Donald Trump’s statements and actions are so blatantly awful, so thoroughly misguided and immoral, that he gets blasted from a spectrum of political commentators, from the far left all the way to Lindsey Graham (R-SC). But through all the criticism, little is said about what should be done.The backlash against Trump’s shocking apologetics for Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi has been powerful. Most Americans, including a significant number of Republicans, do not support a foreign policy based solely on cynical self-interest. They also object when the president makes it clear that if the price is right, the United States will allow an ally to get away with murder. Read more at LobeLog
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
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
You might have noticed that the name of my blog has changed. It’s a change that’s been a long time coming, as I’ve not been comfortable with the name, “The Third Way” for quite a while. But the change represents more than a mere marketing decision.
I began this blog when I was the co-director of Jewish Voice for Peace, nearly 15 years ago. At that time, I liked the name of the blog. I didn’t see it as reflecting a “middle path,” or a “compromise position” on the Israeli occupation. But I felt that it represented what I was trying to present: an analysis of the Israel-Palestine conflict born out of an understanding of and a sympathy for both Palestinian dispossession and lack of rights and Jewish history and realpolitik.
When I left JVP, I took the blog with me. The name still seemed to suit me for a time, but my discomfort with it soon emerged. That was in part due to my work for B’Tselem, which required me to rein in a lot of my political writing, a result of the misguided notion they held at the time that human rights work was somehow separate from political activism.
In more recent years, I’ve been sure that the name was wrong. That’s not because my views have shifted that much. They have inevitably evolved over 15 years, of course, but I still approach the issue with empathy for the shared history I have with other Jews as I work to make Americans recognize that the occupation is a horrific, ongoing crime that would have ended long ago were it not for the policies of the United States.
The name no longer fit for several reasons. First, I was writing about a lot more than the Israel-Palestine conflict. Second, the politics of the conflict had changed with the long-term split in Palestinian politics, the utter dominance of the Israeli right over Israeli policy, and the twin effects on discourse in the United States: while both parties in Washington had been pulled much farther to the right, liberal disconnect, both Jewish and non-Jewish, from Israel had grown and with it, so had more open criticism of Israeli policies.
I finally settled on the name “Rethinking Foreign Policy.” The fact that the US is the key enabler of the occupation is not given nearly enough attention. The discourse in the US sort of recognizes the huge role we play, as well as the unique position this foreign policy item occupies in US domestic politics. But it’s still discussed as an “over there” issue. No, friends, it’s a here and now issue. If the dark days of the Trump administration prove nothing else about Palestine-Israel, they prove that.
The word “rethink” has become popular lately, especially in progressive circles. ReThink Media, a very important organization working on the same issues I write about is one example. There’s a number of other really great organizations rethinking education, how to raise boys to resist the indoctrination toward sexual violence, behavioral health care and other issues. I’m not much for following trends, but this one seems like a good one.
The way Americans discuss foreign policy is rotten at the core. Our racism, belief in American exceptionalism, and apathy regarding our history, legacy, and ongoing policies that impoverish and dispossess people all around the world, as well a s here at home, underpin a lot of foreign policy thinking, including quite a bit of mainstream progressive thought. Even when intentions can go beyond those limitations, the often stodgy thinking dominated, as this field is, by excessively privileged white men is very slow to change.
Perhaps I am overly and unjustifiably flattering myself, but I choose to believe that I offer an analysis that is relatively independent. Anyone who claims to be unbiased is either lying or simply has no knowledge of the subject under discussion, as that is the only way to escape bias. But, as many of you know, I have spent much of the past decade unemployed, so I have been able to develop my thinking, writing, and analysis without any organizational constraints. and I’d like to think that makes me a little less biased than many others.
So I am trying to inspire a basic “rethinking” of our foreign policy. That’s the approach I have pursued and will continue to do so.
I plan to do more short blog posts that will appear here in their entirety, so this site won’t just be a collection of links to my articles and appearances at LobeLog and elsewhere. While I will still write a great deal on Palestine and Israel, I will also continue to expand my writing to include other major US foreign policy issues, as I have been doing with Iran, Syria, North Korea, and the Persian Gulf. I expect to also write more about China, Latin America, Trump’s slashing of our relationships with allies like Canada and the EU, and even some domestic issues.
That’s my plan, anyway, We’ll see if I can actually pull it off. Thanks for sticking with me through all of these years, and for continuing to follow my work.
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
In 2002 and 2003, as the United States geared up for the invasion of Iraq, many protests broke out across the country, as did a passionate public debate about why America was going to war and whether it should. That debate, sadly, was not proportionately reflected on Capitol Hill, but it still mattered.
The invasion destroyed Iraq as well as the dual containment policy that, despite its many flaws, had kept a relative lid on Iraq’s ambitions and Iraq’s ability to upset regional stability. The ensuing years of combat spawned the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, and destabilized the entire region, most severely affecting Syria.
Now, the same forces have come together to take down the most significant diplomatic achievement in the Middle East in recent memory and create a new, highly unstable future. Donald Trump today announced the reimposition of sanctions on Iran, putting the United States in direct violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), colloquially called the Iran nuclear deal. In Iraq, the United States went in with no exit strategy. The Trump administration likewise has no plan for the day after exiting the Iran nuclear deal. In both cases, however, the real goal is regime change. Read more at LobeLog