With the Israeli election is only hours away, talk of defense treaty brings into sharp focus Trump’s courting of Iran’s Rouhani and the ouster of John Bolton
As is well-known, President Trump shares with his supporters the point of view that America should help its allies defend themselves rather than do so for them by stationing on or near their territory American armed forces. On the face of it, this is a very reasonable policy goal. After all, why would America be on the hook, financially and otherwise, for the defense of foreign countries, no matter how friendly they are.
It may be a reasonable policy, but only if your global affairs knowledge is as shallow as the wading pool at Doral. American military abroad, be it in Japan or in Germany or in Afghanistan does not defend its allies or their interests. It defends America and American interests, primarily the overreaching American interest in global financial stability and low energy prices.
In the Middle East especially, due to the volatility of the region and the medieval and feudal nature of many of the regimes present there, this point reaches peak poignancy. Many Trump supporters and perhaps Mr. Trump himself believe that American presence in the region is designed to protect Israel’s interests first and foremost and that it is to that end that many prominent Jewish Americans known collectively with the recently derogatory term “neocons” push for it to remain rather be rolled up.
The truth is much more complex than that. American presence in the Middle East is likely more harmful than helpful to Israeli interests because it internationalizes and aggravates the Arab-Israeli conflict. During the Cold War, it gave the USSR a reason to support and arm its Arab client states such as Egypt and Syria with modern weaponry that was than invariably used to kill Israeli soldiers. In the post Cold War era of militant Islam and especially after the 9/11 attacks, American military presence in the Middle East grew by leaps and bounds, with America starting two major wars in the region and killing countless Muslims. The close association between Israel and the US with the former widely perceived by the Muslims as the latter’s attack dog, America’s aggressive posture made Israel’s security landscape many time more challenging.
Far from wishing to avoid fighting other nations’ conflicts, far from declining to defend other countries, what president Trump really wants is to subcontract America’s own defense to these allies, to outsource the protection of American vital interests to foreigners, to engage in the age-old failed practice of paying others for your own defense.
And pay he does. In a perversion of 19th century gun boat diplomacy when the gun boats flew American flags, were crewed by American sailors, and answered to the American Commander in Chief, Trump’s F-35 diplomacy involves selling American-made advanced stealth fighters to countries like Israel and Poland so that they can fight America’s battles by fighting their own. This policy, like the late Roman Empire policy of subcontracting the defense of the empire to the very Goths who then overthrew it, is bound to fail. No two countries’ interests are ever identical and strings attached have a way of coming loose before too long. When you are rich and powerful, there is simply no other way to remain so than pay for it with your own treasure and yes, your own blood.
America is exhibiting, as I write these lines, many if not all of the symptoms of an empire and a nation on the brink of a historic collapse. The beyond bizarre moral depravity that rules the day in America, the bread and circus atmosphere, the abandon with which Americans gamble their life savings away in the national casino known as the stock market, the desire to outsource work to migrants, all of these indicators are now topped off by the ultimate one: the outsourcing of America’s defense.
Mr. Trump, rather than engaging in empty talk with his pal, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu about mutual defense agreements, should ask Bibi about the twin pillars of Israeli defense philosophy, pillars without which Israel would have perished long ago and which she herself, to her great peril, has been slowly eroding. Israel’s defense ethos has always relied upon the twin principles of never outsourcing your own defense and always taking the fight to enemy territory. When Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and the security strip it had established in Southern Lebanon, it immediately paid the price of placing its entire population within the range of tens of thousands of rockets thus allowing itself for the first time to become deterred by various factions in the Arab and Muslim world, Iran chief among them. This was a costly breach of the second principle and its culmination, a war that for the first time ever will see, God forbid, massive Israeli civilian casualties, is yet to come.
When Neville Chamberlain met Hitler in Munich to his everlasting shame, he did so before a single British soldier lost his life to Hitler’s Germany. Germany was obnoxious, it was aggressive, it was in breach of all of its Versailles Treaty obligations and for all of these reasons Mr. Chamberlain richly deserves the scorn that history has heaped upon him, but Hitler’s Germany had yet to fire a single shot against Britain.
When Mr. Trump meets with Ayatollah Rouhani, Iran’s supreme leader, he will be meeting with a man whose government has already given the orders to kill thousands of Americans in Iraq and in Lebanon, going back nearly four decades and through the present time. Trump will be shaking the hand of a man who has dedicated his life to the destruction of Israel, America, and the Western World as a whole and who has done nothing at all to change his attitudes.
