On Majnouns, Gorillas and Devouring Chess Kings

By Dave Wurmser Ph.D.

Israel’s position in Gaza had been under immense pressure from the United States on several fronts.  The US was pressing for expansion of humanitarian aid, even though there was a four-fold increase in food truck delivery into Gaza over comparable periods before the war (about 4kg of food per person per day this week). The US was also pushing Israel to abandon large-scale operations, deploy defensively and employ targeted operations only. It asked that Israel show immense flexibility on the ceasefire-hostage talks and to avoid any real military actions during Ramadan. The US also asked Israel to take off the table any plan to take Rafiah, the last remaining stronghold of Hamas – a request that essentially would leave Hamas to survive as the ruler of a rump-Gaza entity. The impossibility of these demands created pressure – described by some Israelis as perhaps the greatest rupture in US-Israeli relations since Israel’s founding.  

Israel redeploys in Gaza

And then suddenly, on April 9, Israel shifted its position, essentially folding on all counts except for the insistence that Rafiah will still be taken, but not quite yet.  Essentially, Israel on the surface yielded on the ceasefire-hostage talks, on the humanitarian supply, and on defense redeployment. It appeared as if Israel handed the United States the keys to the car.

It certainly seemed that way to Hizballah and Iran. Hizballah crowed that the end of the war was nigh and that Israel had been defeated.  Iran, emboldened by what it saw as the American ability to leash its ally tightly, felt it could strike Israel – or even to threaten to strike Israel – and the United States would panic, Israelis would lose their nerve, and Iran would with impunity score a big psychological victory and perhaps a military victory without a major Israeli response.  

Certainly, the popular mood in Israel was indeed anxious over the Gaza redployment.  It remains a consensus that the US positions, if accepted, amounted to an Israeli defeat. That was clear, but had Israel’s government too lost its will, as it might seem, to continue the draining argument with its most important ally on the eve of what seemed to be the most dangerous phase of the war as it threatened to spread to the north of Israel, regionally and perhaps even with Iran itself.

There is no denying that there has been a dramatic change in Gaza. But why? 

Reset and Resequencing

What we may be seeing is a strategic reset, or rather a strategic resequencing.  Israel has fought the war over the last six months as an extension of the October 7 attacks itself.  In other words, Israel fought to defeat the invader and to try to free the hostages, ultimately to create a new reality in Gaza that guarantees no more October 7th’s will happen.  But this “Gaza first” was reactive.  The nature of the war was dictated by Hamas, and now that Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) organizations themselves admit that one of the generals Israel assassinated in Damascus last week was the operational mastermind planning the attack, it is clear that it was the war Iran had chosen for Israel that it must fight. 

But Hamas has been whittled down, not entirely but enough that the final push can be deferred a few weeks.  To be clear, both fundamental strategic considerations as well as public opinion in the population create certainty that it will still happen, but the sequencing changed. The goals Israel set– to destroy Hamas’ operations capacity and ensure it rules over nobody and no territory — were both correct and uncompromisable. But for the moment, as Iran weighs its response to Israel’s strike on its IRGC conclave in Damascus that killed so many top officials, and as Hizballah and Israel slowly escalate along the Israeli-Lebanese border, Gaza has become a temporary sideshow.  

It is all now about Iran itself and the potential for an attack on Israel from Iran, though NOT from Iranian territory itself.  The head of the octopus is about to act, not just its tentacles.

The Biden team the nuisance

On this, Israel is alone.  While mystifying, the United States could continue in its delusion that somehow Iran does not control its proxies.  It is some sort of extension of a longer-term delusion that explains away Iran’s most dangerous behaviors as the actions of mythological “wildcat hardliners” throughout the life of the Iranian revolutionary regime.  It was a convenient delusion since it ultimately not only fails to hold Iran to account, but actually establishes a framework for inaction (“it would validate hardliners”). 

But the American “support” promised is really a poisoned chalice.  Indeed, as the threats mounted, the administration behind the scenes was trying to signal Iran that its strike should not be so “inappropriate” as to trigger a direct Israeli response onto Iran as CENTCOM officials said.  The United States embassy in Jerusalem also signaled its citizens on April 12 to stay away from the periphery land of Israel – clearly another message to Tehran that an attack on Tel Aviv – as opposed to peripheral communities in Israel – would be seen as inappropriate and could trigger such a withering Israeli response.  Also, Axios reporter Barak Ravid – who serves as the mouthpiece for the Biden administration to Israeli audiences – reported on April 13 that Untied States had “asked Israel to notify the U.S. ahead of any retaliation against Iran and for the US to have a say before decisions are made.”  

The Biden administration clearly is more worried about an Israeli retaliation to an Iranian strike than they are about the strike itself.  It seeks to run interference to avoid a decisive Israeli action against Iran – in fear of the collapse of its twin-pillared paradigm (advancing a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue and seeking a strategic regional condominium with the Islamic Revolutionary Regime of Iran) – which in effect serves to save Hamas and Iran from defeat. But the U.S. loss of nerve and its attempts to leash its ally, Israel, run against the underlying realities of the situation and will fail.  

The character of the Iranian regime’s strategy is to manipulate rather than fight, given its inherent weaknesses and great vulnerabilities. To do so, it employs disinformation, especially disinformation that stimulates Western concepts that serve their interests.  So, it taps into the fear of apocalyptic escalation which has always been employed by Tehran to deter the United States from taking actions against them, and lately to deter the United States from responding meaningfully to its regional rampages. The apocalyptic messaging from Tehran thus is likely to frighten the United States into restraining Israel in its responses to some form of Iranian attack (including by its proxies) and to further incite tensions between Jerusalem and Washington. Thus, the more Tehran observes the rupture in US-Israeli relations, the more emboldened it feels to act against Israel even more aggressively and dangerously via its proxies.

