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
Like many other US citizens, I get very nervous every time Donald Trump goes to meet with foreign leaders. Whether they are friend, foe, competitor, or ally, it seems almost inevitable that Trump will find a creative way to come up with a negative result from the meeting.
His current trip hasn’t disappointed. He started by berating NATO allies and has now moved on to stirring an already boiling pot of political turmoil in the United Kingdom. It seems a good moment to review the trip before the really scary part—the meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin—commences. Read more at LobeLog
So Brett Kavanaugh is almost certainly going to be the next associate justice on the Supreme Court. Are we helpless in the face of this?
I have little faith that Susan Collins (R-ME), much less Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) or any other Republican senator will vote against Kavanaugh. Even if two of them do bolt, there’s no guarantee that Democrats like Joe Manchin (D-WV), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), or Joe Donnelly (D-IN) won’t vote to confirm him, as they all did for Neil Gorsuch. Those of us not in those states really can’t do much about their votes in any case.
But there is something we can do.
We can, all of us, in ways great and small, make sure that the story of Brett Kavanaugh focuses not on him, but on the circumstances of his appointment. The reality is that, as loathsome as I find Kavanaugh’s opinions, they are mostly within the spectrum of US political discourse. Yes, he’s been correctly cast as a partisan judge, but so was Antonin Scalia, and, really, what other kind of judge is Donald Trump likely to appoint? Being opposed to Roe v Wade, Obamacare, and just about every environmental regulation he can find does not disqualify him from the Court. Continue reading
The regional tour of Donald Trump’s primary Middle East envoys—his lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner—has concluded. So, it’s an appropriate time to take stock of the peace plan the Trump team seems to be formulating.
Only the Trump team seems particularly eager to see this plan come about, which is telling. It is hard to be optimistic about the deal, given that the Kushner & Greenblatt Traveling Road Show met with everyone involved except the Palestinians. No matter what Jason and Jared may have heard, none of their Arab interlocutors is in a position to move forward on a deal that the Palestinians have summarily rejected.
Trump approaches the entire question of Palestine transactionally, in line with his approach to most issues. This view was reflected in an interview Kushner gave to the Palestinian newspaper, al-Quds. He told reporter Walid Abu-Zalaf, “At the end of the day, I believe that Palestinian people are less invested in the politicians’ talking points than they are in seeing how a deal will give them and their future generations new opportunities, more and better paying jobs and prospects for a better life.”
If Kushner believes that a slight uptick in average household income will obscure Palestinian concerns about settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, and the very nature of their national existence, he is gravely mistaken. But the entire interview seems to reflect just such a view. Referring to Palestinian spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh’s statement that the US efforts were doomed, Kushner remarked that the “Palestinian leadership is saying those things because they are scared we will release our peace plan and the Palestinian people will actually like it because it will lead to new opportunities for them to have a much better life.”
These statements make it clear that Kushner has not only misunderstood the Palestinian leadership, but Palestinians in general. US negotiators have routinely, and justifiably, been accused of being deaf to the pulse of the Palestinian people, but Kushner seems even more hard of hearing than usual. And there is virtually no chance that Greenblatt, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, or certainly Trump himself know any more about Palestinian sentiments than Kushner does. Continue reading at Lobelog
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu loves to indulge in theatrics from time to time. On Monday, he cleared out prime time space in Israel for what was billed as a “big announcement” regarding Iran.Barack
Netanyahu spent the time outlining the proof that Iran had, in fact, maintained a nuclear weapons program from 1997-2003. He made a big deal about “catching Iran lying,” and neglected to mention that the information he was “revealing” was well known. In fact, the National Intelligence Estimate of 2007, which described how Iran had halted the program, contained most of what was revealed in Netanyahu’s presentation. Read more at LobeLog
French President Emmanuel Macron likely wrote the epitaph for the Iran nuclear deal as he was leaving Washington. Based on his statements, U.S. relations with Iran and North Korea as well are becoming increasingly dangerous.
“(President Donald Trump’s) experience with North Korea is that when you are very tough, you make the other side move and you can try to go to a good deal or a better deal,” Macron said. “That’s a strategy of increasing tension … It could be useful.”
Trump accordingly believes that North Korea has agreed to talks because Kim Jong Un was intimidated by Trump’s belligerence. But this is unlikely to be the case. Colin Kahl, the former national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, wrote on Twitter that “Trump likely misreads Kim Jong Un’s reasons for agreeing to a summit: to legitimize rather than dismantle his nuclear program. Remember, Kim said North Korea could stop testing because the nuclear program was already complete.”
Although no one can be certain of Kim’s thinking, Kahl’s interpretation is much more consistent with what is known about Kim and the current diplomatic state of play. So, what does the US leaving the Iran nuclear deal mean for the relationships with Iran and North Korea? Read more at LobeLog