Is Donald Trump Following in Barack Obama’s Footsteps in the Middle East?

March 20 2017

Looking past the various rumors, conspiracy theories, and scandals swirling around the Trump administration, Lee Smith notes that many stalwarts of the previous White House are still shaping policies toward Iran, Syria, and Israel—suggesting a surprising measure of continuity:

After excoriating Barack Obama’s foreign policy, including his realignment in the Middle East, President Trump has yet to nominate any officials below the cabinet level at the State Department or the Pentagon, which means there is no one to formulate Trump’s own foreign policy, never mind implement it. To fill the growing vacuum, . . . the Trump White House is now handing over key foreign-policy positions to Obama administration [officials] who handled the very same portfolios under the previous president. . . .

Yael Lempert, a National Security Council (NSC) staffer from the Obama administration that the Trump team decided to keep on, [was] in Jerusalem [last] week with the White House’s special representative for international negotiations, longtime Trump lawyer Jason Greenblatt. Lempert, one former Clinton official told me, “is considered one of the harshest critics of Israel on the foreign-policy far left. From her position on the Obama NSC, she helped manufacture crisis after crisis in a relentless effort to portray Israel negatively and diminish the breadth and depth of our alliance.” . . .

Trump is showing the same disregard for his big promises when it comes to . . . Islamic State (IS), which he firmly swore to demolish. To make good on that promise, the Trump team has selected Brett McGurk—the same Brett McGurk who served as the Obama administration’s special envoy to lead the campaign against IS. One of the main reasons Obama’s IS policy failed was because Sunnis refused to engage in an intramural civil war whose spoils would go to the Iranians and their Shiite allies. McGurk was the point man on this pro-Iran policy, famously arranging for Iran to get $400 million in cash delivered on wooden pallets to the [Islamic Republic] in exchange for American hostages.

Remember when the Trump administration promised to make public the secret agreements that Obama made with Iran? McGurk signed some of the secret documents, relieving sanctions on a key financial hub of Iran’s ballistic-missile program, and dropping charges against 21 Iranian operatives linked to terrorism. Notably, none of those documents has been made public. Maybe that’s because McGurk’s name is on them, or maybe it’s because the former National Iranian American Council staffer Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, Obama’s NSC director for Iran, is now on the policy-planning staff in Trump’s State Department.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Iran, Israel, Politics & Current Affairs, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy

 

Famous Novelists “Confront the Occupation” in the West Bank—and Celebrate Themselves

June 27 2017

To produce the collection Kingdom of Olives and Ash, the writers Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman gathered a group of novelists, arranged for them to be shown around Israel for a few days by anti-Israel activists, and had each of them write an essay about the experience. Matti Friedman surveys the results:

Chabon and Waldman tell us on the very first page of a visit to Israel in 1992, which they remember vividly as a time of optimism, when the “Oslo Accords were fresh and untested.” But their memory must be playing tricks, because the Oslo Accords happened in the fall of 1993. Chabon and Waldman, who live in Berkeley, CA, are accomplished writers, but the reader needs a few words about what they’re up to here. Do they have special expertise to offer? Israel is probably the biggest international news story over the past 50 years, so is there a reason they decided the world needs to know more about it and not, say, Kandahar, Guantanamo, Congo, or Baltimore?

The essays vary in tone and quality, but experienced journalists covering the Israel/Palestine story will recognize the usual impressions of reporters fresh from the airport. Cute Palestinian kids touched my hair! Beautiful tea glasses! I saw a gun! I lost my luggage, and that seems symbolic! Arabs do hip-hop! The soldiers are so young and rude!

The writers interview the same people who are always interviewed in the West Bank, thinking it’s all new, and believe what they’re told. . . . Everything is described with a gravitas suggesting that the writers haven’t spent much time outside the world’s safer corners. [Dave] Eggers devotes two whole pages to an incident on the Gaza border, where one Israeli guard said he couldn’t pass and then a different one came and let him through. Dave, if you’re reading this, I hope you’re okay. . . .

What [this book is] really about is the writers. Most of the essays aren’t journalism but a kind of selfie in which the author poses in front of the symbolic moral issue of the time: here I am at an Israeli checkpoint! Here I am with a shepherd! That’s why the very first page of the book finds Chabon and Waldman talking not about the occupation, but about Chabon and Waldman. After a while I felt trapped in a wordy kind of Kardashian Instagram feed, without the self-awareness.

Read more at Washington Post

More about: Anti-Zionism, Idiocy, Israel & Zionism, Journalism, West Bank