There are alarming news reports about upcoming Trump cabinet appointments to fill key slots in the national security and foreign policy apparatus. They raise the specter of undoing nearly 70 years of carefully-constructed consensus in U.S. policy toward the Middle East. Presidents hearkening back to Lyndon Johnson have opposed Israeli settlements, and since George HW Bush they’ve supported a two-state solution. More recently, President Obama adopted an anti-interventionist course in the quagmire that is Syria. He and Pres. Bush also rejected an Israeli offer to jointly attack Iran.
Despite Trump’s avowed inclination to stay out of overseas conflicts, it’s quite possible key advisors and allies in the region like Benjamin Netanyahu could inveigle him into such military adventurism.
News stories speak of turmoil within Pres.-Elect Trump’s transition team. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who endorsed Trump early and worked tirelessly on his behalf, is out. That includes former Congressman Mike Rogers, who was the national security expert for the old team.
In his place, the Wall Street Journal reports that Frank Gaffney has been tapped. He is the founder of the Center for Security Policy, perhaps the most Islamophobic think tank in Washington. An NGO which monitors U.S. hate groups, the Southern Poverty Law Center, calls it “…a conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.” In terms of conspiracy-mongering, it more than keeps pace with Breitbart News, whose chief, Steve Bannon, has now become Trump’s special political advisor. Gaffney has accused the Arab-American wives of Republican stalwart Grover Norquist and ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner, of being shadow members of the Muslim Brotherhood. He’s used these charges to impugn both men and tar them as fellow travelers with Arab terrorists.
Though Gaffney once had a low-level job in the Reagan Pentagon, and continues receiving funding for his group from major defense contractors, it’s not clear what particular national security expertise he has. Unless you want to base the entire U.S. national security policy on suspecting Muslims of seeking the overthrow of the Republic. Indeed, Vox published a piece based on precisely this premise:
With the Trump administration working to finalize its choices for who will run the Pentagon and State Department, it’s becoming clear that getting top national security posts in the new White House requires two qualifications: intense personal loyalty to Donald Trump himself and an almost obsessive fixation on the potential threats posed by radical Islamic terrorism.
The incoming national security advisor is Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. In the videotaped speech above delivered at the ironically named Ahavat Torah (“Love of Torah”) synagogue in Massachusetts, he inveighed against Islam:
“We are facing another ‘ism,’ just like we faced Nazism, and fascism, and imperialism and communism. This is Islamism, it is a vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people on this planet and it has to be excised.”
Flynn espoused more lies concerning a Florida law passed by its Republican-controlled Senate outlawing Sharia law:
“The state of Florida they have 36 senators at the state level. 36 senators at the state level. 12, of them are Democrats, the Republicans hold the majority in the Florida state senate,” Flynn said. “All 12 Democrats, all 12 Democrats voted to impose shariah at the local and state level. Now, it was beaten because the Republicans are in charge.
This is, of course, utter nonsense. Current laws in many states allow religious groups to adjudicate cases with the consent of both parties by religious law. This is true of Jews, Muslims, Native Americans and others. If you don’t choose to accept jurisdiction, you don’t have to do so. You may turn to civil courts. In none of these states is religious law, whether Sharia, halacha, or anything else, “imposed” on anyone. But that didn’t stop Flynn from uttering a Politifacts “pants on fire” lie.
His policies are reminiscent of the Dr. Strangelove character, Dr. Jack D. Ripper, who ranted that the Russians were intent on depriving us of “our precious bodily fluids.” In a book he wrote, Flynn warned that ISIS is “dead set on taking us over and drinking our blood.”
Another Gaffney protegé, former CIA agent, Clare Lopez, was in line to become deputy national security advisor until named a Fox News analyst to the post. In a 2013 speech, Lopez claimed Islam was not a “bona fide” religion:
“When people in other bona fide religions follow their doctrines they become better people — Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews. When Muslims follow their doctrine, they become jihadists.”
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is among the top choices for Secretary of State. Again, Giuliani brings no particular foreign policy or diplomatic expertise to this potential assignment. He was known as mayor for his bellicosity, his thin skin, and his antagonism toward the United Nations and Arab leaders in particular. Though perhaps these would be precisely the qualities Trump is seeking: a chief diplomat who hates diplomacy and international institutions.
He is in contention with Republican mandarin, Mitt Romney. There is currently an internal battle within the Trump retinue about whether the new administration should feature a fang-bearing secretary of state or a milquetoast mainstream Republican. One of Trump’s stated reasons for liking Romney in the role is that “he looks the part.”