When Chamberlain met Hitler, he did so because he believed that England could never win a war against Germany again. He sued for peace, unsuccessfully as it happened, not because he had any misconceptions about Hitler, but because he believed that he had to. He met with Hitler from a position of weakness, trying to make England Hitler’s vassal because he thought the alternative to be much worse.
Inconceivable as it sounds, Trump’s meeting with Rouhani will be no different. Trump will be meeting a man who has murdered, has ALREADY murdered, thousands of Americans not from a position of strength, but rather that of utter weakness. Prior to the meeting, Rouhani will doubtlessly extract from Trump concessions that would allow it to sell oil not only to a few countries, but worldwide, resulting in revenues flowing to the Ayatollahs that will immediately dwarf anything that president Obama had ever given them.
Trump will be meeting with a man who has established dominance over the Hormuz straits, giving himself a choke-hold over the all-important global oil prices, prices that can easily plunge the US into a recession. He will be meeting with a man who just a few days ago spat directly in his face when he ordered the attack on the Saudi oil installation, giving Trump a taste of what’s to come should he fail to fall in line. .
Speaking of deterrence, by hitching his own political fortunes and the fortunes of the American people to the Dow Jones Industrials index, Mr. Trump opened America to become easily deterred and even blackmailed by every rogue actor on the face of the planet. There is a reason why Trump chose the Islamofascist Rouhani over the all American Bolton and the reason has nothing to do with winning geopolitical battles or making America great again. No, the reason is simple, naked self-preservation. Trump knows that Iran with its ideological commitment, its strategic location, and its metastatic growths across the oil fields of the Middle East can disrupt the global oil markets causing a sustained spike in oil prices and creating panic in the equity markets to which he had tied his fortune. There is a word in Hebrew, one for which I am at difficulty to find an English translation, but one which is, perhaps not entire coincidentally, applied to Mr. Netanyahu by his political enemies. This word, this adjective, describes a person as being blackmail-able, as having put himself in the position of being open to blackmail. Mr. Trump, when it comes to Iran, finds himself fully worthy of this notorious adjective entirely through his own making.
Netanyahu, who has placed a career-defining bet on his friendship with Mr. Trump, is quickly learning what a cane of broken reeds looks like. This moniker, famously given by the prophet Jeremiah to Egypt, the America of the 7th century BC, describes a patron superpower that though once great is now at death’s door and cannot be relied on anymore. A handshake with a man who has openly and at very opportunity called for the destruction of Israel, a man who heads up a regime that refuses to call Israel by name and who bans its athletes from sharing a podium with their Israeli colleagues erases, effaces, and negates all the embassy moves and sovereignty recognitions in the world.
England betrayed its allies, Poland and Czechoslovakia, because it believed itself to be outgunned by Germany, a country that is larger and more populous than itself. Trump, with his overtures to Iran and his prime directive of rolling up America’s presence in the Middle East is betraying his regional allies to Iran as the head of a country that is orders of magnitude more powerful and for reasons that have nothing to do with geopolitical realities and everything to do with petulance, a perverted understanding of America’s role in the world, and most egregiously a disastrous bet on the equity markets.
Nobody in their right mind would stand in line to sign defense treaties with Mr. Trump’s America and no Israeli town can be called by the name of someone who shook Rouhani’s hand. The firing of John Bolton, a truer friend to Israel than Trump can ever be, has been received with great concern in Israel because it demonstrates the Trump administration’s commitment to American withdrawal from the world stage. Seeing as this ouster was ostensibly triggered by Bolton’s refusal to acquiesce to Iranian sanctions relief, the mood in Israeli’s defense establishment is even darker.
Bibi’s winning card in the April election was his unprecedented friendship with the American president, the first president who seemed to view Israel in historic rather than geopolitical terms. Yet how quickly turn the wheels of fate? The same president whose hand put a note in the hallowed stones of the Western Wall now wants that same hand to touch the blood-drenched hand of a homicidal cleric, a hand that signed the death warrants of countless Americans.
Rouhani has already said publicly and clearly for all to hear that he would only meet with Trump if the latter would “bow to the superiority of the Iranian people”. Nor has Rouhani, unlike Kim, modify his behavior or change the tone or tenor of his belligerent messaging. If Trump achieves his dream of meeting this archenemy of America, it will be on Rouhani’s terms and only because of Trump’s hype of the American economy, and economy that is so overheated after a decade of sub-zero interest rates and massive money printing that it cannot sustain the slightest of shocks without suffering catastrophic consequences.
From asset to liability – that is the trajectory of Bibi’s friendship with Trump and unless something changes that will be the trajectory of Trumps’ relationship with America. History books will record that there was only one American president who begged to meet with a vile enemy when he had all the tools at his disposal to crush him. We all know who that president is.
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