Trump Faces Delicate Foreign Policy Choices on Eve of Netanyahu Visit

How can we judge Trump's foreign policy? Perhaps we'll know it's succeeding if our friends are happy and our enemies are worried.

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STEPHEN SHAVER/UPI/Newscom

With Prime Minister Netanyahu arriving in Washington this week to meet with President Trump and the press full of headlines about turmoil at the National Security Council, the president faces some big decisions. Among them:

Stick with Flynn? General Michael Flynn, the president's national security adviser, is under attack. During the presidential campaign, Trump showed the ability quickly and unsentimentally to replace staffers, like Corey Lewandowski and Paul Manafort, who turned into distractions or who couldn't meet expectations. The Flynn situation is arguably different; dumping him overboard would be a victory for Trump's enemies, who would quickly start looking for their next victim.

Push for Mideast peace? There's a scenario—a highly remote scenario, but nonetheless one that has its temptations—in which Jared Kushner and Donald Trump win the Nobel Peace Prize. Regime change in Iran cuts off funding to Hamas and Hezbollah, improving Israel's security. Trump and Kushner tell Israel to take a deal now because they'll never get a friendlier administration. Trump and Kushner tell the Palestinians to take a deal now because if they don't the Trump administration will let Israel go ahead and annex the West Bank settlements. Mahmoud Abbas may eventually die and be replaced by some other less intransigent Palestinian leader.

Realists point out that the Palestinian Arabs will never accept a final status, end-of-conflict agreement that accepts Israel as a Jewish state. Some Muslims are still hoping to re-conquer Spain; they certainly aren't ready to give up on Jerusalem, or the rest of Israel. Why waste time, energy, and political capital chasing an unattainable goal?

Number Two at State? Trump reportedly nixed the appointment of Elliott Abrams, a Scoop Jackson Republican who had served in the administrations of President Reagan and George W. Bush, to the job of deputy secretary of State. Perhaps Trump and John Bolton, originally a candidate for the top job at State, will revisit the issue, and Ambassador Bolton will land as number two at State. If Flynn eventually does need replacing, Bolton could also fit in the national security adviser role.

The Asia pivot? The Obama administration talked a good game about its "Asia pivot" in which America's strategic focus shifted to Asia from the Middle East, but it never won congressional ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that was an important element of that strategy. Trump's scuttling of the trade deal raised concerns that he would ruin relations with America's Asian friends. But while the foreign policy press had been obsessing over Israeli settlements, Trump has quietly been cultivating Japan, India, and Taiwan, deeply unsettling Communist China.

The Chinese example is a fine one. Trump took a post-election call from the president of Taiwan, then told Communist China's Xi Jinping in a phone call that America would hew to the "one China" policy crafted by President Nixon. Should Xi trust Trump when he says that?

President Obama was known for a foreign policy that betrayed America's friends and lavished benefits on our enemies. Americans will know Trump is succeeding if our friends are happy and our enemies are worried.

It can be hard to tell what's going on from the sidelines because Trump, like his mentor Henry Kissinger, is a practitioner of what diplomats and businessmen call constructive ambiguity and what political philosophers call Straussian esotericism.

Foreign policy—unlike, say, replacing ObamaCare—is one area where the president, short of declaring war or appropriating funds for one or entering into treaties, has wide authority under our Constitution to act without a lot of restraint from Congress or even the judiciary. If Trump plays his cards right, it may even be an area where he can rack up some quick wins. For a lot of Americans, a U.S.-Israel summit that features personal warmth rather than mutual recrimination will be seen as a big improvement over the previous administration—and, frankly, worth more than a Nobel medal.

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  1. “Perhaps we’ll know it’s succeeding if our friends are happy and our enemies are worried.”

    Some of our friends are shit, though, so…

    1. By “friends” Ira is obviously referring to “The Jewish State”. As long as we are funneling billions to protect them from the ‘terrists’ and make sure everyone is covered under universal health insurance including the ‘rabbis studying talmud’, Ira will be happy.

      1. I don’t listen to the mewling of devils, nor to those who pick edgy names like “antichrist.”

    2. “Perhaps we’ll know it’s succeeding if our friends are happy and our enemies are worried.”

      That’s a tautology. He could nuke Nebraska and his friends would be pleased and his enemies worried. That’s how Trump tells friend from foe – anybody who praises him is a friend, anybody who criticizes him is a dumb loser poopy-head.

