“We have met the enemy and he is us.” Pogo’s Earth Day 1970 lament has never been more apt. In early August, two white male terrorists murdered 31 victims and inflicted devastating injuries on at least 53 others in separate attacks in El Paso and Dayton. These crimes used to be rare, and “lone wolf” made descriptive sense. Not anymore. To attribute such crimes to mental illness is disingenuous, but the accurate word, “evil,” may be too religious today. Most horrifying of all, these acts are manipulated by Donald Trump for political goals. Too weak to confront a lobby like the National Rifle Association, the man with his finger on the ultimate trigger pours gasoline on white-hot rage, stoking generalized hatred against people of color he claims are “invading” the country.
At the same time, provocations have been accumulating in the Persian Gulf, and “war” against Iran talked up in the elite media — perhaps the spawn of national-security adviser John Bolton, playing bad cop to the president’s opposite number. Trump recently seized on the suggestion of Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, his new foreign-policy guru, to stand down rather than take kinetic revenge that would have killed 150 Iranians — for a drone downing. And Trump has stated repeatedly that he wants the war in Afghanistan to be concluded ASAP, mentioning in the same breath that he is all-powerful and could resort to the nuclear option should there be resistance to his diktat. The war seems to be moving into a less heated phase, with the Taliban now at the negotiating table, though ISIS remnants and other outsiders are shooting their way out the door.
Talking tough is the part of Trump’s affect that particularly excites his base. But another real war might dampen that domestic support, not to mention wreak havoc on the city states of the Gulf. Glass skyscrapers are not built to withstand explosions (as Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah has recently pointed out). This would seem to explain some recent moves of the UAE leadership to reduce tensions with Iran. Middle East scholar Randa Slim told Asia Times on August 6 that a warming of relations had apparently preceded the tanker attacks in the Strait of Hormuz. At a Security Council meeting in early summer, the UAE had “pointedly declined to single out Iran as the ‘state actor’ behind” these provocations. Then there was the pullout of most UAE forces from Yemen and, finally, an early August meeting in Tehran between high-level military commanders — the first public move. The Houthi rebels also said they would “freeze” attacks, because Abu Dhabi “had changed its political and military position.”
Saudi Arabia seems not to have been in favor of the de-escalation. Riyadh has a different threat perception than the UAE, of course. It cannot simply change its mind about what it considers an existential threat from a Hezbollah-equivalent across the 1,000-mile border to the south. However, Donald Trump’s solid support for the Saudi war effort is being challenged in Congress. And his recent dispatch of a trivial number of U.S. military personnel to the kingdom would seem to be a rookie mistake. Stationing American troops on sacred Muslim soil may be as offensive today as it was in 1991, when George H.W. Bush tried it. (See the text of the Council’s Capitol Hill conference on U.S.-Saudi relations, page 5, and the five related articles that follow.)
As we go to press, not only the Gulf, but Palestine, is front-page news. Donald Trump, in a move unheard of for a U.S. president, advised Bibi Netanyahu that it would be “weakness” for him to allow two U.S. members of Congress to enter Israel (at a time when scores of other American lawmakers are cultivating support there). The alpha-male challenge may have resonated bigly, but these representatives are Democrats, as well as Muslim women of color whose destination was the West Bank. Even the fearsome tent pole of the Israeli lobby, AIPAC, separated itself from Israel over this effort to stifle anticipated criticism of the occupation. As the congresswomen are supporters of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions), both Trump and Netanyahu likely feared the exposure on American TV of some ugly facts. How to explain the garbage and filth thrown down on the heads of Palestinians who are forced to walk on segregated paths in Hebron, to mention just one outrage? Israel is not Mississippi in the 1930s, after all. One might ask why that small state garners so much money and praise. Could it involve extortion, bribery and the corruption of the American political class?
This was the subject of a 1982 book, They Dare to Speak Out, by Republican Congressman Paul Findley of Illinois, who just died at the age of 98. He thought his truth telling would wake Americans up. Not exactly, but the Israeli invasion of Lebanon that year (to try to destroy the PLO once and for all) was a shock to Israel’s adherents, the bombing of Beirut causing on-air outrage among TV news stars. President Reagan wound up rescuing Yasser Arafat and the other PLO officials, transporting them to shelter in Tunis. Let’s recall that, just three years before, Israel and Egypt had signed a major peace accord at Camp David. None of the major analysts of Israel’s aggression were so cynical as to point out that the main result of the 1979 pact was to take Egypt’s large army off the field. The idea of remaking the Middle East for Israel’s sake had been building for awhile, though the term “regime change” was not yet in widespread use.
Bipartisan consensus is considered essential for the work of the lobby trying to keep Israel safe. No wonder Jewish leaders are outraged at the Trump effort to define the Democratic Party’s leadership as a fringe group of four American women who should go back to their “real” homelands. The American president even went so far as to call Jews who vote Democratic “disloyal” to Israel. Of course, Trump is performing, not for Jewish voters, but for billionaire donors like Sheldon Adelson. In any case, sowing division over Israel might have a high cost. What if Democrats began to think they were liberated from the “parameters of respectable debate” (Chomsky’s phrase), and started treating Israel as a normal country? Then the relevant issues could be argued on their merits, as is the case with other policy matters.