Another early Trump supporter who has spoken opined on Mideast issues is Walid Phares. He is a former Phalangist warlord responsible for mass killings of Lebanese Muslims during the Civil War there in the 1970s. Yet now, he’s cleaned up his résumé and assumed the mantle of a Mideast policy analyst. He was a national security advisor to Ted Cruz’s campaign. With Cruz (along with Sen. Jeff Sessions) being considered for attorney general, Phares’ stock is on the rise as well. Believe it or not, the latter comes across as fairly moderate considering some of the other pro-Israel firebrands purporting to represent Trump’s views.
Phares says that the U.S. embassy would only be moved to Jerusalem as part of a final status agreement and a “consensus” among the parties. He also says that Trump remains committed to a two-state solution, though others speaking on his behalf reject this explicitly.
U.S.-Israeli Attack on Iran in the Offing?
Trump stated during the election campaign that he hated the Iran nuclear deal and essentially wanted to tear it up and start over again. Lately, his advisors seem to have back-pedaled and say they want to reopen negotiations to get a better deal. There isn’t a hope in Hell that Iran would be willing to do this. Further, those nations which joined us in instituting the sanctions regime which crippled Iran’s economy (but not its nuclear program) have already opened the spigots of bilateral trade with Iran. They are loath to return to the old days given the tens of billions which Iran is offering in trade deals involving everything from oil to aircraft purchases.
With a House and Senate on a hair-trigger ready to punish Iran for real or imagined violations of the nuclear deal; and with Israel’s hardline government pushing for a military confrontation with Iran, it seems more than likely Trump could decide to go “all in” for a joint military strike on Iran’s nuclear plants at Natanz, Bushehr, Fordo or Arak.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Iran expert Karim Sadjapour warned of the dangers Trump faces in pursuing such a policy:
The likelihood of military conflict with Iran, whether that’s an American attack or an Israeli attack, goes up significantly with a Trump presidency,” says Sadjadpour. Once that happens, the scenarios become much more dangerous and much harder to predict.
Death of Two-State Solution
Israel’s most radical government ministers, like Naftali Bennett, are celebrating a Trump victory and announcing the death of the two-state solution. Bennett supports annexing large portions of the West Bank to Israel. He has not made clear what he would do with the millions of Palestinians living there. Though it seems clear that he would deny them full citizenship and voting rights. If he permitted this, Israel would relatively quickly become a majority Palestinian state. This would be an impermissible outcome for a Jewish ultra-nationalist like him.
The only possible solution for Israel’s far-right government would be annexation with Palestinians offered a form of limited citizenship (if at all). We should call this what it is: apartheid.
Notably, very few Israeli leaders supporting West Bank annexation have publicly expressed their view on what would happen to the Palestinians. For good reason. They know the world would be in an uproar.
Except for Pres. Trump. He is the first U.S. president who might approve of such a development. Don’t forget who his largest campaign donor was: Sheldon Adelson ($11.2-million in direct funding and at least $25-million in SuperPAC money). Adelson will be whispering in his ear. The Israel Lobby will be whispering in his ear. And Bibi Netanyahu, who only kept quiet about his choice in the presidential election because he feared Trump would lose, will be shouting in his ear. None of them supports a two-state solution.
So it is far past time to pronounce the demise of the two-state solution. The coming battlefield will be the issue of annexation. Israel is likely to annex the West Bank. Perhaps in the next four years. What should the international community’s posture be?
Even if the Israeli government doesn’t annex due to the unpopularity of the decision, it will send new settlers streaming into the Occupied Territories. There are now approximately 600,000 Israeli Jews living in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem. With an Israeli government newly empowered to flood Palestine with new settlements, there could be as many as 1-million there by the end of the Trump’s term. By then, it would be impossible to separate Israel from Palestine. This further guarantees that there must be a unitary state. Whether one likes it or not, only one-state remains as a viable option.
The Way Back to Victory: Let Trump Be Trump
Unlike many commentators on the Trump presidency, while I may oppose his extremist appointments, in the longer-term they are good for his progressive opponents. Anti-Semites like Steve Bannon and Islamophobes like Frank Gaffney will eventually cause the Trump administration to implode. The worse his appointments the more quickly Americans will wise up to the sucker deal they’ve made with Donald Trump.
There is one unfortunate outcome from all this: many people will die as a result of the policies Donald Trump puts in place over the coming four years. Some will be American, but many more will be Muslim and some will be Israeli. I only hope that Trump implodes soon enough to staunch the massive bleeding.