March 22, 2016

Trump shifting Israel policy from instrumental to symbolic

The media is trying to spin Trump's speech before AIPAC as a reversal of his earlier comments that made it seem like he'll be taking a more hands-off approach toward the Jewish state. A post at The Hill even called his speech today "hawkish".

Of course, earlier in the day, Trump said that Israel would not be exempt from the general policy of foreign nations compensating us for any help we provide to them -- and not just a token payment, but what it's really worth to them. At his rallies, he's mentioned Germany, South Korea, and Japan, and today when specifically asked about Israel by a reporter, he said they will have to start paying up too.

And if you look at the main topics of his AIPAC speech, there's little in there to suggest that we're going to play an instrumental role in Israel's affairs -- no promises about funding them, equipping them, training them, sending troops to fight on behalf of their interests, and so on and so forth.

That's what we've been doing for several decades now, and a true hawk would have droned on and on about how many billions we're going to gift them in foreign aid, how many battleships we're going to station off their coastline in case they get attacked, how many fighter jets we're going to send them, how many missiles, how many American boots on the ground in the Middle East, bla bla bla.

Instead, he outlined a role that is largely symbolic and providing moral support.

He began with an anecdote about being the grand marshal in a Salute to Israel Parade in 2004, and goes on to draw cultural similarities between the US and Israel. Establishing bonds of friendship or well-wishing, at any rate.

Later he discusses how he would serve as a facilitator for any future peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, since any terms that were imposed by a UN resolution would have no effect. Trump would lend his negotiating skills to bring the two sides together and hammer out a deal, but he isn't going to commit large sums of money, or equipment, or American troops, or anything else like that. He puts the onus on the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves -- if both sides don't want a deal, there will be no deal.

He then flatters the Israelis about how much more moral they are, compared to the Palestinians who glorify terrorists. This is simply lending moral support, and doesn't require giving Israel anything or doing anything for them.

Finally, he says he would support moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing that city as the capital of Israel, rather than Tel Aviv. Where our embassy is located is symbolic and only relates to identity politics -- which city the Jews identify with most as an ethnic group. But it requires no further commitments from us, and does not involve us more deeply in Middle Eastern politics. It'll piss some people off, but it's not as though he's advocating full Israeli control over Jerusalem -- merely recognizing it as the capital.

Ultimately, I'd rather we not be involved in Middle Eastern politics at all. But if we're going to get there, it'll probably happen in stages. And the first stage should shed the real commitments we have been making -- money, weapons, troops, etc. -- and continue to provide only symbolic and moral support. After awhile, we can downgrade relations further so that they are just another foreign nation that we will interact with.

The only part of his speech where he pledged to make substantive changes was about Iran's support for terrorism. Some of that targets Israel, so Trump is showing a common interest we both have -- not fighting Iran on Israel's behalf, which would get us too deeply involved, but merely cutting off Iran's support for terrorism.

Notice that he does not say we're going to bomb Iran, impose no-fly zones, send ground troops, or anything foolish like that. He says he'll disrupt the sending of weapons from Iran to groups in foreign nations, meaning at most he might bomb a convoy en route to Lebanon from Iran. He focuses more on their financial support for such groups, and last fall he discussed the same topic in relation to Saudi Arabia providing funds for terrorist groups. Back then, he said the goal was to disrupt the financial channels through which Saudi oil money reaches Salafi terrorists. Presumably he thinks the same about Iran -- find out how the money is flowing, and disrupt it.

Look past the rhetoric he uses before the most powerful group of the Israel lobby. He's just getting their emotions worked up so that they'll feel like they have enough of a common interest with us to make a deal. At the same time, he is not offering them hawkish promises, but only symbolic and moral support. It will be the first step toward disentangling ourselves from the Middle East. If Hillary were elected, we'd never stop hemorrhaging soldiers' lives and taxpayers' money digging ourselves in even further on behalf of Israel's national interests rather than our own.


  1. I will be you a year's salary that our aid to Israel only increases with a Trump presidency, not as much as with a Clinton or another Republican presidency, but certainly cozier than Obama's policy has been. Obama has actually tried to hold Israel accountable, with varying results.

  2. Aid to Israel has shot up under Obama, after declining under Bush Jr.:

  3. It's not only the funding that will decrease, but more importantly, our vastly more expensive attempts at regime change / nation-building, on Israel's behalf.

    One of Hillary's emails says that the easiest way to protect Israel from Iran's growing nuclear capability is to depose Al-Assad in Syria. What could go wrong with that?

    Notice that Trump didn't propose the slightest hint of regime change, nation-building, or otherwise getting involved in regional politics.

  4. I think Cunton is half-right: the anti-Iran "nuclear" push of the neokahns and Israel is meant to cover for continued ravaging of Syria, which was growing into a near existential threat to Israel before its civil war. Iran could never be much of a threat to Israel on its own.

  5. I stand corrected on aid to Israel under Obama, I had thought it decreased. The tone certainly changed from one of uncritical support to a more conditional rhetoric. I still don't think our aid to Israel would change much under a Trump presidency.

  6. Trump's family members are Israelis and Trump has lifelong connections with Israeli businessmen and politicians, especially the far-right Likudniks. Trump's support of Israel is anything but symbolic. He's the most compromised, pro-Israel candidate of the bunch.


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