Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Successes
How Trump's paradigm-shift ended a long string of failures under both parties.
Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The recent agreements between Israel and two Gulf states mark yet another foreign policy achievement by the Trump administration. Five years ago no one could have anticipated that two more Arab states would normalize relations with Israel, with others to follow, perhaps even Saudi Arabia, “The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.” The decrepit “peace process” was stalled, and Barack Obama’s appeasing nuclear deal with the mullahs had left the region to the tender mercies of Iran and Russia. America was, as Obama put it, just one nation among others, “mindful of its imperfections.”
Then came Donald Trump, the amateur outsider whom the foreign policy establishment, trapped like a fly in amber by stale, failed paradigms, mocked and dismissed with predictions of existential doom from his foreign policy ignorance and bumbling. Yet Trump, like the “amiable dunce” Ronald Reagan, understood that the establishment’s narratives were endangering our security and interests. He brought some practical wisdom, common sense about human nature, and real-world experience to foreign policy, and recalibrated it with a few simple, Reaganesque principles: We win, they lose; America’s interests are paramount; and we should always be “no better friend, no worse enemy,” a foundational principle of foreign relations that Obama had turned on its head.
Trump’s current successes, on top of the agreement he brokered between bitter historical enemies Serbia and Kosovo, show that his paradigm-shift must be followed by a new foreign policy that can end the long string of failures under both parties. The longest of these is the Israeli-Arab conflict. Resolving this dispute has been the greatest prize for the “rules-based global order” that believes brokered negotiations, treaties, summits, photo-ops, and copious foreign aid, are the only means of ending conflict.
In terms of the Israel-Arab conflict, the old approach favored––and worsened––by Barack Obama illustrates the revolutionary nature of Trump’s foreign policy shift. Obama, a product of the elite’s unexamined received foreign policy wisdom, accepted the State Department’s hoary nostrums and doctrines. Seventy years of wars and terrorist violence were thus explained by the Palestinian people’s unfulfilled nationalist aspirations and dreams of independence, unlike the old colonies of the Western nations who gained independence after World War II.
In the Middle East, as this narrative continues, after the Great War France and England had continued their imperialist control over the region, thwarting independence in order to protect their own geopolitical and commercial interests. Eventually those peoples achieved their own states––all but the Palestinians. That’s because the U.S. and its allies helped to establish Israel as a neo-colonialist garrison and a Cold War satellite. Israel’s existence depended on the suppression of the indigenous peoples now subject to an apartheid regime of check-points, land-grabbing settlements, and occupation of an Arab homeland. Understandably, the Palestinians turned to armed resistance and terrorism, faced as they were by a well-armed foe backed by the U.S.
The solution for this conflict, in the eyes of the globalist, multinational institutions now running the world, was a “peace plan” that would require from Israel concessions like “land for peace” and the dismantling of the “illegal settlements” encroaching on a future Palestine’s territory. Little was demanded from the Arabs other than empty promises to recognize Israel’s legitimacy and cease terrorists attacks.
This narrative, of course, is historically false. The imperial power most responsible for the region’s fate was not Britain or France, but the Ottoman Empire, whose feckless sultans allied with the Germans, and as a result lost its Middle East and Balkan provinces to the victorious Entente powers. There’s no such thing as a “Palestinian” national identity, any more than there’s a Californian national identity. The nation and national self-determination are alien, infidel ideas to traditional Muslim peoples, whose organizing political unit is the caliphate and the umma, the global community of Muslims who transcend mere national identity and loyalty.
There has been no “occupation” of a Palestinian homeland, since the last controlling authority of the region was the Ottomans, who after World War I surrendered the territory to the mandatory powers by means of international treaties. Arabs are not the original inhabitants of the territory west of the Jordan River, and any Arabs living there are the descendants of invaders, conquerors, occupiers, colonists, and immigrants; whereas the Jews have a documented historical record of residence stretching back three millennia. The check-points, surveillance, and security wall were made necessary by three full-scale military invasions and constant terrorist violence. Finally, “nationalist aspirations” have always been, like terrorism, a tactic for gulling Westerners in order to achieve a Muslim state “from the river to the sea,” and cleansing the region of Jews, Islam’s oldest enemy.
