers a disingenuous counterpoint to the debate over political correctness.
The attempts to silence dissenting points of view are counter-speech, according to Healy. And counter-speech is an important form of free expression.