Shahrazade, gorillas and Majnouns

But this reality is reaching its turning point.  Ever since October 7th, Iran has been the grand puppeteer of its proxies, managing and directing the show across the region. Israel has reacted; which is a position in which one can win only with immense difficulty.  As noted, Iran – the civilization that gave the world chess – is the master chess player.  And in chess, the side that has a plan and orchestrates the board to force the opponent into constant reaction wins.  An Iranian dissident, Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, once told me that when strategically parrying with the regime in Iran, one must remember that one is playing chess with a gorilla.  When he starts to lose, he will simply lean over, and either grab your king and eat it, or just overturn the board.  Either way, all rules are off and you sit for a moment paralyzed collecting yourself and measuring the circumstances as you digest what happened.  In that moment of unpredictability, the gorilla has reset the rules and is back in control.  To win against the Ayatollahs – who carefully move their pieces, manipulate and at times overturn the board – Tehran’s adversary must himself become the gorilla.  Or perhaps to shift metaphors to a regional cultural context, Iran’s adversary must act as if it allowed the Jinn (Genies) to possess one’s soul, which serves as the crazed extension of the Jinn’s insanity (Janana). The possessed becomes a “Majnoun” – a crazed and dangerous loose cannon. Whether gorilla or Majnoun, Iran’s opponent must leave Iran paralyzed in fear derived from its appreciation that its strategy of manipulation has failed because it depends on the opponent’s predictability, which is suddenly gone.  

Power itself does not frighten Iran since it sees real power in strategy and manipulation, not hardware.  This is the land that brought us Shehrazade and A 1001 Nights.  The cycle is not about adventures and eroticism – though there is much—but those are merely vehicles to seize the imagination and captivate the audience. Neither is it about the cycle’s attention-deficit-disorder arrangement of tales, where one is started but not finished and then another and another, nor even the onion-like wrapping of everything where the tales are eventually finished one by one after they all were started.  The main theme of the cycle is that the most abject creature manifesting weakness itself in this tale – a woman condemned to death by a misogynist king for the next dawn – slowly uses her tales not only to buy time, but to slowly seize the soul of King Shahriyar, and in so doing, reawakens his humanity, empathy and capability for love. She controls her environment through the seduction of the story telling, but the aim is that the symbol of weakness controls and triumphs over the soul of the symbol of absolute power.  

Again, power does not frighten Iran.  In contrast, loosing control of the situation does terrorize and paralyze Iran since it denies it the ability to be Shahrazad, to manipulate its weakness into domination of the soul of the absolute power. 

Israel has an opportunity to respond to Iran with the understanding that this may be its one chance to retake the regional strategic initiative and turn the region’s strategic momentum against Iran and place it in Israel’s hands. Israel has both the opportunity and the imperative to be the gorilla, to allow the Jinn to take over its body and “go crazy” (Majnoun).

Iran’s Hobson’s choice; trapped and no way out

In this context, one must remember how vulnerable Iran actually is. In terms of power, they are weaker, but they are the master no less than Shahrazad of the phycological strategy of manipulation.

Just the mere threat of an Israeli reaction has tanked Iran’s currency and caused a bank-run. But Israel has laid a trap – clearly accidentally since the strike on the Iranian generals’ conclave appears to have been more an extension of the war being waged to destroy Hamas and degrade Hizballah and not a move imagined in the context of a regional war.  Whether intentional or not, though, it has placed Iran in the impossible position of having to react to Israel rather than be the one pulling the strings that forces Israel to react.  Moreover, it would be even more out of character than allowing itself to be forced to react to respond from its territory directly into Israel.  And yet, the internal pressures on the regime are mounting to something substantial:

  • Some IRGC types have long argued that timidity is the greatest threat, and that divine intervention leading to the great victory and return of the Imam will come only in the framework of resolute will. In this respect, there was two years ago a poster in Iran of Musa (Moses) berating his generals for timidity in the face of the threat of Pharoah’s army, and that salvation comes only by Musa’s resolute rejection of the timid, cautious path.
  • The regime banks on an image of toughness and terror. Not responding tarnishes that and threatens the regime.
  • Iranians have in recent months laughed and ridiculed their leadership for its big talk and small action in the war. These episodes of ridicule are now exploding like a volcano in the absence of a response.
  • The belief that escalation might so freak out Washington that it could lead Washington in fear to support a universal (Hamas and Hizballah) UN Security Council ceasefire resolution that may be Chapter 7, which would leave Hamas in place and Hizballah unaddressed. This is not an unrealistic expectation, by the way.

And yet, the bottom line remains unchanged:

  • ⁠Iran’s being reactive in response violates Iranian strategic character. They play chess and pride themselves that the essence of their strategy is anchored to manipulation over their adversary. Manipulative control not only is effective, but nourishes a sense of intellectual and spiritual superiority. In chess, if you are forced into a reactive game, you lost. You have to set the agenda and force the opponent into reaction. As such, Iran fears this is a chess-like trap set by Israel that they must avoid falling into, and instead of impulsively reacting, must do something unexpected that restores to them manipulative control of events.
  • Iran could launch a large number of long-range missiles, but few if any will get through due to the Arrow missile defense. That itself could be a humiliation.
  • Israel’s response could be withering directly back onto Iran, and could involve critical economic targets (ports, refineries), regime targets that can encourage opposition revolt (IRGC headquarters, Basiji HQ etc. , take out the drone and missile factories upon which not only Iran, but its proxies and Russia rely, and of course the nuclear program.
  • Israel would likely destroy Hizballah, leaving Iran without its terror-hub proxy.
  • Iranians would die, which would incur wrath against the regime for bringing this down on them.

Overall, this limits the chances of any response directly from Iran’s territory which could expose the limits and vulnerabilities of Iran’s power.

But inaction also humiliates.  The public ridicule the regime faces for its lack of reaction can be fatal.  So Tehran now finds itself in an impossible Hobson’s choice, and will be forced with a substantial degree of seriousness to react – bad as reacting rather than acting is – in hopes that it can then proceed to slowly regain its control as the grand puppeteer.

Israel’s golden opportunity

But how Israel responds to Iran at this point is perhaps the most important event of this war – and perhaps the most important event in the region in decades. 

Iran has severe weaknesses. The same way as Shahrazad maneuvered, Iran has no alternative but to leverage its position through manipulation and bravado in order to maneuver the enemy from strength into weakness. To be manipulative, it needs to control the regional environment. It needs predictable opponents. If Israel uses any Iranian action as a pretext to turn this war directly into Tehran, to become the gorilla in the room, then this becomes something the Iranians cannot handle.

As such, Israel has for the next few weeks the opportunity to move from the local (Gaza, even Lebanon) to the strategic (Iran itself) by Jerusalem’s becoming the gorilla or Majnoun, or even worse, the Majnoun-gorilla. Israel thus faces that moment in which it has the opportunity to hit the strategic reset button and take control over strategic initiative in the region. 