Obama’s treatment of Israel during his tenure reflected that bankrupt paradigm. Israel was the impediment to peace, and had been enabled by its close alliance with the United States and the sinister “Jewish lobby.” Iran––whose hands have been stained up to the elbows with American blood for over 40 years––needed to be integrated into the “rules-based international order” with a suite of concessions, cash, and a glide-path to nuclear capability. Obama’s approach required distancing the U.S. from Israel, our alliance with whom had unbalanced our reginal relations and created Arab enmity.
Hence Obama’s insults to Bibi Netanyahu; the U.S.’s abstention from his engineered 2016 UN Security Resolution 2334, which basically confirmed the historically challenged paradigm sketched above; his condition that to achieve peace Israel had to withdraw from the strategically critical Golan Heights, and his other actions that distanced the U.S. from Israel to achieve “balance” in the region.
Trump reversed this program. He regularly praises Israel as one of our country’s most important and stalwart allies. He recognizes its sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, moving our embassy there––and essentially all of Israel by dismissing the 1967 armistice line as the future border of an Arab Palestinian state. He also stood behind Netanyahu’s move to establish sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, a plan Netanyahu has postponed as a concession to the UAE. In short, he has nullified the seven-decade-long foreign policy narrative that, with few exceptions like the cold peace with Egypt and Jordan, brought nothing but terrorist violence to Israel, concessions without reciprocity, and incessant calumny from the “community of nations” that demonize the only liberal-democratic, religiously tolerant, economically dynamic nation in the region.
Finally, Trump dumped the Iran nuclear deal, which was an act of appeasement worthy of enrollment in the Neville Chamberlain catalogue of dishonor. And he punctuated his rejection by vaporizing Iran’s terrorist-in-chief Qassem Soleimani––all actions that the foreign-policy establishment’s big brains warned would lead to military escalation and likely war. But Obama’s cringing rapprochement with Iran particularly had astonished and insulted our Arab allies in the region. He seemed not to get that Shia Iran is a much more lethal threat to Sunni Arabs than Israel, and that the Arabs had been moving closer to Israel as a reliable and powerful geopolitical friend. Rather than, like Obama, being the region’s “no worse friend, no better enemy,” Trump has supported our allies and distanced us from our common enemy Iran as the way best to serve and protect our national interests and security.
Most important, Trump’s actions have put paid to the long, failed, expensive “peace process” and its magical thinking of “land for peace,” “two nations living side-by-side in peace,” moral equivalence, and endless summits and agreements––all to hide the UN, EU, and progressive American despicable demonization of Israel. That calumny has been so relentless, unjust, and irrational that it has become the face of post-holocaust anti-Semitism.
The agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are likely the beginning of a cascade of Arab Sunni nations, perhaps even Saudi Arabia, normalizing relations with Israel. To be sure, this sea-change is based solely on those states’ national economic, military, and geopolitical interests, reflecting the old tribal wisdom that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” If this happens, Donald Trump will go down as the most consequential foreign policy president since Ronald Reagan. But don’t expect a Nobel Peace Prize. If Reagan, engineer of the collapse of the Soviet Union, was passed over for Mikhail Gorbachev––which is like recognizing the bravery of a man who fled his burning house instead of staying to redecorate––Donald Trump doesn’t stand a chance.
Ultimately, the long-terms consequences will be the further discrediting of the “rules-based international order,” the old dubious idea that the whole world is evolving into Westerners who prize what we do––peace, prosperity, freedom, rule by law, human rights, sex equality, religious tolerance, non-violent resolution of disputes, and peaceful relations with other countries. And all these boons will be realized by transnational institutions and organizations, and international law and covenants to which diverse nations cede some portion of their national sovereignty. Just from evidence in the last decade, from the Iran deal to the pandemic unleashed by communist China, that exchange has always been a fool’s bargain.
For the facts of history repudiate this arrogant idealism. Most of the world, while no doubt desiring the benefits of wealth and technology, still want to remain what their histories, mores, customs, faiths, and traditions have made them. Even in the supranational EU, at times of crisis we see Italians acting like Italians, the French acting like Frenchmen, and the Germans acting like Germans, inhabitants of distinct cultures demarcated by language, culture, and fixed national borders. The EU’s imperial apparat in Brussels cannot change that existential reality, or the eternal fact that nations pursue their particular interests as they define them, and only make bargains when the terms advance those interests.
If he wins a second term, Donald Trump’s defining legacy will be the rejection of this globalist dream of Western imperialism 2.0, and a return to the principle of American national sovereignty and exceptional identity, whose “glory,” as John Quincy Adams famously said in 1821, is “not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.”