Afghanistan, allies, America First, Gaza, globalism, Golan Heights, Iran, Iran deal, Iran nuclear deal, Israel, Jerusalem, Joe Biden, Middle East, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia, Sunnis, The New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman, Trump, West Bank
It’s one thing for globalists in politics and the think tanks and the media and even appointees of apparent President-elect Joe Biden to admit tacitly that the kind of America First-y strategy unevenly pursued by Donald Trump is the only sensible approach to U.S. foreign policy. (As I’ve noted recently here and here.)
It’s something else entirely for a major cheerleader for pre-Trump policies (and an outspoken Never Trumper) explicitly to credit such Trump-ism for constructively realigning the geopolitics of a region best known lately for spawning major threats to U.S. interests and epically failed official American responses in dramatically favorable ways.
This shock was delivered yesterday by New York Times pundit Thomas L. Friedman, who holds a special place in the globalist pantheon. For decades, he’s touted the virtues of an increasingly globalized and benign world that was rapidly leaving the United States no choice but to stop clinging to national sovereignty, and to leave the big decisions impacting the safety and prosperity of the American people to the private sector visionaries spearheading such progress in technology and finance, and to the disinterested supposed experts, foreign and American alike, who staffed international bureaucracies. (See here and here in particular.)
It was amazing enough to see Friedman warn apparent President-elect Joe Biden not to rush the United States back into an Iran nuclear deal lauded by the Obama-style Never Trumpers (including the former Vice President) who negotiated it as the crowning glory of global diplomatic history. Perhaps that’s because one subject in which Friedman’s expertise is truly genuine is the Middle East, where his decades of coverage include many years on the ground. So quite sensibly, he noted that the region has changed dramatically in the years since Biden was in power.
But more amazing still was Friedman’s contention that the main agent of this change – which “may enable America to secure its interests in the region with much less blood and treasure of its own” – has been Mr. Trump’s transformation of U.S. policy.
Friedman focuses on the President’s Trump’s decisions in the fall of 2019, when Iranian aggression against U.S. ally Saudi Arabia threatened to spark yet another regional conflict into which America could well be dragged.
But rather than order the U.S. military to jump to Saudi Arabia’s defense, the President announced in October, “We are sending troops and other things to the Middle East to help Saudi Arabia. But — are you ready? Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we’re doing. That’s a first.”
And as Friedman makes emphatically clear, it was a first based on a revolutionary (by hidebound pre-Trump U.S. foreign policy standards) insight, and one for which Americansshould be deeply grateful. In the author’s words, the President’s announcement sent the following message:
“Dear Saudis, America is now the world’s biggest oil producer; we’re getting out of the Middle East; happy to sell you as many weapons as you can pay cash for, but don’t count on us to fight your battles. You want U.S. troops? Show me the money.”
And the results? According to Friedman:
“In effect, Trump forced Israel and the key Sunni Arab states to become less reliant on the United States and to think about how they must cooperate among themselves over new threats — like Iran — rather than fighting over old causes — like Palestine. This may [as noted above] enable America to secure its interests in the region with much less blood and treasure of its own. It could be Trump’s most significant foreign policy achievement.”
Actually, Trump’s departure from the dangerously stale globalist conventional wisdom began a good deal earlier, with decisions like his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and movement of the U.S. Embassy to that historic city, endorsement of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and support for Israeli settlements on the long-occupied West Bank of the Jordan River.
Combined with Mr. Trump’s determination to keep the United States an oil production powerhouse, these moves also revealed that Washington was no longer going to permit Arab regimes in effect to have their cake and eat it, too at America’s expense — using the threat of Arab public opinion exploding and radicalizing over the West Bank and equally occupied Gaza to both (1) sustain open-ended U.S. military support, and (2) thereby continue indulging their ideological determination to keep their embryonic ties with Israel as covert as they were limited.
Something else Friedman should have mentioned: All these Trump decisions have been strongly opposed not only by most American globalists, but by the European allies that Biden is so determined to woo.
I personally still can’t give Mr. Trump an “A” on Middle East policy — not while he still hasn’t put his foot down and pulled nearly all American troops out of Afghanistan over his own military advisers’ objections, and while the United States still maintains way too any forces in the region overall. But he’s at least pointed U.S. policy in the right direction — as even a committed globalist like Friedman has just told the nation, and the likely next President.