Sunday 22 September 2019

Analysis: From Korea to Iran and Israel, Trump’s tactics are based on his ratings at home

President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Adam Taylor

Given all of the Trump administration's big foreign-policy announcements in recent weeks, the official move of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem yesterday seemingly flew under the radar. It shouldn't have.

The embassy move is a historic - and potentially explosive - act with plenty of regional ramifications. But it also offers an insight into what may be the guiding principle of President Donald Trump's foreign policy: making splashy foreign-policy decisions that deliver for his domestic base but seem to be causing massive diplomatic headaches and long-term problems.

Call it "buy now, pay later" - a phrase that can apply literally and figuratively.

In the case of the Jerusalem embassy, Trump has insisted he could build a new embassy on the cheap with his business acumen. For example, at a campaign rally in Elkhart, Indiana, on Thursday he repeated his story about slashing the cost of the move from $1bn down to about $400,000.

That's only true if you look at the short term: the 'Washington Post reported earlier this month the $400,000 only accounted for the first phase of moving the embassy to the existing consular building in Jerusalem, but that's likely to be a temporary home.

Building a much larger permanent embassy - and spending as much as a billion dollars to do so - could take another 10 years, by which time Trump's time in office will have ended.

His erroneous boast is a telling indicator of how he views the literal costs of his foreign policy decisions. More important, he appears to have underestimated their long-term political costs too.

Trump, like many presidents before him, came into office pledging hard work and a fresh approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - "the toughest deal of all," as he called it - that would finally lead to peace. Instead, the administration has yet to unveil its peace plan, and Palestinian officials have refused to talk to their US counterparts since Trump announced his embassy decision in December.

Yesterday's opening came just before Palestinians mark the anniversary of what they call the Nakba, or "catastrophe", used to refer to the founding of Israel in 1948. Violent protests have taken place in Gaza for weeks, and boiled over into widescale bloodshed yesterday, with scores of Palestinians shot dead and thousands injured.

It's another sign the United States may finally be discredited as a neutral party in any agreements on Middle East peace, making it all the more difficult for any lasting solution to be found. For now, Trump has the plaudits he wants at home and in Israel.

His short-termism isn't confined to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. His decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran rather than renegotiate left many observers - including other critics of the agreement - feeling there was no "plan B". The administration, they argued, has mostly set up more problems for the future.

Trump's push for peace talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may also betray the same kind of thinking. They are due to meet on June 12 in Singapore, an event that will give Trump much of the television coverage he favours.

But the actual deal with will likely wind up being a messy affair. It will have to deal not only with the denuclearisation of North Korea, but also potential economic support for North Korea, regional security guarantees and other issues.

As many have noted, a deal with Kim may end up looking similar to not only prior failed agreements with North Korea but also the Iran agreement Trump so loathes.

Indeed, there is a worry it could be much worse than the latter. It took years of painful negotiations to reach the Iran deal, but Trump has shown neither much inclination to be patient nor interest in long, intricate diplomatic wrangling. A hastily crafted deal with Pyongyang may only create more problems in the years down the line.

In making these moves, Trump's decision-making seems to hinge on the concerns of his domestic audience, hoping to stoke his base, get positive headlines and differentiate himself from his political predecessors.

Academics such as Paul Musgrave and Dan Nexon have noted the foreign-policy community in the United States has become politically polarised in recent years.

IT'S become far harder to create a consensus about any international agreements, which in turn leads to a far greater risk that major decisions and agreements will be overturned by a subsequent administration.

Of course, there's probably an argument that former president Barack Obama worried too much about the long-term impact of his decisions, trying to find consensus where there was never likely to be any.

But a rushed, short-term approach seems even riskier, potentially sending US foreign policy down the same road of tit-for-tat gridlock that's currently the norm in Washington. If "buy now, pay later" really is Trump's plan, the eventual price tag may be far bigger than we know. (© Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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