Trump’s Mideast Moves Defy Logic, And Why That’s Good News For Israel
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Trump’s Mideast Moves Defy Logic, And Why That’s Good News For Israel

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — the Jewish News Syndicate — and a columnist for National Review and the New York Post.

Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin

No matter what President Donald Trump has done to outrage much of the country, his Jewish supporters have one devastating reply: he’s the most pro-Israel president ever. His moving of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, his recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights as well as an attitude toward the Middle East peace process that focused on holding the Palestinians accountable for support of terror rather than on pressuring Israel — not to mention his tough-minded approach to Iran and scrapping of President Barack Obama’s weak nuclear deal — endeared him to Israelis and much of the pro-Israel community.

The response from Jewish foes of Trump was to express distrust for the president’s motives and to say that his innate isolationism as well as his unpredictable nature and general lack of principles would, sooner or later, come back to haunt his Israeli admirers.

As far as many of them are concerned, sooner has just arrived.

Trump’s decision to give a green light to Turkey to overrun northwest Syria and to run roughshod over the Kurds is a moral as well as a strategic disaster. As the president absurdly claimed, the Kurds were not with the United States “at Normandy.” But they have been reliable and effective allies against the ISIS terrorists whose defeat at the hands of coalition forces has been one of Trump’s undeniable triumphs.

This has allowed the regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — which seeks to crush Kurdish nationalism both inside and outside of Turkey — to start an offensive that leaves the Kurds to the tender mercies of a butcher.

But while disgraceful and an ironic repeat of Obama’s similar decisions in both Syria and Iraq that led to the rise of ISIS, it isn’t likely that Trump’s move will have serious political consequences at home. Few Americans support further involvement in Syria and even fewer care about what happens to the Kurds.

But there is one possible political consequence to this fiasco: the loss of faith in Trump as a reliable ally for Israel.

The point here is not so much that this will directly endanger Israel. The start of the U.S. pullout from Syria that Trump has long promised does enhance the power of a Turkish government that is openly hostile to Israel as well as strengthen Iran and the barbarous Assad regime to whom the Kurds have turned for lack of a better ally.

The prospect of Trump showing us the dark side of “America First” in which his isolationist tendencies will be given free rein can and does worry Israelis as well as Arab regimes who fear they will be left to face Iran alone. But unlike the Kurds, Israel doesn’t rely on U.S. troops or American airpower for its security. Israel can defend itself.

The real problem is that if Trump is using as his guide his bizarre “Normandy” doctrine in which virtually any ally can be discarded with impunity, no one — not even an Israel to which he has shown genuine friendship and historic support — is entirely safe. That is what liberal Zionists have been saying all along about those Jews who cheer Trump.

But there are two reasons why Israel shouldn’t fear the worst.

One is that Trump instinctually rejects the advice of so-called experts and refuses to listen to the foreign policy establishment. Fortunately, that has caused him to embrace Israel, but it has also led to grief for the Kurds.

The second is that those predicting outright betrayal of Israel are forgetting about one of the essential elements of his personality: inconsistency.

Incompatible ideas seem to always be able to rest comfortably next to each other inside Trump’s head. His Middle East policy has always been a function of complete contradictory impulses. It doesn’t make sense that the same person would be an isolationist and also devoted to strengthening Israel. Nor can his laudably tough attitude toward Iran be squared with his soft spot for the predatory ambitions of Tehran’s Russian ally in the Middle East.

The expectation of Trump’s critics that he will throw Israel under the bus the way he has treated the Kurds may be just one more example of his critics expecting foreign policy logic and consistency from someone without much of a track record of either quality. 

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