The New White House National-Security Strategy Is Good News for Israel, and for America

Dec. 22 2017

While one might expect that a self-described “America First” foreign policy would be isolationist and, given the term’s history, hostile toward Jews, the lengthy strategy paper recently produced by the Trump administration is neither. Rather, writes Jonathan Tobin, if you “strip away the Trumpian braggadocio [that accompanied the document’s release], what you find are policy guidelines that are remarkably realistic in terms not only of the challenges facing the United States but those facing Israel as well.” He writes:

At the heart of the Trump doctrine are some contradictions. President Trump wants to be tough on Iran, but his crush on Vladimir Putin and Obama-like reluctance to confront Iran and Russia in Syria undermine his instinct to resist Tehran. He wants to promote American power and influence, but his pay-as-you-go version of alliances complicates Washington’s relations with its partners.

But President Trump has still produced a paper that has more common sense than some of the high-flown rhetoric that emanated from [the previous four administrations]. And the section on the Middle East is evidence of that. . . .

Among the most memorable lines in the 68-page document is a specific denunciation of one of the [so-called foreign-policy] realists’ most sacred cows: the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “the prime irritant preventing peace and prosperity in the region.” Trump rightly discards this myth. Instead, his doctrine points out that “threats from jihadist terrorist organizations and the threat from Iran are creating the realization that Israel is not the cause of the region’s problems.” Specifically rejecting both blind faith in “democratic transformation” and “disengagement,” Trump seeks instead to strike a cautious balance between the need to assert U.S. power and the realization that American can’t fix all of the world’s problems.

Instead of seeking to “save Israel from itself,” Trump’s doctrine acknowledges the problems with pressuring the Jewish state to make concessions to a Palestinian peace partner tainted by its subsidization of terror. His faith that an “outside-in” strategy in which the common interests of Israel and the Arab states like Saudi Arabia could lead to peace may underestimate the power of rejectionism among Palestinians and the Arab street. But it is still devoid of the magical thinking about democracy and strong-arming Israel to which Presidents Bush and Obama subscribed.

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More about: Donald Trump, Israel, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy

At the UN, Nikki Haley Told the Truth about Israel—and the World Didn’t Burn Down

April 22 2019

Although Nikki Haley had never been to Israel when she took the position of American ambassador to the UN, and had no prior foreign-policy experience, she distinguished herself as one of the most capable and vigorous defenders of the Jewish state ever to hold the position. Jon Lerner, who served as Haley’s deputy during her ambassadorship, sees the key to her success—regarding both Israel and many other matters—in her refusal to abide by the polite fictions that the institution holds sacred:

Myths are sometimes assets in international relations. The fiction that Taiwan is not an independent country, for example, allows [the U.S.] to sustain [its] relationship with China. In other cases, however, myths can create serious problems. On Israel–Palestinian issues, the Trump administration was determined to test some mythical propositions that many had come to take for granted, and, in some cases, to refute them. Haley’s prominence at the UN arose in large part from a conscious choice to reject myths that had pervaded diplomacy on Israel–Palestinian issues for decades. . . .

[For instance], U.S. presidents were intimidated by the argument that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would trigger violent explosions throughout the Muslim world. President Trump and key colleagues doubted this, and they turned out to be right. Violent reaction in the Palestinian territories was limited, and there was virtually none elsewhere in Arab and Islamic countries. . . .

It turns out that the United States can support Israel strongly and still work closely with Arab states to promote common interests like opposing Iranian threats. The Arab street is not narrowly Israel-minded and is not as volatile as long believed. The sky won’t fall if the U.S. stops funding UN sacred cows like the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Even if future U.S. administrations revert to the policies of the past, these old assumptions will remain disproved. That is a valuable accomplishment that will last long after Nikki Haley’s UN tenure.

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More about: Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, United Nations, US-Israel relations