In this context, continuing a public spat with the United States over what is for the next few weeks the strategic sideshow, simply had to be shut down and deferred until the proverbial bigger fish is fried. Moreover, the one aspect of Gaza that Israel cannot defer however is the attempt to save as many hostages as possible.  So Jerusalem essentially used the strategic reduction of importance for the moment of the Gaza front and threw to the United States control over the hostage-for-ceasefire talks to both leave no stone unturned in bringing the poor souls home, as well as to buy in much bigger support – or maybe even to preoccupy Washington as a diversion — when it really matters right now given what may happen with Iran.

In the long run, Israel simply cannot win the war thrust upon it in Gaza on October 7 without going all the way on Rafiah and maintaining stabilizing operations through occupation for quite some time (including keeping the north of Gaza largely empty and buffer zones all around), but the sequence of Gaza first, then Hizballah and eventually Iran has been upturned.

For the moment, Israel must become the Majnoun-gorilla.

How Israel, with US backing, should respond to Iran’s attack

President Joe Biden and his advisers bear significant responsibility for Iran’s massive Saturday attack on Israel, consisting of more than 300 drones and ballistic or cruise missiles. Before, during, and after Hamas’s barbaric Oct. 7 assault on the Jewish state, his administration refused to acknowledge Tehran’s “ring of fire” strategy, conducted through terrorists such as Hamas, the Houthis, Hezbollah, and Shia militias in Iraq and Syria. The White House signaled both obliviousness and weakness by not recognizing that today’s Middle East conflict is not Palestinians or Arabs against Israel, but an Iranian war against “the little Satan.”

Instead, Biden saw only separate threats, constantly whining about risking a “wider war,” and blind to the reality that the wider war started on Oct. 7. Prior to Saturday’s attack, he remained blind, pursuing a Gaza ceasefire that had become unreachable, and that would have achieved nothing strategically significant.

Biden, administration officials, and key congressional Democrats also unleashed a flood of abuse against Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), for example, in an unprecedented public lecture to a U.S. ally, called for new Israeli elections, hoping to oust Netanyahu’s government. Having earlier called Israel’s bombing in Gaza “indiscriminate,” which would make Israel’s offensive a war crime if true, Biden quickly seconded Schumer’s hostility, describing Netanyahu’s approach to the Gaza battle as a “mistake.” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) rightly pegged the real motivations for Biden’s and Schumer’s whining about Netanyahu: fear of the Democratic Party’s anti-Israel left wing.

By contrast, Israel immediately understood that Iran was the hidden hand behind Oct. 7. Jerusalem’s April 1 strike against top Quds Force officers in Damascus was important in its continuing defensive military response.

And, ironically, Iran was also clear-eyed about the stakes between itself and Israel, a rare point of agreement. Having now launched drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles against Israel from Iranian territory, the ayatollahs surely expect Jerusalem to respond.

What is difficult to explain, however, is Iran’s delay in retaliating for Israel’s Damascus strike. If the ayatollahs considered doing very little, hoping to avoid potentially devasting retaliation on Iranian targets, that option was obviously rejected. Was there divisive internal debate about Iran’s response? Or was the delay merely because of preparations and other operational factors? Answers to many of these questions remain unknowable, but could have strategic significance in coming days.

The sad truth is that Israeli and U.S. deterrence against Iran failed. Proportionality, diplomacy, “messaging,” and academic game theory all came to naught. Israel must now respond, hopefully with complete American backing, and that response must not be “proportionate.” It should be decidedly disproportionate, thereby being unmistakably clear to Tehran that, if it ever attacks again, it will face far higher costs than any imaginable pain it might impose on Israel.

Jerusalem’s response could begin immediately, even while the defense of Israel and relief and rescue operations remain underway.

To start, Israel should destroy Iran’s air defenses, to facilitate its retaliation now and well into the future, with targets including anti-aircraft artillery and missiles, radars, and their associated command-and-control facilities. A broader target set could include the central and regional headquarters for Iran’s conventional military forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, particularly the Quds Force, which controls relations with Iran’s terrorist proxies. Degrading Iran’s conventional military capabilities, especially the launch sites for Saturday’s attack, would substantially reduce its ability to intimidate its neighbors, especially the oil-producing Gulf Arab states, and its capacity to arm and supply its regional terrorist proxies.

Further up the prospective target list is Iran’s oil-and-gas-producing infrastructure: the oil-and-gas fields, refining and processing facilities, domestic distribution pipelines and terminals, and the hydrocarbon export ports and related facilities. Obviously, paralyzing Iran’s principal source of wealth, both in terms of foreign income and domestic industry and daily life, would severely impede Iran’s belligerence.

At the highest end of potential targets are Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities. The uranium-conversion and uranium-enrichment programs and the weaponization work at Iranian military bases pose varying degrees of difficulty to destroy, particularly for Israel, but Netanyahu has long focused on the dangers to Israel from Iran’s nuclear aspirations. Netanyahu knows better than anyone that, while none of the missiles launched so far have been nuclear-armed, the real risk is what happens next time. Having now attacked Israeli territory from Iran once, not relying on its terrorist surrogates, Iran has shown itself fully capable of doing so again whenever it chooses.

Israel is at risk that the next salvo of ballistic missiles will carry nuclear warheads. Netanyahu could roll the dice and hope they don’t, but he knows that the threat of what his predecessor Ariel Sharon once called a “nuclear holocaust” is closer to reality than ever before. Israel would be entirely justified in removing that threat, and the United States should fully support such a decision.

John Bolton served as national security adviser to then-President Donald Trump between 2018 and 2019. Between 2005 and 2006, he served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

This article was first published in The Washington Examiner on April 14, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

Confront Iran now, before it is too late

History will record Biden’s obsessive efforts to negotiate with the ayatollahs as one of the biggest self-inflicted wounds

The Middle East is tense, with Iran considering its response to Israel’s April 1 elimination of high-ranking Quds Force officers, and a possibly decisive Israeli attack in Rafah against Hamas terrorists pending. Commentary reverberates with worries about “escalation” and “wider war”, as if Hamas’s October 7 barbarity was not escalation enough, or Iran’s mandate to Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Iraq’s Shia militias thereafter is not already a wider war. 

