The recent passing of Bernard Lewis spurred disparate reactions across the political spectrum that reflected his polarizing image. While he was widely praised as an intellectual, many also criticized his impact on Middle East policy. One journalist wrote that Lewis “had the ability to do great good. Instead, he became the intellectual high priest for the calamitous wars which have caused such bloodshed across the Middle East, while doing unlimited damage to the standing of the United States.”Lewis often spoke of the essential humanity and great potential of the peoples of the Middle East, yet also regarded those same peoples with condescension. The late Palestinian literary theorist Edward Said—whose classic book, Orientalismwas the basis for much of the criticism that Lewis faced—accused Lewis of promoting “demagogy and downright ignorance.” Lewis’s staunchly pro-Israel views also rankled many scholars of the modern Middle East.
Last year, before John Bolton became President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, he argued that Russian election interference was “an act of war.” Since becoming NSA, he’s changed his tune, lambasting the investigation into this interference as a “witch hunt.” One of America’s more extreme foreign policy hawks, Bolton has advocated military strikes and regime change in Iran and has bluntly stated that there is no reason to engage diplomatically with North Korea. An architect of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Bolton is generally recognized as having played a key role in fabricating the justification for that war. He continues to hold radical positions, such as suggesting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be resolved by Jordan annexing the parts of the West Bank that are populated by Palestinians. Even leading neoconservatives are concerned about his position in the Trump administration. Said Bill Kristol, “I like John Bolton, I respect John Bolton, but I’ve got to say that John Bolton as national security advisor is a little nervous-making.”
Since the June 2018 summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jung Un, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has conceded that the North Korean nuclear program is still moving ahead while being accused by Pyongyang of pushing a “gangster-like” and “unilateral” demand for denuclearization. Pompeo’s nomination to State was heavily contested as many senators wondered if his temperament and background were suited for the United States’ chief diplomat. He had previously been the head of the CIA under Trump after six years in Congress. He was voted into Congress into as part of the Tea Party wave in 2011. Pompeo is an extreme hawk on Iran and has been a key cheerleader for Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal.
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.”
Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was fired after only a few weeks as Donald Trump’s national security adviser, amid charges he lied about contacts with Russia. He later reached a plea deal and worked with the investigation of Robert Mueller into Trump’s campaign and activities. Flynn had a storied military career, but was relieved of his post as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency due to frequent clashes and public criticisms of U.S. intelligence agencies. He became a pundit and was associated with extreme views of Islam. During the Trump campaign, Flynn was a vocal supporter—and spread many false and debunked conspiracy theories—about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. He notoriously led a chant of “lock her up” at the 2016 Republican national convention.
President Trump’s dealings with Russia have cast a shadow over his presidency, as he has repeatedly sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence assessments regarding Russian interference in the 2016 elections and has reached out to Putin in defiance of the United Kingdom’s attempt to hold Russia accountable for using a nerve agent in a clandestine operation on English soil.
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.”
The West has dominated the post-war narrative with its doctrine of liberal values, arguing that not only were they right in themselves but that economic success itself depended on their application. Two developments have challenged those claims. The first was the West’s own betrayal of its principles: on too many occasions the self interest of the powerful, and disdain for the victims of collateral damage, has showed through. The second dates from more recently: the growth of Chinese capitalism owes nothing to a democratic system of government, let alone liberal values.
Falsely demonizing all Muslims, their beliefs, and their institutions is exactly the wrong way to make Americans safer, because the more we scare ourselves with imaginary enemies, the harder it will be to find and protect ourselves from real ones.
Donald Trump stole the headlines, but the declaration from the recent NATO summit suggests the odds of an unnecessary conflict are rising. Instead of inviting a dialogue, the document boasts that the Alliance has “suspended all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia.” The fact is, NATO was a child of the Cold War, when the West believed that the Soviets were a threat. But Russia today is not the Soviet Union, and there’s no way Moscow would be stupid enough to attack a superior military force.
Donald Trump was one of the many bets the Russians routinely place, recognizing that while most such bets will never pay off a few will, often in unpredictable ways. Trump’s actions since taking office provide the strongest evidence that this one bet is paying off handsomely for the Russians. Putin could hardly have made the script for Trump’s conduct at the recent NATO meeting any more to his liking—and any better designed to foment division and distrust within the Western alliance—than the way Trump actually behaved.