I was asked today for reactions to the Trump Administration’s opening of our Embassy in Jerusalem. Here we go …
One can find statements by Presidents Clinton, G. W. Bush, and Obama, obviously predating the Trump Administration, all expressing a preference for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, calling for the embassy to be moved to Jerusalem by 1999 (this hasn’t been done due to a series of authorized Presidential waivers based on security concerns). The Senate passed a resolution 90 – 0 last June, affirming the Act and calling upon the President to abide by its provisions. The Obama Administration’s ambassador to Israel said tonight on PBS that moving the embassy was “appropriate.” President Trump had pledged during his campaign to make the move. Sen. Chuck Schumer supports the move. The President can rightly point out that moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem has traditionally had bipartisan support.
Even so, I think it was a strategic mistake. Despite the Administration’s claim that moving the embassy will help the peace process, given the general reaction to the move throughout the international community, I’m having trouble seeing how it fulfills any strategic foreign policy objectives:
- It’s added more gas to the raging fire that is the Middle East. To boot, having the opening on the anniversary of Israel’s establishment unnecessarily added insult to injury for many in the Muslim world.
- It’s a chip we didn’t need to play. Israel is already absolutely ecstatic about the support it is receiving from the Trump Administration; it’s difficult to see how we can get any warmer support from Israel for our objectives than the Administration has already garnered.
- A criticism that resonates with me is that we took the action without getting anything for it – such as Israeli acquiescence in a two-state solution with the Palestinians, or Israeli collaboration in providing humanitarian aid for the Palestinians under terrible duress in Gaza.
- The Wall Street Journal has reported that the move has drawn “repeated condemnation” from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt – three allies that form a primary part of our ballast in maintaining Middle East stability against Iran. (The Obama Administration’s Israel Ambassador also indicated tonight that although these three nations will continue to cooperate with us and Israel because they have greater concern about Iranian aggression than they have care for the Palestinians, the optics of the last few days will make it difficult for these nations to cooperate openly with Israel.)
- The U.K. and France also oppose the move – adding more tension to a relationship already coarsened by our withdrawal from the Iranian Nuclear Deal.
- If that wasn’t sufficient, my own pet peeve is that the move has given President Erdogan of Turkey – a de facto dictator who has sufficiently cozied up to Russia and Iran lately that I consider Turkey an uncertain NATO ally at best — a chance to condemn Israel and side with U.K. and France against us.
Suffice it to say, it’s not an action I would have taken. One would have to be pretty dewy-eyed not to believe that domestic political motivations played a large part in the decision, helping the President to both reinforce the allegiance of parts of his base committed to the move while perhaps softening the opposition of some of those confronting him; but those musings are best kept for Noise about his political prospects that we’ll undoubtedly be making in the coming months …