A New Realism: America & Israel in the Trump Era The opinions expressed on this webpage represent those of the individual authors and, unless clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of TBS. A New Realism: America & Israel in the Trump Era John Podhoretz / Feb. 20, 2018 – Commentary Magazine Of all the surprises of the Trump era, none is more notable than the pronounced shift towardIsrael. Such a shift was not predictable from Donald Trump’s conduct on the campaign trail; as hesought the Republican nomination, Trump distinguished himself by his refusal to expressunqualified support for Israel and his airy conviction that his business experience gave him uniqueinsight into how to strike “a real-estate deal” to resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. In addition,his isolationist talk alarmed Israel’s friends in the United States and elsewhere if for no otherreason than that isolationism, anti-Zionism, and anti-Semitism often go hand in hand in hand.But shift he did. In the 14 months since his inauguration, the new president has announced thatthe United States accepts Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and has declared his intention to build a newU.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, first mandated by U.S. law in 1996. He has installed one of hisOrthodox Jewish lawyers as the U.S. ambassador and another as his key envoy on Israeli–Palestinian issues. America’s ambassador to the United Nations has not only spoken out on Israel’sbehalf forcefully and repeatedly; Nikki Haley has also led the way in cutting the U.S. stipend to therefugee relief agency that is an effective front for the Palestinian terror state in Gaza. And, as MeirY. Soloveichik and Michael Medved both detail elsewhere in this issue, his vice president traveled toIsrael in January and delivered the most pro-Zionist speech any major American politician has evergiven.Part of this shift can also be seen in what Trump has not done. He has not signaled, in interviewsor in policy formulations, that the United States views Israeli actions in and around Gaza and theWest Bank as injurious to a future peace. And his administration has not complained about Israeliactions taken in self-defense in Lebanon and Syria but has, instead, supported Israel’s right todefend itself.This marks a breathtaking contrast with the tone and spirit of the relationship between the twocountries during the previous administration. The eight Obama years were characterized by whatcan only be called a gut hostility rooted in the president’s own ideological distaste for the Jewishstate.The intensity of that hostility ebbed and flowed depending on circumstances, but from early 2009,it kept the relationship between the United States and Israel in a condition of low-grade feverthroughout Barack Obama’s tenure—never comfortable, never easy, always a bit off-kilter, alwayswith a bit of a headache that never went away, and always in danger of spiking into a dangerouspyrexia. That fever spike happened no fewer than five times during the Obama presidency.Although these spikes were usually portrayed as the consequences of the personal friction betweenObama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that friction was itself the result of theideas about the Middle East and the world in general Obama had brought with him to the WhiteHouse. In this case, the political became the personal, not the other way around.Given the general leftish direction of his foreign-policy views from college onward, it would havebeen a miracle had Obama felt kindly disposed toward the Jewish state’s own understanding of itstactical and strategic condition. And Netanyahu spoke out openly and forcefully to kindly disposedAmericans—from evangelical Christians to congressional Republicans—about the threats to hiscountry from nearby terrorism and rockets, and a developing nuclear Iran 900 miles away. Hiscandor proved a perpetual irritant to a president whose opening desire was to see “daylight” (as hesaid in February 2009) between the two countries. Obama caused one final fever spike as he leftoffice by refusing to veto a hostile United Nations resolution. This appeared churlish but was, infact, Obama allowing himself the full rein of his true and long-standing convictions on his way outthe door. The things Trump both has and has not done should not seem startling. They constitute the baselineof what we ought to expect one ally would say and not say about the behavior of another ally. Butas Obama’s disgraceful conduct demonstrated, Israel is not just another ally and never has been. Itis a unique experiment in statehood—a Western country on Mideast soil, born from an anticolonialistmovement that is now viewed by many former colonial powers as an unjust colonialpower, created by an international organization that is now largely organized as a means ofexpressing rage against it.Historically, American leaders have had to reckon with these unique realities—and the fact that thehostile nations surrounding Israel and hungering for its destruction happen to sit atop the lifebloodof the industrial economy. The so-called realists who claim to view the world and the pursuit ofAmerica’s interests through cold and unsentimental eyes have experienced Israel mostly as aburdenThrough many twists and turns over the seven decades of Israel’s existence, they have felt thatAmerica’s support fr Israel is mostly the result of short-sighted domestic political concerns forwhich they have little patience—the