A Grim Assessment Of U.S.-Iran Tensions

Speaking to an adoring audience at the annual summit of the far-right Christians United for Israel (CUFI), Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured the audience that the Trump administration was determined to continue ratcheting up pressure on Iran.

“The ayatollahs have grievously deprived the Iranian people of that most basic, simple, fundamental right, their right to worship,” Pompeo told the evangelical crowd. “That same twisted, intolerant doctrine that fuels persecution inside Iran has also led the ayatollah and his cronies to cry out, quote, ‘death to Israel’ for four decades now.”

Pompeo went on to tell the crowd that, were it not for the Trump administration’s efforts to strangle the economy, Iran would have greatly bolstered its efforts to destroy Israel, something it has never attempted in all those four decades. Ominously, he added, “You know the stories, but we’ve implemented the strongest pressure campaign in history against the Iranian regime, and we are not done.” Read more at LobeLog

To Hell With Europe

Watching American news coverage of the 2019 G20 summit in Osaka last weekend, you could forgive audiences in the United States for thinking there were no Europeans represented.

President Donald Trump was mostly seen with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

Other than a few random hellos with French President Emmanuel Macron and a brief meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe didn’t seem to get any of the admittedly limited space in the president’s mind, and the networks duly followed suit. Read more at The Battleground`

The Danger Of Trump’s Hasty Exit From Syria

When Donald Trump announced that he was immediately removing all U.S. troops from Eastern Syria, I was surprised by the reaction. There was near glee in anti-war corridors. The initial response is understandable; the United States should not be in Syria, and that is true for many reasons. Moreover, many of those objecting to the decision are doing so because it doesn’t fit with their objectives to heighten tensions with Iran and continue to pursue endless conflict in the name of fighting terrorism. But leaving the way Trump intends is foolish and will not lead to a good outcome. Read more at LobeLog

What Do The Midterms Mean For U.S. Mideast Policy?

There are still a few races to be decided, but the overall results of the 2018 midterms are clear. The hoped-for “blue wave” turned out to be a blue trickle, but Donald Trump’s era of completely unfettered action is over. Voter suppression and gerrymandering stack the deck in favor of Republicans, yet there was enough disgust with Trump and congressional Republicans to swing about 30 seats in the House of Representatives to the Democrats. Republicans still gained at least two—probably three—seats in the Senate, despite the fact that Democrats got nearly 13 million more votes in the Senate races. That’s not a great indicator for the state of democracy in the United States.

It wasn’t the rebuke of Trump’s behavior and policies that some hoped for, but given the ongoing strength of the U.S. economy, the Republican losses still mean something. Democratic control of the House creates a check on Trump’s worst excesses, at least domestically.

In foreign policy, the gains will be more meager and harder to gauge. Congress still holds considerably more power over domestic affairs than foreign, and that is even more true for the opposition party in a divided Congress. Read more at LobeLog

Netanyahu Chooses Trump Over U.S. Jews…Again

On Saturday, Robert Bowers, a right-wing gunman strode into a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh and began shooting. When he was finished, he’d murdered 11 people.

Donald Trump led the quick march to bizarrely defend one of the most prominent U.S. cult symbols, the gun, by blaming the synagogue itself for not having an armed guard at the synagogue, as if such a guard would have fared better than the three Pittsburgh police officer that Bowers shot.

Trump later blamed the media for violent attacks, saying, “There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news.” That was to be expected, given the increasing attention to Trump’s own lengthy history of anti-Semitic dog-whistling and the scrutiny it was finally coming under in the wake of the terrorist attack in Squirrel Hill.

But the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history was not going to remain a domestic issue for very long. Given the disdain the government of Israel has been showing to the U.S. Jewish community for so long now, it was difficult to imagine that Israel’s response to the Squirrel Hill massacre would be positive. But few could have anticipated its cynical and opportunistic response. Read more at LobeLog

Beating War Drums At The UN

Just a few sentences into Donald Trump’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) yesterday, the entire world was laughing at the President of the United States. Reactions to the rest of his speech might have vacillated between anger and ridicule, while his loyal base and administration servants sat with self-satisfied grins. But some of what he said should cause concern. Whether it was his repeated emphasis on sovereignty over alliances—a common theme of authoritarian leaders—his railing about trade deficits whose effects on the US economy he clearly doesn’t understand, his attacks on international institutions and partnerships, or his general air of condescension and hubris, Trump reaffirmed his intention to move the United States deeper into a belligerent isolation from most of the world. Read more at LobeLog

Trump’s Bumbling Middle East Dance

Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump wanted to change US policy toward both Israel-Palestine and Iran. When Obama arrived in the Oval Office, he brought an ambitious foreign policy plan with him. He wanted to diminish the heavy U.S. footprint in the Middle East, “pivot toward Asia,” and rebuild the confidence in the United States as a sober actor on the world stage that George W. Bush had undermined with his calamitous invasion of Iraq.

At the beginning of his first term—after he made his initial speech indicating a willingness to improve relations with Iran—Obama devoted his efforts and political capital to trying to bring a Palestinian state into being. He knew there would be political costs, and although he underestimated them, he understood that it would take all the political capital he had to have any chance at productive talks.

By 2012, Obama recognized that he was not going to get the grand bargain between Israel and the Palestinians that he had hoped for. So he turned his attention toward Iran. Working with U.S. allies in Europe and through the United Nations, he pushed for sanctions to bring Iran to the table. The pressure paved the way for the nuclear talks that would eventually lead, in 2015, to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal.

Obama recognized that Israeli-Palestinian peace and the Iran nuclear deal were each very expensive in terms of political capital. He couldn’t afford to pursue both. It’s a lesson Donald Trump still doesn’t understand. Read more at LobeLog