Tehran’s ayatollahs have two overarching objectives: hegemony in the region and hegemony within Islam. Under its publicly declared “ring of fire” strategy, the brainchild of now-deceased Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani, Iran is now assaulting Israel. The “ring of fire” embodies Iran’s indirect efforts through belligerent terrorist proxies, combined with its own military forces, against Israel (and, not often mentioned, against Gulf Arab states). 

Israel’s pounding of Hamas means things are not going well for Iran, but the decisive strategic decisions, in both Jerusalem and Tehran, still lie ahead. 

Most likely to occur first, and strategically more important, is Iran’s answer to Israel’s strike against its Damascus embassy. Whether embassy territory is “sovereign” varies, but international conventions provide that diplomatic premises are “inviolable,” at least to the receiving state. Common sense, however, tells us that, like churches or hospitals, diplomatic premises lose any protected status if used for military purposes, and it is clear that Iran’s Damascus embassy is essentially a Quds force headquarters. 

Nonetheless, Israel has unmistakably challenged Iran, much like America’s early exit for Soleimani in 2020. The stakes for both Israel and Iran are enormous. If Tehran’s riposte to Jerusalem is perceived as weak or ineffective, it risks losing sway over its terrorist surrogates and others, dismayed by the ayatollahs’ unwillingness to risk additional harm to Iran while still leaving them in mortal peril. 

Alternatively, significant, direct Iranian retaliation could impel Israel to strike Iran itself. Or, if Iran acts indirectly through a proxy such as Hezbollah, Israel would feel justified in seeking to cripple Hezbollah, as its Gaza operation seeks to cripple Hamas. There is no doubt Hezbollah is the A-team of Iran’s terrorist proxies and the greater military threat to Israel. 

Whether Israel is prepared to fight a two-front war its government must decide, and there is no doubt that decision is now squarely presented. 

Appropriately or not, however, commentators and politicians have focused since April 1 not on Damascus, but on Israel’s mistaken attack in Gaza on a humanitarian organisation’s convoy. This emotional response has objectively benefited Hamas by again delaying Israel’s offensive against the terrorist group in Rafah; resurrecting calls for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire (ie, unlinked to releasing Israel’s Hamas-held hostages); and compounding Israel’s domestic and international political difficulties. 

The Biden administration has significantly contributed to Israel’s isolation, as its distaste for Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu becomes ever-more evident. The White House has now twisted itself into a pretzel, largely because it fears the Democratic Party’s Left-wing threat to withhold support this November in a close, hard-fought election. Sensing Biden’s political vulnerability, these progressives are amping up efforts to restrict or prohibit additional arms sales to Israel, potentially crippling Jerusalem’s ability to exercise its right of self-defence. 

For those worried about Republican isolationism threatening Ukraine aid, Democratic unwillingness to support Israel should provide no comfort about America’s role in the wider world. 

Biden’s unwillingness these past six months to recognise Iran as the central actor in the Middle East’s ongoing terrorist aggression has already materially damaged America’s support for Israel. History will record his administration’s obsessive efforts to negotiate with the ayatollahs as one of the biggest self-inflicted wounds in politico-military affairs. 

Biden is equally unable or unwilling to recognise that the real criminal in Gaza is Hamas, cynically abusing its own supporters and Gazans generally, not merely as human shields, but as cannon fodder to protect themselves, a war crime if there ever was one. 

The consequences of Biden’s weakness, and indecisiveness in Israel, are serious and lasting. Israel has for too long delayed the Rafah offensive. Further delay will only increase domestic and international complaining and second-guessing, without reaping the benefits of destroying the remainder of Hamas’s organised combat capabilities and seizing full control of Hamas’s massive tunnel system under Gaza. 

Mopping up residual Hamas guerrilla/terrorist activities will be time-consuming, but dismantling it means Israel is freer and less at risk if it must confront Hezbollah full on. Or confronting Iran and its nuclear-weapons programme now, before Iran has a reliable deliverable capacity. 

Israel should finish the job of destroying Hamas’s military and political organisations soonest. Also soonest, the United States and Europe should declare openly that Iran is the real threat to peace and security in the Middle East, and act accordingly. The fastest way to end the ongoing conflict is to defeat the aggressor.

This article was first published in The Telegraph on April 11, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

Trump’s ‘Love’ Affair With Kim Looms Over U.S.-Japan Summit

Post Photo

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to Washington this week coincides with the re-emergence of a familiar threat: North Korea. On March 28, Russia vetoed what should have been a routine U.N. Security Council reauthorization of a panel monitoring sanctions on Pyongyang. Moscow’s veto reflected both unhappiness with the panel’s recent findings and a general fraying of relations between Russia and the U.S.

While the committee’s demise is unfortunate, the veto signaled something far more important: that the strengthening China-Russia axis is firmly resolved to protect its interests and those of its outriders, North Korea and Iran. China and Russia never fully shared the U.S. desire to keep the North from acquiring nuclear weapons. Getting them to agree to incremental sanctions required endless palavering, “full and frank exchanges,” and several near-shouting matches. But even that marriage of convenience is now gone.

Mr. Kishida’s visit highlights the stakes in a presidential election year. Unfortunately, neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump is fit to deal with Kim Jong Un’s rogue regime. Mr. Biden has followed Barack Obama’s “strategic patience” policy, increasing neither economic nor political pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear aspirations, nor otherwise seriously challenging the regime, nor even engaging in negotiations. As a result, North Korea has simply continued advancing its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs. After more than a decade of “strategic patience,” we now know what such diplomatic jargon really means: doing nothing. While Washington has played the idle bystander, Mr. Kim has profited from the growing Russia-China collaboration, strengthening his relations with Moscow and better positioning himself to secure tangible benefits from both poles of the new axis.

On North Korea, a second Trump term would be as bad as the first. Three summits between the two leaders produced nothing concrete apart from Mr. Trump’s claims that he and Mr. Kim “fell in love.” As with all nuclear proliferators, time is on the side of the rogue state. With Mr. Trump in office, Pyongyang got four years closer to being able to deliver a nuclear weapon.

Continue reading on the Wall Street Journal. 

Are the Democrats beginning to step in the proverbial buffalo patties on Israel?

By David Wurmser, Ph.D.

