Donald Trump’s record on foreign policy is dismal – particularly when compared to previous US Presidents – and his supposed Middle East peace plan was embarrassing, writes Henry McLeish.
Only President Trump’s crisis-ridden White House could deliver the humiliation of the Palestinians, concessions and gifts to Israel beyond their wildest dreams, and the probable demise of a two-state solution for the most-enduring and vexed question in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Unlike the majority of his predecessors, Trump has little or nothing to show for three years in which America’s stock in the world has slumped and our planet has become a much more dangerous and divisive place.
This gloomy assessment is based on last week’s launch of the much-awaited Middle East peace plan, prepared by the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who seems supremely ill-equipped to undertake such a task. He has been promoted well beyond his abilities and apparently qualifies to do such work because of his dynastic links to his wife’s father.
Kushner is a landlord who has little knowledge of the Middle East. He claims, as part of his suitability for the job, to have read 25 books on the subject and is rightly being accused of “colonial arrogance” and ignorance.
If this wasn’t bad enough, the context was even more surreal. President Trump is being Impeached and his trial is taking place in the Senate. Prime Minister Netanyahu, soon to be indicted, may soon go on trial in an Israeli court. Diplomacy has been abandoned. The Palestinians have become the unfortunate victims of two personal ambitions and kindred spirits who are determined to ensure their political survival, no matter the cost.
Apartheid-style two-state solution
Heaping insult on injury, the Palestinian leadership was not consulted or asked to participate. This is a Trump/Netanyahu stitch-up which now provides a take-it-or-leave-it deal and further loss of land for the Palestinians. Trump supports illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, despite this being contrary to international law. The President and Kushner seem to think the model of South African apartheid-style “Bantustans” is their idea of a two-state solution.
The inappropriately named peace plan offers an incomplete state in which the Israelis take more land, create smaller enclaves, and are still able to dominate the West Bank and Gaza on matters of security and defence. Excursions can be made into Palestine at any time. Israel remains firmly in control. The report deserves to have been dead on arrival.
The idea of a hollowed-out state for the Palestinians, cobbled up by Kushner in private, is probably the low point of American foreign policy in the Trump era. The President has no feel for international relations, no understanding, no sense of history and is now operating on his own instincts and sense of adventure, all designed to help his re-election.
There are few adults left in the policy room to curb the President’s drive towards causing mayhem. Even trade tariffs and the widespread use of economic sanctions have become commonplace and weaponised. Withholding vital military assistance from Ukraine to force them to dig up dirt on possible presidential candidate Joe Biden is at the heart of his impeachment: a practical example of Trump’s personalised foreign policy.
Free pass for Saudi Crown Prince
Issue by issue, Trump has created chaos and uncertainty at the heart of US foreign policy and made the world a less safe place.
As head of the world’s second-largest polluter, he intends to exit the Paris climate change protocol. Trump has nearly destroyed the Iran nuclear deal. He courted Kim Jong Un in an act of personal opportunism which left America looking foolish and the North Korean leader emboldened.
Trump has embraced Putin and insulted his allies. Nato and the EU have been at the sharp end of the President’s ill-informed rants and unpredictable behaviour.
On trade, he is fighting on so many fronts and, obsessed with the idea of his superior deal-making skills, he is causing more problems than he is solving.
And after the brutal killing and dismembering of the Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, by hand-picked, bonesaw-wielding Saudi criminals, Trump gave the Crown Prince, widely believed to have ordered this assassination, a free pass. Boris Johnson has been fawning over the US President, but is now being threatened and bullied, as decisions to involve Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant in the future roll-out of the 5G mobile network, and taxes on US tech giants, are being considered.
An article in the well-respected and measured US magazine Foreign Affairs said recently that “the President has outlined a deeply misguided foreign policy vision that is distrustful of US allies, scornful of international institutions and indifferent, if not downright hostile, to the liberal international order”.
The article, by Eliot Cohen, a professor in strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University, added, “America is on the road to reputational ruin” and “has made every aspect of foreign policy worse”. US influence was waning under Trump, the author concluded.
Nixon in China
President Trump’s foreign policy record is dismal, but when viewed against the often-inspiring achievements of other presidents in the post-war period, that record looks even more threadbare. The US has produced some inspiring acts of leadership in the interests of peace and the security of the international order.
Post war, both the legacy of Franklin D Roosevelt and the presidency of Harry S Truman helped rebuild Europe and created many of the institutions, such as Nato and the United Nations, that exist today.
Jimmy Carter at Camp David in 1978 brought Egyptian and Israel leaders to sign a peace treaty; Ronald Reagan, in a speech in Berlin in 1987, urged Mikhail Gorbachev, “to tear down that wall”; and Bill Clinton in 1993 hosted the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords in Washington between Israel and the Palestinians. He later intervened to halt the genocide in Bosnia in 1995. Obama participated in the signing of the Iranian nuclear deal in 2015.
Further back, Richard Nixon’s trip to China in 1972 opened up a new era in US-Chinese relationships and John F Kennedy in 1962 ended peacefully the Cuban missile crisis between America and the Soviet Union.
These were moments in history that mattered. Despite boasts such as “I know more than the generals” and “I am a very stable genius”, Trump’s foreign policy has been profoundly humiliating and embarrassing for those who take issues of global peace and security seriously.
The President may be a friend of Netanyahu, but he is no friend of Israel.