Here we go again. Donald Trump decertified the Iran nuclear deal in October. Now, in another audacious foray into Middle East diplomacy, Trump is waving goodbye to the waiver about moving the American embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It appears that the former real estate mogul will embark upon one last construction project. If he couldn’t build in Moscow, why not give Jerusalem a go?
Overnight, an international Nimby crowd has formed to decry the move. The Palestinians are announcing that it’s the ‘kiss of death’ to any negotiations about a two-state solution. The Saudis have voiced their firm opposition. Theresa May thinks that ‘The status of Jerusalem should be determined in a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.’ Boris Johnson is expressing ‘concern’ about Donald Trump’s plans.
The move, however, is classic Trump. When faced with peril, he’s a chaos agent. And this moment is becoming quite perilous for the old boy. Apart from coming in second in the Time person of the year sweepstakes, there is other sobering news. The Wall Street Journal confirms today that special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed Trump’s Deutsche Bank financial records. Trump’s poll numbers continue to slump. The number of voters identifying as Republican, according to Gallup, has dropped over the past year from 42 to 37 per cent. He may get a legislative win on the tax bill, but only 29 per cent see it as a good thing. The rest view it either with indifference or outright hostility.
So conventional wisdom is that Trump is trying to demonstrate his ideological bona fides to his evangelical base and donors such as the mogul Sheldon Adelson. One day he’s touting the credentials of Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who will surely get a visit to the Oval Office if he wins. The next he’s rushing, like the Gadarene swine, to plunge the Middle East into turmoil with leaders there warning that the Jerusalem move is a senseless provocation. But Trump, of course, likes to provoke. When you have a leader who practices what the American sociologist C. Wright Mills called ‘crackpot realism’, then you’re liable to end up with a lot of foreign policy pottery being cracked in the Middle East and elsewhere.
What Trump is doing is removing the fig leaf of America as an honest broker in the region that can bring about a two-state solution in which Israel and the Palestinians live in comity. His decision, incidentally, puts paid to the delusional efforts of his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who Trump early on boasted would be able to bring about peace in the Middle East, to forge a U.S.-Saudi alliance to counter Tehran and create the context for an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Speaking at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution last weekend, Kushner pulled out the standard issue administration response to any questions about what it can actually accomplish: ‘The president has a very long career of accomplishing things that a lot of people say were impossible. We do think it’s achievable’. Such sentimental piffle represents the triumph of hope over experience.
Once upon a time Trump bragged about the ‘ultimate deal’ that he and Kushner would create for the Middle East. Like many of Trump’s past deals, something seems to have gone missing in the delivery. Only the price tag for his follies seem to be increasing as his presidency lurches from embarrassment to disaster.