The last week – corresponding ominously to the Ides of March — the Democratic establishment in the United States laid down the gauntlet to Israel’s government. A full court effort was made not only to weaken and oust Israel’s elected government, but to lean on Israel so hard that it would reconsider entering the last Hamas strongholds in Gaza in Rafiah and the Philadelphia corridor. 

The campaign took many forms and reached a crescendo on March 20.  In that one day, no less than three letters were released by progressive Jewish donors, progressive Jewish luminaries, and Democratic congressmen, demanding the Biden Administration take a much more hostile line against Israel. Across the pond, the United Kingdom announced that if Israel enters Rafiah, England will impose an arms embargo on Israel.  Canada did not wait and announced also on the 20th it was also imposing such an embargo.  Even Germany’s leader announced on the 20th that it was inconceivable that Israel enter Rafiah and that if it did so, there would be grave consequences – essentially echoing the U.K. position.  Moreover, he announced that Germany already was reevaluating all its defense contracts with Israel. 

Back in the States, a series of articles appeared a week earlier by “gurus” of Arab-Israeli affairs on the left side of the spectrum, such as Martin Indyk and Thomas Friedman, saying the United States had lost confidence in Israel’s prime minister.  Also in the week of March 11, Vice President Kamala Harris used a formulation generally reserved in American discourse of the most inimical tyrants and not democratic allies – differentiate “between the government of Israel and the people of Israel” – to describe US policy toward Israel.  And finally, Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer presented a shrill attack on Israel’s prime minister, lumping him together an as an enemy of peace on par with Hamas and essentially demanding new elections in Israel since the people of Israel have lost faith in the prime minister “who lost his way.”  On the 20th, Schumer followed up with another hostile act. Prime Minister Netanyahu was to give a briefing to both the Republican and Democratic caucus in Congress, but Majority Leader Schumer barred the Democratic caucus from meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

It was perhaps the most hostile week ever faced by Israel in the United States since its creation.

But then, suddenly, the next day, Majority Leader Schumer retreated and announced he was open to inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress.  Furthermore, on the heels of his call to oust the Israeli government earlier in the week – and after major donors said brazenly in their letter that the Biden team must lambast and oppose Israel because of the electoral threat emerging in key districts – Schumer asked that Israel not become a partisan issue.  In the terms of modern Washington, the unprecedented attack on Israel was followed within 24 hours by an unprecedented, humiliating retreat by the majority leader.

The Senate majority leader’s whiplash-inducing behavior should be examined very carefully since it reveals much. Indeed, it is key to understanding where the issue really stands right now.

It appears that the Biden team and Schumer imagined that they could wrap an anti-Israeli policy in garb focused on the unpopularity of Prime Minister Netanyahu not only in Israel, but among American Jews.  Vice Presdident Harris’ statement aimed squarely at that message: there’s a difference between the Israeli people and being anti-Israeli on the one hand and being anti-Netanyahu but not anti-Israeli on the other. So they thought they could appease the progressives by using the formula of Netanyahu’s being at fault for everything as the bridge to span over the chasm and embrace the anti-Israeli policies the progressives demand. That assumption, which is what Thomas Friedman, Martin Indyk and Vice President Kamala Harris peddled lately – indeed what the US intelligence community itself revealed in its estimate (also released publicly last week) and which Schumer plunged into, failed. Using the formulation, not only did Schumer fail to damage Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel, he apparently failed to do so even within the US Jewish community.  The reason is that the assumption is flawed.  A Pew poll of the US Jewish community’s attitude toward the Israeli government from earlier in the month found that a decided majority (+10%), namely 54%, of American Jews hold a favorable view of the Israeli government.[1]    

Schumer is inescapably absorbing a tremendous political humiliation in his retreat. Not only was Schumer the point man for the administration in the Democratic leadership, but atop the Jewish community, in the last week in calling for new elections and blocking all access by Netanyahu to Congress, and thus his retreat is not just a minor political event.  The fact that Schumer faced so great and swift a backlash that it induced a spectacularly rapid display of political gymnastics is highly revealing. It means liberal Jews, who still do not like Netanyahu, nonetheless saw through this maneuver as simply a transparent scheme to be anti-Israeli while not appearing so.  And while, this is important, it also exposed something even more important than just the mood of the Jewish community.  It was a test between the power of the progressives and their tantrum-induced threats to bolt, and the traditionally liberal US Jewish community.

Nor is that test just a Jewish question. Even in terms of the narrow question of electoral politics in the much-discussed case of Michigan, the administration seems to make baffling, inconsistent choices if the state really matters so much. In Michigan, the progressive protest seems quite limited since the uncommitted vote – which was heralded as the protest vote – was almost exactly the same percentage as President Obama mustered in his last presidential election in Michigan. Moreover, it would seem that whatever marginal gain President Biden may gain in Michigan by lurching toward the progressive side is lost – and by far larger margins – by his decision (also on March 20) to force a 50% mandate of electric vehicles in US car sales rather than punt the decision to after November. This decision will likely cost him precious powerful autoworkers’ votes in droves – a community that constituted the backbone of industrial American blue-collar workers’ support for the Democrats — compared to the trickle of Arab voters he gains by abandoning Israel. In other words, if the margins are so tight in Michigan, and the state is so critical, then he paid a dollar in political capital to get a dime back.

So Senate majority leader Schumer lunged toward the progressives but then had to recoil back to the more center-left Jews.

Indeed, for him to overnight consider becoming an agent in bringing about a repeat of Netanyahu’s famous 2015 speech to Congress opposing the Obama administration’s JCPOA (“Iran nuclear”) deal and actually countenance inviting prime minister Netanyahu to address Congress jointly can only have happened if Schumer had faced a withering backlash from forces that matter to him. What are those forces that matter to him?

First is donors. The Democratic Party donor base on the national level still relies for more than 50% of its donations on liberal Jews. While some are progressive – like the Soros empire – others remain liberal and pro-Israeli.

Second are his voters. New York Jewish Democrats were loyal to him, but there is obviously an erosion that concerns him greatly in his own voter base in New York.  But recent polls –  a Sienna College poll in February — now suggest a majority (53-44%) of New York Jewish voters will vote not only Republican, but for Trump himself in the next elections.[2]  That the heart of Schumer’s own liberal Jewish voting block – New York state Jews – are nearly 10% more likely to vote for Trump that Biden is an earthquake.