wishes of Jewish voters, or the religious concerns ofevangelical voters, or post-Holocaust sympathy that has required (though they would never say italoud) an unnatural suspension of our pursuit of the American national interest.Israel created problems with oil countries, and with the United Nations, and with those who see theclaims for the necessity of a Jewish state as a form of special pleading. As a result, the realistshave spent the past seven decades whispering in the ears of America’s leaders that they have theright to expect Israel to do things we would not expect of another ally and to demand it behave inways we would not demand of any other friendly country.The realists and others have spent nearly 50 years propounding a unified-field theory of MiddleEast turmoil according to which many if not all of the region’s problems are the result of Israel’sexistence. Were it not for Israel, there would not have been regional wars in 1956, 1967, 1973,and 1982—no matter who might have borne the greatest degree of responsibility for them. Therewould have been other conflicts, but not this one. There would have been no world-recessioninducingoil embargo in 1973 because there would have been no response to the Yom Kippur War.Were it not for Israel, for example, there would be no Israeli–Palestinian problem; there wouldhave been some other version of the problem, but not this one.Unhappiness about the condition of the Palestinians in a world with Israel was held to be the causeof existential unhappiness on the Arab street and therefore of instability in friendly authoritarianregimes throughout the Middle East. Meanwhile, Israel’s own pursuit of what it and its votingpopulace took to be their national interests was usually treated with disdain at the very least andoutright fury at moments of crisis.It was therefore axiomatic that the solution to many if not most of the region’s problems ran rightthough the center of Jerusalem. It would take a complex process, a peace process, that would leadto a deal—a deal no one who believed in this magical process could actually describe honestly andforthrightly or give a sense as to what its final contours would be. If you could create a peaceprocess leading to a deal, though, that deal itself would work like a bone-marrow transplant—through a mysterious process spreading new immunities to instability in the Middle East that wouldheal the causes of conflict and bring about a new era.Again, this was the view of the realists. With Israel’s 70th anniversary coming hard upon us, thequestion one needs to ask is this: What if the realists were nothing but fantasists? What if their approach to the Middle East from the time of Israel’s founding was based in wildly unrealistic ideasand emotions? Central to their gullibility was the wild and irrational idea that peace was or evercould be the result of a process. No, peace is a condition of soul, an exhaustion from the impact ofconflict, born of a desire to end hostilities. Only after this state is achieved can there be aworkable process, because both parties would already have crossed the Rubicon dividing them andwould only then need to work out the details of coexistence.There was no peace to be had. The Arab states didn’t want it. The Palestinians didn’t want it. TheIsraelis did and do, but not at the expense of their existence. The Arabs demanded concessions,and the Israelis have made many over the years, but they could not concede the security of themillions of Israel’s citizens who had made this miracle of a country an enduring reality. The realistsfetishized “process” because it seemed the only way to compel change from the outside. And soIsrael has borne the brunt of the anger that follows whenever a fantasist is forced to confront areality he would rather close his eyes to.That is why I think what Trump and his people have done over the past 14 months represents anew and genuine realism. They are dealing with Israel and its relationships in the region as theyare, not as they would wish them to be. They are seeing how the government of Egypt under AbdelFattah el-Sisi is making common cause with Israel against the Hamas entity in Gaza and againstISIS forces in the Suez. They are witness to the effort at radical reformation in Saudi Arabia underMuhammad bin-Salman—and how that seems to be going hand in hand with an astonishing newconcord between Israel and the Desert Kingdom over the common threat from Iran. This is aharmonizing of interests that would have seemed positively science-fictional in living memory.Mostly, what they are seeing is that an ally is an ally. Israel’s intelligence agencies are providingthe kind of information America cannot get on its own about Syria and Iran and the threat fromISIS. Israel is a technological powerhouse whose innovations are already helping to revolutionizeAmerican military know-how. Israel’s army is the strongest in the world apart from the regionalsuperpowers—and the only one outside Western Europe and the United States firmly locked inalliance with the West. Things are changing radically in the Middle East, and as the 21st centuryprogresses it is possible that Israel will play a constructive and influential role outside its borders inhelping to maintain and strengthen a Pax Americana.Donald Trump is a flighty man. All of this could change. But for now, the replacement of the falserealism of the past with a new realism for the 21st century seems like a revolutionary developmentthat needs to be taken very, very seriously.