      1. Assuming you are even correct ours is not necessarily identical to his.

  2. Trump did more than anyone to accelerate progress towards a “One State” solution in Israel. So glad I voted for him!

  3. , Trump has quietly been cultivating Japan, India, and Taiwan, deeply unsettling Communist China.

    Don’t forget our half-Asian friend Russia !

  4. Anyone who writes about the “National Security Council” being in turmoil, ought to have to first explain exactly what the NSC does.

    1. They’re the group that picks fights around the world and hopes that no one notices. Oops, I think someone just noticed.

  5. Damn, I want to believe the headline on that magazine says something about inscrutable foreign devils.

    1. They did nail that “8-year old pleased as punch over how he beat up that little kid and stole his lunch money” smirk of his, though.

    2. Number Two at State? Trump reportedly nixed the appointment of Elliott Abrams, a Scoop Jackson Republican who had served in the administrations of President Reagan and George W. Bush, to the job of deputy secretary of State. Perhaps Trump and John Bolton, originally a candidate for the top job at State, will revisit the issue, and Ambassador Bolton will land as number two at State. If Flynn eventually does need replacing, Bolton could also fit in the national security adviser role.

      I find it pretty funny to see reason have such nice things to say about arch Neocon Abrams. I guess all is forgotten about the Bush years.

      1. reason is kind of a neocon center-right establishment CFR-friendly periodical website now. See Welch’s embrace of Egg McMuffin into the libertarian-NeverTrump coalition. “Nations don’t build themselves” could replace Free Mind and Free Markets

        1. “Nations don’t build themselves” could replace Free Mind and Free Markets

          Bwahahahaha!

  6. Trump is in a terrible bind with Netanyahu’s visit. He will be expected to support Bibi’s Jew-Supremacism, while his white supremacism is being discredited from all sides, not the least of which from Flynn’s ignominious departure. Anything he does will only hasten the erosion and collapse of both regimes. Pop the popcorn, kids (as the Hasbara trolls like to say).

  7. Don’t kill yourselves yet, my sweet, clever little canadarch0-frankentrumpkencucks. You don’t want to miss the rest of the show – there is still so much more to be revealed!

  8. Rand says “No” on Bolton too. Sorry boys. Maybe Susan Rice is still free.

  9. RE: Trump Faces Delicate Foreign Policy Choices on Eve of Netanyahu Visit
    How can we judge Trump’s foreign policy? Perhaps we’ll know it’s succeeding if our friends are happy and our enemies are worried.

    This is going to be very interesting indeed since Obama was Israel’s worst enemy, sending a lot of military technology to some Arab nations.
    Will Trump pull out our troops out of the ME unlike Bush and Obama?
    Will he release the prisoners in Gitmo, or will he be like Obama and keep them in prison?
    What’s he going to do about the PRC building up their navy and occupying islands in the South China Sea?
    What is he going to do if Iran sets off a rocket to Israel (or any of the other Arab [Sunni] nations?
    What will be his policy if Putin decides to re-capture the satellite nations from the old Soviet Union?
    But more importantly, how will Trump the Grump react to any, some or all of these actions?

  10. “Regime change in Iran cuts off funding to Hamas and Hezbollah, improving Israel’s security.”

    I like how this is a one off sentence. I’m sure it will also be a flower of democracy and Iranian oil revenues will pay for the whole thing. Fucking Neocons never learn.

  11. The way the Chinese transliterate his name – Te-lang-pu – is really not even close, not even by their shitty foreign-word rules……

    God, I hate the chinese and their linguistic “sensibilities”….

  12. We can tell if our enemy numbers are declining and our lust of friends are growing.

    But typical Republican war mongering speak from reason.com libertarians

  13. Push for Mideast peace? There’s a scenario?a highly remote scenario, but nonetheless one that has its temptations?in which Jared Kushner and Donald Trump win the Nobel Peace Prize. Regime change in Iran cuts off funding to Hamas and Hezbollah, improving Israel’s security. Trump ???? ????????? ?????? ????? ???? and Kushner tell Israel to take a deal now because they’ll never get a friendlier administration. Trump and Kushner tell the Palestinians to take a deal now because if they don’t the Trump administration will let Israel go ahead and annex the West Bank settlements. Mahmoud Abbas may eventually die and be replaced by some other less intransigent Palestinian leader.

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