‘We’re going to be back in the game,’ our presumptive and somewhat previous new president tells us. ‘It’s not America alone.’ But America was never out of the game under Donald Trump and never alone.
Look who is also back in the game: Tony Blinken, Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state, will be Biden’s secretary of state. Jake Sullivan, once one of Hillary Clinton’s closest aides, is going to be Biden’s national security adviser. John Kerry, the disastrous diplomat who gave us the Iran nuclear deal, is Biden’s climate emissary.
And it was all going so well. Trump might not have built his wall, but he had the first successful foreign policy of any president since Ronald Reagan told Gorbachev to tear down that earlier wall. Of course, the Euros moaned. They are, as Barack Obama so memorably said of the British, ‘freeloaders’. It was a considerable achievement to force the Germans, Europe’s richest nation, to promise to pay their 2 per cent to Nato.
The media, the Obama crew and the bunglers at the State Department whined and flat-out lied as their dearest principles were demolished by reality. But to know who an American president is and what he means for the world, don’t just listen to the complaints of ingrate allies, thwarted blobbers and sinister apologists like Ben Rhodes. Look who else attacked Trump’s foreign policy as he tried to extricate American forces from the Middle East: Erdogan, Assad and — in a touching moment of unity that shows there’s hope even for the Middle East — the PLO, Hamas and Hezbollah.
No one, though, complained louder than the regime in Tehran. The mullahs were charming when they were playing on the credulity of master diplomat Barack Obama. But Tehran constantly denounced the Trump administration, despite their arduous schedule of executing dissident wrestlers, working on long-range missiles, hanging gays from cranes, kidnapping foreigners as leverage, playing Somali pirates in the Gulf and maintaining their reputation as the world’s top sponsors of terrorism by shipping weapons and cash to their motley gang of death-to-the-Little-Satan, death-to-the-Great-Satan, death-to-the-Middling-Satan-while-you’re-at-it proxy wackos. Give those partners for peace nuclear weapons, I say.
Talking of partners for peace, the Trump administration’s greatest affront to the dimwitted DC consensus was to eviscerate the lucrative clichés that pass for wisdom on Israeli-Arab hostilities. Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem. He held the Palestinian authority accountable for funnelling American money into ‘pay-to-slay’ payments to the families of terrorists. He affirmed publicly that Jews have historic and legal rights in Jerusalem and the territories that were called Judea and Samaria for thousands of years until Britain and Jordan, in their effort to stifle Israel at birth, renamed them the ‘West Bank’ in 1948.
Trump’s moves affirmed obvious realities — and realism is the only foundation for workable policies. Yet these moves, we were told, would ‘set the Middle East ablaze’. We were not told whether the rage and blaze would be greater than the ones caused by the Bush and Obama administrations.
‘I’ve talked to the leaders of the Arab community,’ John Kerry parped in 2016. ‘There will be no advanced and separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process and Palestinian peace. That is a hard reality.’
The hardest reality for the Democrats and the DC foreign policy blob is what actually happened. The most pro-Israel president ever announced the most pro-Israel peace proposal ever, Netanyahu announced his plans to annex the settlements and the Jordan Valley — and the UAE and Bahrain recognised Israel, and Saudi Arabia opened its airspace to Israel Airlines. Sudan came next, and more Sunni states will follow.
To reduce the significance of these developments to a shared fear of Iran misses the point. Israel and the Sunni states are right to fear Iran, and right to distrust the US, which under Obama did its best to create a parody of realist ‘balancing’ by building up Iran against the US’s historic allies in the region.
Biden-Harris will do their best not to finish Trump’s successful business. Trump, and Mike Pompeo in particular, restored deterrence in the Gulf, strengthened sanctions and exposed Iranian malfeasance. The Democrats opposed all of this, and not just because they hate Trump. The Democrats were committed to cutting a deal with Iran long before Trump entered politics, and now they plan on returning to ‘normality’.
Kamala Harris promises to ‘oppose unilateral steps’, which apparently means Jews building homes in Jerusalem. If she can work around anti-terrorist legislation, she wants to revive US funding of the corrupt UNRWA and reopen the PLO’s office in DC. She also says the US will return to supporting ‘prodemocracy partners in Syria’ (under Obama, they included the ‘democratic’ al-Qaeda graduates of the al-Nusra Front) and ‘reassess the US relationship with Saudi Arabia’.
I don’t think Biden dislikes Israel and likes Iran on principle. But he’s a chronic hack who’ll say anything to stay onside with the wisdom of the hour. As Robert Gates, defence secretary under both George W. Bush and Obama, says, Biden was ‘wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades’. And Kamala Harris knows nothing of the world beyond Berkeley, California.
Will the incoming administration have the sense to recognise the opportunities that Trump created, and the humility to recognise that seizing them is the best way to secure American interests? Or will it get ‘back in the game’ it has already lost, spit in our allies’ eyes, appeal to the mullahs for mercy, push the Middle East closer to all-out war and end up sending in more American soldiers to die for no reason? Well, the voters did want a return to ‘normality’.
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This article was originally published in The Spectator’s December 2020 US edition.