Trump the Tyrant, deliverer of peace?

September 20, 2020

It was pre-9/11 America and I was doing a part time gig for The New York Times digital division. Yes, that New York Times. Back then the internet wasn’t even ten years old.  Amazon and EBay were barely kindergarteners and Google was but a baby brother.

It was in that context, that after the collapse of then President Bill Clinton’s Camp David Summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in July of 2000 an online conversation between three strangers began. A pro-Palestinian from Boston, a retired U.N. staffer living in Canada, and myself representing the pro-Israel perspective.

It went back and forth, got heated at times, but it was always civil and in the end (to us at least) we “solved” the “Israeli/Palestinian problem”.  But we also had to acquiesce to the reality that until the Palestinians accepted Israel’s right to exist and denounced terrorism, Israel stopped poking the bear with more settlements and the rest of the Arab nations stopped supporting Palestinian leadership no matter what, nothing would happen.

And so it has remained to this day.

Until this past Tuesday when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani came together in a White House ceremony at the invitation of President Trump to sign the official documents normalizing relations between the UAE, Bahrain and the state of Israel.

In the 72 years since the founding of the modern Israeli state in 1948 only two other Arab nations have done the same.  Egypt, in 1978 under the leadership of Anwar Sadat and in 1994 when Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdelsalam al-Majali signed a peace treaty with his counterpart Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.  A signing that took place under cloud of terrorism as Lebanese Hezbollah militia launched mortars and rockets against Israeli towns just twenty minutes prior to the signing.

Such has been the “normal” of the Middle East now for decades.

A normal that first began to crack with President Obama’s much touted “Iran Deal” in which the Mullahs of Iran were rewarded with a lifting of economic sanctions and a windfall of billions in additional revenue for what turned out to be nothing more than a fig leaf of assurance that Iran would turn away from developing a nuclear weapon.  Add in the fact that Mr. Obama’s crowning achievement included nothing to address Iran’s role as the world’s number one sponsor of terrorism and it was only a matter of time before the rest of the Arab world began to push back.

For all the Nobel Peace Prize hype at the beginning of his Presidency, his at times outright hostility towards Israel and his insistence on placing the wishes of Iran above all others in the region led to not just more tension but saw a level of distrust with the U.S. not seen since the 60’s.  Between the Libya debacle, the famous “red line” fantasy, and allowing the birth of ISIS, Arab leaders had no choice but to withdraw inward and hope America’s next election would deliver something different.

And oh did it, when on November 8th 2016, Donald J. Trump shocked the world with his upset victory over the media guaranteed to win Hillary Clinton.

Tweets, insults and shake your head moments aside, the one thing Donald Trump brought to D.C. was a different perspective.  A perspective of question everything and accept nothing.  Especially nothing coming from establishment D.C. that in the President’s mind had gotten the U.S. into the mess he had inherited.

From China, to North Korea, to the European Union to the Middle East establishment foreign policy had accomplished nothing other than fattening the wallets of the connected and a flourishing cocktail party circuit.

And it was in that vein that his first trip abroad as President started in the Middle East.  In three days he met the key players and gave a speech before 55 leaders of Muslim majority nations that it was not the U.S., but terrorism that was the real road block to peace.

A speech ignored by many, but heard by those who counted.

While the establishment mocked, the national media belittled, President Trump and top advisor son-in-law Jared Kushner set about laying the groundwork for a “new” normal in the Middle East.

The first brick in that path was laid down Tuesday.  Reports are that Oman, Sudan, Morocco and possibly even Saudi Arabia are close to announcing normalizing relations with Israel as well.

How ironic that the one so many deemed so wise, Barack Obama was the one who left office with the Middle East in flames while their “Trump the Tyrant”, in barely three years, is the one who now has Arabs and Jews uniting in the name of peace.

PUBLISHER NOTE:  A version of this column first appeared in the September 20, 2020 print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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