Third, he is the Senate Majority Leader, and thus he is keen to ensure the Senate remains majority Democrat so that he keeps his leadership role. Up until today it was clear his concern was that the progressive threat to his majority leadership was emerging. Voices were challenging him and signaling he may face a challenge from that side. In order to stay on top of the Democratic caucus, he likely calculated he had to tack to the progressive left. And being a Jewish leader of such stature and reputation of being pro-Israeli, he felt immune from the potential backlash for taking such a line.  But what appears to be happening is that the centrist Democratic senators in the country where there is a significant Jewish vote are in danger of shifting to a Republican seat. If the Israeli issue causes a backlash among centrists and liberal Jews, he therefore may remain as the head of the Democratic caucus in more progressive garb, but the Democrats lose the majority of the Senate. One of the most important of those seats is currently held by the retiring Democratic senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. Maryland does have a substantial Jewish vote, most of whom consider themselves as liberals. And yet, Governor Hogan, who only last month announced as the Republican opponent to replace Cardin’s seat, has pulled substantially ahead in the polls against the Democratic candidate, David Trone, and Maryland may lose its Democratic seat. That alone would cost Schumer his majority leadership.

It is thus likely that Schumer is beginning to calculate the danger of losing the center, especially the liberal Jewish vote, the liberal Jewish donations, and even his own liberal Jewish base in New York – the three most important forces in his world.  The convergence of those three factors in backlash against his drift toward progressive positions on Israel would explain the humiliating and sudden turnabout that he displayed on March 21st in saying he is open to inviting Netanyahu to speak to Congress.

What this tells us is that pressure on Israel is right now may be at its apex. A backlash is beginning.  If the administration pushed any harder against Israel, it proceeds with great political risk unless it secures Israel’s indulgence or acquiescence – which at this stage it appears increasingly unlikely to grant. To descend into a bruising public fight with Israel would, in contrast, trigger the same backlash more broadly that Schumer just faced which forced him to back off.

For Israel, then, this moment is the most dangerous.  It faces immense pressure, and the administration is poised to lay more pressure on if it can get away with it.

If… 

The ‘if” is the key. Going forward, it appears that only when Israel demurs, abstains from taking the argument public and pushing back publicly, thus making it easier on the Biden administration to drift further toward appeasing the progressives. Biden will happily take whatever Israel allows him to appease the progressives.  In other words, things will get worse for Israel if it cuts its opponents, like the progressives, slack by making it easy on Biden and the Democratic leadership to drift that way without a cost to relations with Israel.

In contrast, it will peak and begin to get better for Israel as it begins to double down on its convictions and forces the issue into the public debate and onto the American political establishment. In short, in a real showdown, the backlash against selling Israel out comes into play and is dominant.  Schumer’s contortions worthy of a weasel is the perfect litmus test of that.

Which way will it go?  In the end, Israel is operating out of deep conviction rather than policy or ideological preferences – and it is doing so largely under a national consensus. October 7 was not only a trauma for Israel, but also a wake-up call.  Israel had not internalized that every aspect of Palestinian life – including any territory surrendered – was mobilized and contemplated by all Palestinians with a singular obsession of eradicating Israel. Schools and sports, health ministries to nature organization, were mobilized to prepare and indoctrinate with that singular focus. And antisemitism was cultivated as a strategic weapon internationally to isolate Jews and destroy not only the connection between Israel and key Western allies, but between those societies and the Jewish population.

And that is what Schumer and the administration miss.  The very fabric of the golden age of American Judaism – and the mutually enriching 350-year mutual history in this land – are being ripped.  The story so beautifully symbolized by the exchange of letters between General George Washington and Rabbi Seixas of Newport is in danger of being ended.

American values lay at the core of the flourishing of the American Jewish community.  So when the administration abandons Israel to Hamas, when a party’s leadership and political operatives argue that a small, radical group of progressive voters who openly declare their hostility to American values is more important than the legacy of the American-Jewish common story and values, then it inescapably is also understood by American Jews as a surrender of the American street to the antisemites who make their genocidal aims clear in campuses and business, hospitals and street protests. Indeed, when the US distances itself from Israel, it is inherently understood not only by American Jews also as an abandonment of them — leading to an existential anxiety Jews in American had not known until now – but also by Americans more generally about how deeply the assault on our national values has progressed.

And that is bad politics.


[1] “Poll shows 54% of US Jews have favorable view of Israeli government,” The Times of Israel, March 21, 2024 (7:51PM).

[2] Andrew Bernard, “Majority of New York Jewish voters intend to vote for Trump says new poll,” The JC, February 22, 2024.

Will Biden allow Hamas a ‘terrorist veto’?

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Humiliation in international affairs comes in many forms, often unexpectedly. It buried President Joe Biden on Friday, piling mortification onto his administration’s foreign policy cowardice.

First, the White House effectively abandoned Israel by sponsoring a Security Council resolution calling for an “immediate and sustained cease-fire” in Gaza. Then, unforeseen Russian and Chinese vetoes, cast almost for the fun of it, slapped America in the face. U.S. media, unfamiliar with U.N. performance art, has not fully appreciated the extent of Friday’s diplomatic reverses, although Biden added to his own problems on Monday by not vetoing yet another anti-Israel cease-fire resolution.

After weeks of negotiating one textual retreat after another, the U.S. draft resolution’s final, critical language was that the Security Council “determines the imperative of an immediate and sustained ceasefire,” and that “towards that end, unequivocally supports ongoing international diplomatic efforts to secure such a ceasefire in connection with the release of all remaining hostages.”

Previously, Washington vetoed three proposals not directly linking a cease-fire to freeing hostages and because council action could have derailed talks to reach a hostages-for-ceasefire deal. Washington had also circulated draft resolutions embodying this linkage, thus differing significantly from what Moscow and Beijing vetoed. One prior text reportedly expressed council “support for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practical, based on the formula of all hostages being released” and also “lifting all barriers to the provision of humanitarian assistance at scale” in Gaza. Importantly, these earlier U.S. drafts had also called for a cease-fire “as soon as practical,” a far cry from “immediate,” which is now a concession almost impossible to reverse.

This time, however, the White House itself disconnected hostages from the cease-fire, albeit ambiguously, in a vain effort to bridge what is for Israel (and should have been for Biden’s negotiators) an unbridgeable gap. So clear was the priority to get agreement regardless of cost that one American diplomat conceded on Thursday that the U.S. draft was written for other countries to “read into it what they need to” to support it.

