The Trump Effect
The initial two and a half years of President Donald Trump’s national security policy have departed sharply from those of President Barack Obama, his predecessor at the White House.
The nature of Trump’s national security policy may be assessed through the worldview of Vice President Mike Pence and the two most crucial appointments: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was a “Tea Party” leader in the US House of Representatives, and National Security Advisor John Bolton, who has been a consistent advocate of a bolstered US posture of deterrence in the face of rogue regimes and organizations by flexing political, economic, and military muscle. In 1991, it was Bolton who led the successful US campaign to revoke the “Zionism is Racism” resolution from UN records. Both Pompeo and Bolton have been consistent critics of Obama’s national security policy.
The worldview of President Obama (and his Secretary of State John Kerry) was shaped by the following principles:
- No US moral, political, or economic exceptionalism;
- Preference for multinational over unilateral initiatives;
- Considering the UN as a key factor in shaping the global arena;
- Viewing non-assertive Western Europe as a role model;
- Embracing the worldview of the State Department establishment, which has been persistently divorced from Middle East complexity (e.g. the “Arab Spring” illusion);
- Adopting negotiation, reconciliation, and containment as key tactics when dealing with rogue regimes (e.g. the 2015 JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement);
- Approaching rogue Islamic entities as potential allies rather than lethal opponents and enemies (e.g., “Islam has always been a part of the American Story,” Cairo, June 4, 2009);
- Playing down Islamic terrorism by designating the murder of 13 Fort Hood, TX, US soldiers by radical Muslim Major Nidal Hasan as “workplace violence” (and later on, “combat related casualties”), prohibiting the use of the term “Islamic terrorism”;
- Defining the Palestinian issue as the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict, a core cause of Middle East turbulence, and a crown-jewel of Arab policymakers;
- Assuming that a resolution — not management — of conflicts is a realistic option in the unpredictable, violent, intolerant, volcanic Middle East, which has never experienced long-term intra-Muslim peaceful coexistence.
The worldview of President Trump (Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Advisor John Bolton) is shaped by a dramatically different set of principles:
- Reviving US exceptionalism economically and militarily, as well as through energy independence;
- Preferring unilateral — over multilateral — US initiatives;
- Recognizing UN hostility toward the US and its limited impact on global affairs;
- Deep reservations about the national security and trade conduct of Europe (including NATO), while expanding cooperation with productive US allies, such as Israel;
- Departing sharply from the worldview of the State Department establishment (e.g. identifying the “Arab Tsunami”), while reflecting the worldview of “Small Town and Flyover America”;
- Confronting and deterring rogue regimes, as demonstrated by the withdrawal from the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement and the imposition of unprecedented sanctions on Iran;
- Awareness of the Ayatollahs defining the US as “the Great Satan” (since 1979!);
- Perceiving Sunni and Shite Islamic terrorism as a clear and present, lethal threat to the US and its allies;
- Awareness that the Palestinian issue has never been the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict, is not a core cause of Middle East turbulence, nor a crown-jewel of Arab policymakers;
- Comprehending that the real, tectonic Middle East — which has never yet lent itself to intra-Arab peaceful coexistence — is not ripe for Western-style conflict resolution, but rather conflict management.
Trump’s policy toward Israel is not driven, primarily, by his cogent affinity toward the Jewish State, but primarily by the drive to advance US interests.
For example, Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem advances US interests. It has sent a clear message that unlike his predecessors since the 1995 passage of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, Trump is not deterred by Arab pressure and threats, recognizing the 3,000-year history of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish State and a core inspiration for the US Pilgrims and Founding Fathers. Trump has realized that retreat in the face of pressure yields further pressure, which undermines the US posture of deterrence among enemies, adversaries, and allies.
Similarly, the recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights reflects the realization that Israel on the Golan Heights bolsters US interests in the Middle East by constraining Iran’s Ayatollahs in Syria and Lebanon, deterring Syria (as documented in 1970, when Israeli troops on the Golan Heights forced a withdrawal of the pro-Soviet Syrian invasion of pro-US Jordan), buttressing Jordan’s Hashemite regime and additional pro-US Arab regimes, and checking Russian maneuverability in Syria.
Furthermore, Trump’s disengagement from the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement was not triggered by his support of Israel, but by his assessment of US national security and homeland security, which are directly threatened by Iran’s ayatollahs and by the 2015 agreement, which only postpones — but does not prevent — the nuclearization of the ayatollahs. Contrary to the JCPOA, and assisted by a series of unprecedented sanctions against Iran, Trump pursues the following Iran strategy:
- Denying the ayatollahs nuclear capabilities;
- Preventing Iran’s development and proliferation of ballistic missile capabilities, which constitute a lethal threat to every pro-US Arab regime;
- Neutralizing the ayatollahs’ subversive and terroristic infrastructures in the Persian Gulf, the Middle East at large, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America;
- Ending the flow of billions of dollars to the megalomaniacal ayatollahs;
- Buoying the pro-US Arab regimes, which have the ayatollahs’ machete at their throat;
- Advancing the US posture of deterrence.
Thus, President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo, and National Security Advisor Bolton are American patriots who consider Israel a unique ally of the US due to its unique contribution to US national security, homeland security, and defense and civilian industries. They value Israel as a significant asset, which extends the strategic hand of the US, enhancing the stability of the pro-US Arab countries. Contrary to conventional wisdom, they are aware that US-Israel relations constitute a mutually-beneficial two-way street, which yields the US a rate of return of a few hundred percent on its annual investment in Israel (erroneously defined as “foreign aid”).
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: a US-Israel initiative.