Friday, November 23, 2018

Donald Trump's Middle Eastern Realpolitik

The holier-than-thou chorus has been out in force denouncing President Trump’s statement about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. By their lights, it’s the worst compromise of America’s most sacred values since… well, since the last time that Trump said anything.

Trump was practicing nothing other than standard issue Realpolitik, balance of powers politics that places national interest ahead of worship at the altar of ideals. It is so standard and so obvious that the sanctimony almost caused Glenn Greenwald to throw up. Rather than regale us with that unseemly act, Greenwald wrote an extended essay about the way America conducts foreign policy… often by Realpolitik.

The great majority of those who are denouncing Trump’s policy should take a deep breath and return post haste to attending their Hypocrites Anonymous meetings. After all, if any other president had done the same thing, that would have been defending his diplomatic brilliance. If Obama had done the same thing, this same group would have pronounced it pure genius.

For an excellent analysis of the foreign policy implications of Trump’s action, we turn to a New York Times op ed, written by foreign policy experts Michael Doran and Tony Badran. They offer a sober evaluation of the policy, as well as of the alternate policies proposed by Trump detractors, from both left and right.

Doran and Badran set the terms of their argument. They assess the merits of the policy, not how righteous it makes us feel.

But every president since Harry Truman has aligned with unsavory Middle Eastern rulers in the service of national interests. The difference here is that Mr. Trump seemed unapologetic about this state of affairs with only a passing nod to the affront to our values that Mr. Khashoggi’s murder represents.

That’s nothing to cheer. But it is vitally important to evaluate the policy on its merits more than its mode of expression. And the truth is that on the big strategic questions, Mr. Trump is cleareyed and right.

And, what did Obama do when the Iranian regime was murdering pro-democracy demonstrators in 2009? Nothing. Did it even bother to denounce the ayatollahs at that time? No. Did the New York Times editorially denounce the feckless Obama administration? You do not even need to do a Google search. I guarantee you, the answer was No.

When Obama wanted to sell his nuclear deal, he lied about the Iranians. Doran and Badran remind us of this national disgrace:

President Barack Obama, for example, helped sell his nuclear agreement with Iran by claiming that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons. No bipartisan clutch of senators insisted that Mr. Obama’s claims clashed with the views of intelligence analysts, who possessed hard evidence of a nuclear weapons program.

Since we now see a bipartisan group of senators get their knickers in a twist over the Trump policy, it is good to recall that precious few senators, and even fewer major media organizations, were outraged by the Obama sellout to Iran:

The true test of whether a presidential fiction is acceptable is whether the strategy it serves is sound.

In Mr. Obama’s case, the answer was no, because his policy did not actually stop Iran’s nuclear program. It only delayed it, and, in the meantime, strengthened Iran without moderating Tehran’s fundamental anti-Americanism. But Mr. Trump understands the centrality of Riyadh in the effort to counter a rising Iran and he is rightly unwilling to allow the murder of Mr. Khashoggi to imperil that strategy.

The Obama policy delayed Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon. This means that it allowed them... in the not-so-distant future. In the meantime it propped up the regime and helped fund its terrorist activities throughout the Middle East.

Nevertheless, the pathetically sanctimonious Samantha Power has been out denouncing the Trump administration… while ignoring the fallout from the Obama administration policies… policies which she helped formulate:

Samantha Power, former ambassador to the United Nations, cited autocrats like Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and Vladimir Putin of Russia, in addition to Prince Mohammed, in saying that “Trump’s siding with the meanest and nastiest out there” will “leave the world even nastier.” His statement, she said, “is a green light for would-be murderers in countries that have things Trump thinks we need.”

Notably absent from Ms. Power’s list of evildoers, however, are Iran and its proxies. The omission is telling. As part of its pivot toward Iran and away from the Sunni states and Israel, the Obama administration turned a blind eye to the slaughter in Syria that Moscow, Tehran and its proxies unleashed, and, thanks to the nuclear deal, delivered countless billions to the Iranian war machine.

As noted, Power should return to her Hypocrites Anonymous meetings.

As for Mohammed bin Salman, he has been acting like an American ally. And we need him even more considering how much the Obama administration empowered Iran:

The kingdom has sheltered comfortably for over 75 years under the American security umbrella, which the United States happily extended not least because the Saudis and their oil have played a pivotal role in American economic strategies. Mr. Trump’s statement acknowledged that the Saudis are assisting him with stabilizing global oil prices as he seeks to quash Iranian oil sales.

Whatever Prince Mohammed’s faults may be, he actively supports the American regional order that the Iranians openly seek to destroy.

But, Sen. Lindsey Graham is outraged. He is talking like Samantha Power’s twin. He is also showing that, in terms of foreign policy, he is not ready for prime time:

Instead of standing with the Saudis, Mr. Trump’s critics call for, as Senator Lindsey Graham recently did, sanctions that would persuade King Salman to appoint a new crown prince. But King Salman is not the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia; Prince Mohammed is. A policy that seeks to change the king’s mind is based on a delusion that is far more deranged than anything in Mr. Trump’s statement.

Let’s imagine Mr. Trump’s critics get their wish. A replacement crown prince who rose to power under pressure of sanctions would be severely weakened, if not entirely illegitimate. This would serve only to validate Al Qaeda’s anti-Saudi ideology, which depicts the royal family as American stooges. Would a compromised crown prince be a more reliable partner for the United States in stabilizing the Middle East?

What would be the likely fallout:

In all likelihood, sanctions would simply embitter Prince Mohammed, who would respond by tacking toward Russia and China. The United States could console itself by celebrating its staunch commitment to principle, but its influence would diminish considerably.

It’s a cold, hard calculation, but the Graham policy would effectively advantage Iran… and perhaps also Russia and China.

In either scenario, Iran would rejoice. Critics of Mr. Trump’s Saudi policy are already demanding that the United States pressure the kingdom to end the war in Yemen without so much as mentioning the need to ensure that the country does not become another base, like Lebanon, for Iran.

We note that everyone seems to believe that the Saudis are at fault for the war in Yemen. But, what if that war has been incited and funded by Iran, to guarantee Iranian interests in the region. What if the Turkish-incited attacks on Saudi Arabia are designed to undermine the strategic alliance that Trump has been forging… to counter the Iranian regime that has been empowered by the Obama administration. What if the Turkish president feels threatened by a strategic realignment that will marginalize him? Do you really believe that the president of Turkey is a great defender of freedom of the press?


Dr. Irredeemable Dreg said...

Many of the folks denouncing Trump's realpolitik foreign policy would be quite comfortable in a Che t-shirt. Or hanging a Chairman "Barrel of a Gun" Mao ornament on the White House Winter Solstice Holiday tree.

Sam L. said...

They do like them stone-cold killers; yes, they do.