Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Trump’s foreign policy successes
On Your Right
The Middle East, that most restive part of a restive world, is a bit calmer today thanks to President Donald Trump.
For those living under a pile of “Orange Man Bad” signs, this might be a surprise, albeit a pleasant one: After secret negotiations, both Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have normalized relations with Israel. Travel and commerce among the parties began before the agreement was signed at the White House last week. This pact has profound psychological and strategic implications for the region and is a major accomplishment for an administration whose detractors sneered that it couldn’t find Ras al Khaimah on the map. Even Joe Biden found it praiseworthy.
This agreement brings the number of Sunni states normalizing relations with Israel to four, with others probably in the offing. Oman might be next; it has many of the same strategic challenges as the two gulf states, and many Omanis have long and pointedly considered the Israeli-Palestinian dispute someone else’s problem. They also have hosted Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and have informally recognized Israel’s “position in the region,” a step toward normalization.
There are two strategic benefits for the United States in these agreements and in those possibly to follow. First, it increases pressure on the Palestinian National Authority to negotiate a comprehensive peace deal with Israel based on the current situation rather than committing its perennial error of agreeing to the deal that was on the table two deals previously. The more formerly revanchist states that normalize relations, the more other normalizations become thinkable. As support in the rest of the Arab world withers away, this pressure will increase.
Second, it presents problems for Tehran. The UAE and Bahrain have small militaries, but both have strategic locations and foreign friends should Iran suddenly get an itch to reignite the “tanker war” of the early 1980s. Tehran also must now consider additional negative factors in, say, further militarizing the Tunb Islands or Abu Musa.
It’s a lot of benefit to be had from an agreement, and it contrasts very well with the former administration’s failures in the region.
Remember when the Obama administration “liberated” Libya at the behest of the U.N. because, as the president observed, “Actions have consequences?” A consequence of that Obama-Biden action was to make a charnel house of the North African nation, a failed state whose instability threatens its neighbors and the world. Victims of this misguided policy included not only Muammar Gaddafi, but thousands of Libyans and Americans Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods and U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Remember “Not my red line?” In many ways, this is the quintessence of the Obama administration’s foreign policy: “Speak loudly and carry a written retraction.” From the moment he threatened the Assad regime for using chemical weapons in August 2012, Obama was bound to act. His failure to do so had enormous negative repercussions for America in the region, triggering the rise of the Islamic State and the arrival of Russia as a major player. As both Foreign Policy and Al Jazeera agree, this failure was significant and will resonate far into the future.
Remember the Iran nuclear deal that was supposed to ensure Iran never obtained a nuclear weapon — for 10 years? Negotiated in a sweat by John Kerry, sealed with a $100-billion-or-so payment in cash and secret sanctions relief, it left the program essentially intact, as reported by U.S. News.
Nor is the Bahrain-Israel-UAE deal the only beneficial agreement the Trump administration has negotiated. There are economic pacts such as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which even Biden admits is better than North American Free Trade Agreement — a deal the Obama-Biden administration promised to renegotiate but never did. There is the ongoing trade tiff with China which — despite threats, complaints from the World Trade Organization and howls from anti-tariff country-club types — is still ongoing. Against that kind of resistance, other presidents have folded like a cheap suit. Not Trump. There was the exchange with our NATO partners, which boiled down to “No more freeloading. Pay what you promised.” Allied defense spending increased.
Trump removed us from one of the crookedest pacts since the Five Power Treaty of 1922: the Paris climate accord, which treated the world’s largest polluter as a naughty child but clamped crippling restrictions on the American economy. In this, he was true to his motto of America first — a refreshing change from the internationalist obsessions of previous administrations.
These achievements — especially compared to his predecessor’s missteps — are important to consider come Nov. 3.
Morgan Liddick’s column “On Your Right” publishes Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Liddick spent 27 years working for the U.S. Foreign Service, primarily living abroad. He also spent 12 years teaching U.S. history and Western civilization at community colleges in Colorado and Texas. He lived in Summit County as recently as 2015. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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