After Donald Trump’s controversial private meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of the Senate’s more vocal hawks, commented that it was a “missed opportunity” to hold Russia accountable for meddling in U.S. affairs. Graham’s soft response stood in stark contrast to those of many of his Republican colleagues, like close friend and fellow hawk Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who said of Trump’s meeting and post-meeting press conference: “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.” Graham’s response also contrasts with his own rhetorical tendencies, like characterizing adversary countries in apocalyptic terms. Fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) once said: “Lindsey Graham is a danger to the country by even proposing ideas like authorizing war with [North] Korea.”
Florida-born Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States since 2013, recently had his term extended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Dermer was behind Netanyahu’s failed attempt to sway the 2012 presidential election by embracing Republican candidate Mitt Romney and continued to work against Obama in controversial ways after being appointed ambassador. Dermer is known to be one of Netanyahu’s closest confidantes and top strategists and is sometimes referred to as “Bibi’s brain.” He promotes hawkish policies such as a deep opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and to the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has said of the administration of Donald Trump, “For the first time in many years, perhaps even many decades, there is no daylight between our two governments.”
The Washington-based American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has long been a key stronghold of neoconservative advocacy on both foreign and domestic policy issues. Best known for its leading role in the effort to push the Iraq War and shape the “war on terror” during the George W. Bush presidency, AEI later played a key role in conservative opposition to Obama administration policies. It has staked out some positions that are critical of Donald Trump, especially on trade and domestic issues, but it has been more supportive—albeit conditionally—of his approach to foreign and national security affairs.
Max Boot, a neoconservative military historian based at the Council on Foreign Relations, is a prominent anti-Trump Republican and a leading advocate for U.S. intervention overseas. Regarding Russia, Boot argues that Trump “just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.” Commenting on Trump’s performance during the NATO Summit in Brussels, Boot wrote in the Washington Post that the “president’s bizarre performance” would help “unravel the trust that generations of transatlantic leaders have labored to build.” He added: “Putin must be watching this dismaying spectacle with a Cheshire cat grin on his face.”
As President Donald Trump thrashes U.S. allies at the NATO summit this week, let’s review some of his more controversial foreign policy moves: unilaterally withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal; sparking a global trade war by imposing new tariffs on long-standing trading partners;giving high-level posts to a slate of hardline foreign policy figures, like National Security Adviser John Boltonand Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem while cutting aid to Palestinian refugees; making commitments to North Korea without consulting South Korea or the Pentagon; embracing dictators from the Philippines to Russia to Egypt while alienating long-time allies in Canada and Europe; rejecting refugees from several Muslim countries while adopting a “zero-tolerance” policy on immigration that has forced the separation of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, sparking outrage across the United States and the rest of the world.
Former governor of Arkansas and evangelical pastor Mike Huckabee, a twice-failed candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, is known for making absurd and bigoted claims. He has pursued a career in punditry, first on the Fox News Network and now for the evangelical Trinity Broadcasting Network. A staunch supporter of far-right Israeli policies, Huckabee opposes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His opposition to the Iran nuclear deal runs so deep that he has claimed the deal will “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” The remark elicited criticism even from right-wing corners in the U.S. and Israel “lobby.” He is the father of Donald Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and former governor of South Carolina, has long been considered a rising star in the Republican Party. A staunch supporter of right-wing “pro-Israel” policies, Haley notoriously warned that the U.S. was “taking names” of those opposed to U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. She led the U.S. decision to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council, which came shorlty after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights characterized the Trump administration’s policy of separating families trying to enter the United States as “government-sanctioned child abuse.”
The Trumpian new regional order in the Middle East is predicated on strongman rule, disregard for human rights, Sunni primacy over Iran and other Shia centers of power, continued military support for pro-American warring parties regardless of the unlawfulness of such wars, and Israeli hegemony.
A comparison of U.S. nuclear diplomacy with Iran and the current version with North Korea puts the former in a good light and makes the latter look disappointing. Those with an interest in curbing the dangers of proliferating nuclear weapons should hope that the North Korea picture will improve with time. But whether it does or not, the process has put into perspective how badly mistaken was the Trump administration’s trashing of the Iran nuclear agreement.
Numerous high profile Trump administration officials maintain close ties with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists. In today’s America, disparaging Islam is acceptable in ways that disparaging other religions is not. Given the continuing well-funded campaigns by the Islamophobes and continuing support from their enablers in the Trump administration, starting with the president himself, it seems unlikely that this trend will be reversed any time soon.
The Trump administration’s nuclear proliferation policy is now in meltdown, one which no threat of “steely resolve”—in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s words—will easily contain. It is hemorrhaging in part because the administration has yet to forge a strategy that consistently and credibly signals a feasible bottom line that includes living with—rather than destroying—regimes it despises or fears. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle must call for a new model that has some reasonable hope of restraining America’s foes and bringing security to its Middle East allies.
Congressional midterm elections are just months away and another presidential election already looms. Who will be the political leader with the courage and presence of mind to declare: “Enough! Stop this madness!” Man or woman, straight or gay, black, brown, or white, that person will deserve the nation’s gratitude and the support of the electorate. Until that occurs, however, the American penchant for war will stretch on toward infinity.
To bolster the president’s arguments for cutting back immigration, the administration recently released a fear-mongering report about future terrorist threats. Among the potential threats: a Sudanese national who, in 2016, “pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIS”; an Uzbek who “posted a threat on an Uzbek-language website to kill President Obama in an act of martyrdom on behalf of ISIS”; a Syrian who, in a plea agreement, “admitted that he knew a member of ISIS and that while in Syria he participated in a battle against the Syrian regime, including shooting at others, in coordination with Al Nusrah,” an al-Qaeda offshoot.
The recent appointment of purveyors of anti-Muslim rhetoric to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom exposes the cynical approach Republicans have taken in promoting religious freedom.