Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Armies of the Timorous

The armies of the terrorized are mobilizing. Led by Great Britain and France, they are in full chickenshit mode, retreating to their bunkers, the better to weather the otherworldly wrath of the Arab street. They are so worried and so fearful and so timorous about President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital that they are showing that terrorism works… it produces so much fear that the cowards among us are running off to capitulate.

Shadi Hamid offers a useful and sober analysis in The Atlantic. The analysis is made especially salient because it echoes points that I have been making on this blog.

For those who believe that Arab nations will rise up and smite the infidel West, Hamid offers some perspective:

Most Arab countries won’t care much about Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which might seem counterintuitive. The official announcement, though, comes at an important and peculiar time, when Arab regimes—particularly Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt—find themselves more aligned than ever with Israel on regional priorities. They all share, along with the Trump administration, a near obsession with Iran as the source of the region’s evils; a dislike, and even hatred, of the Muslim Brotherhood; and an opposition to the intent and legacy of the Arab Spring.

As I have been mentioning, Arab nations are forging diplomatic alliances with Israel. This is especially true of Saudi Arabia through the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Again, I have reported extensively on this matter:

The Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has developed a close relationship with Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner (who recently outlined the administration’s Middle East vision at my institution, Brookings). If Saudi officials, including the crown prince himself, were particularly concerned with Jerusalem’s status, they would presumably have used their privileged status as a top Trump ally and lobbied the administration to hold off on such a needlessly toxic move. As my colleague Shibley Telhami argues, there was little compelling reason, in either foreign policy or domestic political terms, for Trump to do this. This is a gratuitous announcement, if there ever was one, and it’s unlikely Trump would have followed through if the Saudis had drawn something resembling a red line, so to speak.

Hamid is correct to point out that if the Saudis had wanted to stop the Trump announcement, they could have done so. Some representatives of their government did note that they were not happy about it, but clearly they have more influence than that. Apparently, they did not want to use it.

As for Hamid’s argument that there was no compelling reason for Trump to do as he did, perhaps there was a reason and perhaps we do not know it. We do know that MBS has been advancing a reform agenda with all deliberate speed. Part of that agenda involves supporting Israeli efforts to stop Iran’s encroachment in Syria. Israeli forces have recently attacked Iranian positions in Syria and the Prime Minister of Israel told the Syrians and the Lebanese that he would not tolerate an Iranian presence on his borders.

If that describes the state of the game, then the next move, or non-move, was quiet Saudi acquiescence to something that the Israelis wanted.

Hamid also notes that the new Saudi peace plan, reported in the New York Times and on this blog, was far friendlier to Israel than even many Israeli proposals. This fact signaled a diplomatic realignment and an abandonment of the lost Palestinian cause:

Falling short of even what previous Israeli leaders Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert had considered, the Saudi proposal, by the Times’s account, would have asked Palestinians to accept limited sovereignty in the West Bank and forfeit claims on Jerusalem. Whether or not the Saudi crown prince presented this “plan” out of sincerity or as a gambit to lower the bar and pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to make concessions is almost beside the point. That these ideas were even so much as floated suggests a Saudi regime increasingly close to both Israel as well as the Trump administration. 

Hamid is surely correct that Trump’s move yesterday will not harm America’s alliances. He suggests that it might be received less graciously by the Arab street. And yet, we have seen reported in numerous places that the reforms instituted by MBS are wildly popular among everyday Saudi subjects. Evidently, Saudi Arabia is not the only Arab country, but we should keep the point in mind when evaluating Hamid’s argument:

No one, then, should fall under the illusion that declaring Jerusalem Israel’s capital will harm America’s alliances with most, or even many, Arab nations (Jordan being a notable exception). The fact that most Arab countries are autocracies, though, complicates the matter, since unelected, unaccountable regimes do not generally reflect popular sentiment, particularly when it comes to the Palestinian conflict. Arab leaders have been content to use Palestine and Palestinians for rhetorical effect and to absorb or deflect popular anger over their own failures and missteps. But for Arab populations, Palestine still matters, even if primarily on a symbolic level (and if we’ve learned anything in recent years, it’s that symbols matter). 


James said...

Today or tomorrow I will have more along the lines of what's actually going on (in my opinion); Stuart you have been very kind in your patience of my babbling.

Anonymous said...

As a backup of your position.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for the link... a good article by a generally fair minded reporter.

Sam L. said...

Western Europe will not stand up for itself. Or for their people. They are surrendering of their own accord.

James said...

Part I:
Putin has what he originally went in for, a naval base in the Med and an air base in a country in which the leader (Assad) is his client. He has also managed to split Turkey off from NATO for all practical purposes.
The Iranians have managed to link up with Hezbollah and now reach the Med. But they have no air force (there Putin holds the cards). Hezbollah, Shia militias, and the various Quds formations have gained some operational experience in all of this, but they remain more or less average light infantry not the "elite" forces the Media likes to portray.
This should be considered: The so called Houthi activity in Yemen is Irani backed. They are trying to surround the Saudis. If they succeed in establishing themselves in the Red Sea, they would control the sea borne movement of oil for UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, and Iraq. The exception to this is the Suez Canal and they didn't foresee fracking. In the interests of mercy more later.