This is the kind of weakness that invites humiliation, which is precisely what happened. Ironically, it was Russian U.N. Ambassador Vasily Nabenzia who understood the domestic U.S. politics behind Washington’s motivation. He called the text “a diluted formulation” aimed to “play to voters and throw them a bone in the form of some kind of a mention of a cease-fire in Gaza.”

Europeans quickly took credit for shifting the U.S. view, foreshadowing new resolutions even more at variance with the administration’s initial post-Oct. 7 approach. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo boasted, “gradually other countries joined our position and the fact that the U.S. have adopted [it] too played a part.” French President Emmanuel Macron was even more explicit about Washington’s shift: “What’s important to note is that the United States has changed its position, and shown its will to defend, very clearly now, a cease-fire. For a long time, the Americans were reticent. That reticence is now gone.”

Indeed, on Monday, the U.S. abstained on the latest anti-Israel resolution, thereby allowing its adoption by all 14 other Security Council members. So doing will only strain Washington-Jerusalem relations even further, to the disadvantage of both.

However, Israel’s next moves to finish off Hamas are the real issue. There, Friday brought Biden more humiliation. Meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu unreservedly rejected postponing or canceling Israeli military action. Acknowledging Biden’s earlier support, Netanyahu declared, “but I also told him that we don’t have a way to defeat Hamas without going into Rafah, and eliminating the remaining battalions there. And I told him that I hope that we will do it with America’s support, but if we need, we will do it alone.”

The critical question is whether Biden agrees that Israel’s legitimate right of self-defense includes its clearly-stated objective of eliminating Hamas’s military and political capabilities. Fully backed by Iran, Hamas has barbarically precipitated Gaza’s humanitarian crisis. Having endangered its own civilians, Hamas hopes to save itself from destruction by persuading others to prevent an Israeli victory. If Biden’s ongoing intellectual confusion prevails, enabling Hamas to assert such a “terrorist veto” over legitimate self-defense, Israel will be permanently weakened. So too will global anti-terrorism efforts, with fatal consequences for even more innocent victims. America should flatly reject the concept of a “terrorist veto.”

Biden’s declining support for Israeli self-defense is intimately tied to his failing effort (so far) to topple Netanyahu’s government. Ironically, hoping that ousting Netanyahu will solve the Israel “problem” reveals Biden’s fundamental misreading of Israeli politics, which are always complex, especially now. Whatever Netanyahu’s personal approval ratings, his war cabinet, which includes several prominent political rivals, faces no substantial dissent from its anti-Hamas military objectives. In fact, by attacking Netanyahu, Biden has likely strengthened him through a backlash against outside interference.

Israel’s attack on Hamas in Rafah could come at any moment, and victory there could be a decisive turning point in the struggle against the ultimate aggressor: Iran. This is not the time for the United States to show weakness, especially at the U.N.

Jerusalem is following Winston Churchill’s insight, “without victory, there is no survival.” Washington should concur.

John Bolton was national security adviser to President Trump from 2018 to 2019 and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006. He held senior State Department posts in 1981-83, 1989-93 and 2001-2005.

This article was first published in The Hill on March 26, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

Trump Should Lay Off NATO, Target the U.N.

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By John Bolton

Donald Trump’s assault on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization began in his first term and has continued as he campaigns for a second. NATO certainly has its problems, as Henry Kissinger argued in “The Troubled Partnership: A Re-Appraisal of the Atlantic Alliance” (1965). But it serves U.S. national-security interests. Undermining U.S. strength by eroding alliances hardly amounts to an America-first agenda. Further, Mr. Trump’s focus on NATO shields from scrutiny the United Nations and other international institutions that are much more inimical to America.

Mr. Trump’s acolytes recognize that his NATO withdrawal threats have kicked up problems. Tellingly, however, their efforts to clean up after him are themselves unwise and unworkable. They unintentionally reflect the irrationality of Mr. Trump’s longstanding effort to debilitate NATO and his blunderbuss approach to world affairs generally.

One MAGA-world alternative to complete withdrawal is creating a “two-tier NATO,” in which any member not meeting the 2014 Cardiff summit commitment to spend 2% of gross domestic product on defense wouldn’t receive alliance protection. This notion is toxic to alliance solidarity and impractical. Iceland, a NATO member, has no military and therefore spends nothing on defense. I never discussed Iceland with Mr. Trump, but I expect he’d question why it was even allowed in NATO. The simple answer: Look at a map. Shall we concede Iceland to Russia or China so it can “persuade” Reykjavik to allow naval and air bases there?

Consider the vulnerability of Poland, the Baltics and others on Russia’s periphery. Because of geography, they are at risk no matter how high their defense spending—and all now exceed the Cardiff target. NATO deterrence provides their only real protection. If that deterrence recedes or fails, the Moscow-Beijing axis will seize these low-hanging fruit, notwithstanding that they satisfy Trump accounting rules.

Finally, a two-tiered NATO would be untenable in combat, logistics and communications. Imagine that Russia invades Poland. The U.S. springs to its aid, but Russia advances close to the German border. The U.S. field commander calls his Russian counterpart to say: “You can do whatever the hell you want in Germany. Please excuse us while we retreat to the next NATO country that spends 2% of its GDP on defense. We’ll see you there if you attack them after you finish Germany.” The Russians are already enjoying vodka toasts over a two-tiered NATO.

Another Trump World proposal is to impose tariffs on NATO member countries that don’t reach the 2% spending level. Presumably, this logic also applies to non-NATO allies like Japan, South Korea and Australia if Mr. Trump believes they aren’t carrying their fair share of the defense burden. This gambit is a non sequitur to everyone but Mr. Trump, for whom international problems are nails crying out for his tariff hammer. Penalizing the economies of U.S. allies to encourage them to increase defense spending sounds like “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”

More practically, on what authority could Mr. Trump draw to impose such tariffs? Even a Republican-controlled Congress, which is far from certain, is highly unlikely to give him new tariff authority. Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act, often cited in Mr. Trump’s first term, applies when foreign actions are “unreasonable or discriminatory, and burden or restrict U.S. commerce.” That hardly covers sovereign defense-spending decisions we happen not to like.

Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Act, authorizing tariffs to protect American national security, is closer to the mark. Mr. Trump used Section 232 to impose tariffs on Canadian and European steel and aluminum imports, thereby proving, unsurprisingly to everyone but Mr. Trump, that penalizing your allies doesn’t weaken your adversaries. Obviously, the opposite is true: we should be unifying allies against China economically as well as politically, not splitting the camp of those harmed by Chinese intellectual-property piracy and harmful trade policies.

Even if all NATO members reached the Cardiff targets, the spending issue wouldn’t disappear. Facing mounting global threats, Washington’s defense budgets need to increase to Reagan-era levels, perhaps 5% to 6% of GDP from the current 3.5%. Inevitably, therefore, NATO members (and other allies globally) will have to increase to perhaps a 4% minimum. Getting to 2% is the easy part. The Trump-mitigating proposals are untenable, evanescent, and inadequate to keep NATO strong.

Besides, there are better targets for MAGA ire. Mr. Trump could usefully wreak havoc on the U.N. As I said 30 years ago, you could lose the top 10 floors of the U.N. Secretariat building and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. Things have only gotten worse.

In 2022, Washington spent about $18.1 billion across the U.N. system, far more than any other contributor. Contributions are made via several methods in a complex, nearly incomprehensible system, most commonly through “assessed” contributions, with the U.S. generally paying 22% of agency budgets so funded. Washington has had limited success in constraining U.N. budgets, and has often itself prompted significant increases.

Assessed contributions are functionally taxes. Contrary to what some Trump supporters have said, defense expenditures aren’t. We need to spend on our defense whether we have allies or not. Allies help reduce that burden. The U.N. only makes it heavier.

One powerful reform would be shifting from assessed contributions to wholly voluntary ones. America and other members would pay only for what they want and insist they get value for money. Even if only the U.S. switched unilaterally to voluntary contributions, it would create a tsunami that could fundamentally change the entire U.N. Or not, in which case at least we wouldn’t be paying for it.

There is no chance any U.N. component will ever voluntarily adopt such a system, because the U.S. has been the U.N.’s cash cow since 1945. Instead, a President Trump could simply say we are moving to voluntary contributions whether anyone else does or not. Under Article 19 of the U.N. Charter, failure to pay assessments for two years running could cost a country its vote in the General Assembly, but that loss is insignificant. General Assembly votes are nonbinding, and the U.S. carries no more weight than Vanuatu or Eritrea.

America’s Security Council vote, and therefore its veto power, is totally secure, guaranteed by the charter’s Article 27, and the charter itself can’t be amended without consent from all permanent members, including the U.S., per Article 108.

For those U.N. specialized agencies and programs already funded voluntarily, Inauguration Day would present immediate opportunities to defund some entirely and reduce funding for others. In his first term, Mr. Trump defunded the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, a decision Joe Biden reversed. Given that some Unrwa employees joined Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks, defunding it should be a top priority.

As Washington implemented a switch to voluntary contributions, it would face important decisions on continuing membership in several U.N. entities, decisions which would involve not merely defunding, but withdrawing from them completely. The U.S. has been in and out of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for decades, withdrawing first under Ronald Reagan, inexplicably rejoining under George W. Bush. Mr. Trump took us out again, and Mr. Biden again returned. A Trump win should guarantee a third withdrawal, hopefully for good. Mr. Trump also served notice of withdrawing from the Universal Postal Union but later backed down. UPU warrants another look.

Beyond massive changes in U.N. funding and membership, Mr. Trump should insist that an American become U.N. secretary-general when António Guterres’s term expires in December 2026. Although I have no prospect of and no desire for a position in Mr. Trump’s second-term administration, I would be available as our candidate for secretary-general.

The ultimate question is whether America should withdraw from the U.N. altogether. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick was once asked that question. She paused, then answered: “No, it’s not worth the trouble.”

Although technically part of the U.N., international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank should also be carefully re-examined. On the IMF, Mr. Trump should read the seminal 1998 op-ed in these pages by George Shultz, William Simon and Walter Wriston, “Who Needs the IMF?” No one has answered the question adequately.

Not since the Reagan administration has there been a comprehensive review of multilateral foreign assistance. Proponents long argued that multilateral development banks help Washington mobilize development resources, but private capital is now far more widely available than when they were founded. Multilateral foreign aid only marginally advances U.S. national-security interests, but these banks have powerful Washington lobbies. Mr. Trump should mark them down for defunding or withdrawal. That would free up greater resources for bilateral foreign assistance, which, if implemented effectively, can advance core American interests.

Finally, a wall of pretend international courts—including the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, the Law of the Sea Treaty’s tribunal and the World Trade Organization’s dispute-resolution process—are already on history’s ash heap, or on their way there. Clearing away what remains is still important work. In his first term, Mr. Trump stymied the WTO judicial mechanism, and even the Biden administration has kept it stymied so far. Mr. Trump’s focus shouldn’t be limited to international trade, but to all manifestations of emerging “global governance,” heartily encouraged under Mr. Biden and Barack Obama.

A related issue is arms control, particularly how to handle a potential renewal of the New Start Treaty. Although we persuaded Mr. Trump in 2019 to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces and Open Skies treaties with Russia, New Start was never much of an issue. Mr. Trump’s desire to cozy up to Vladimir Putin may give Mr. Putin an opportunity to cajole Mr. Trump into negotiations to extend New Start. Mr. Trump should resist any such temptation. Moreover, any strategic weapons negotiations should include China as well as Russia, given China’s rising nuclear and ballistic-missile capabilities.

Mr. Trump rightly never expressed support for the “rules-based international order” the left loves to conjure. As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Hamas’s barbaric attack on Israel, and countless other examples demonstrate, there is no such thing. A president who truly grasps this can reawaken Americans to the necessity of operating from positions of strength in the world, not high-minded rhetoric and virtue-signaling.

NATO and other U.S. politico-military alliances aren’t acts of charity, and they are fundamentally different from the U.N., the international financial institutions and the global-governance project. We founded and support NATO because it serves hard U.S. national-security interests, not because of warm feelings for Europeans or abstract notions of “democracy.”

Nobody is going to defend us or maintain an international system favoring America if we don’t. That requires spending the necessary resources and extending our reach through alliances like NATO. If we reduce our defense capabilities or retreat from positions of strength, others will fill the vacuum, invariably to our disadvantage.

This article was first published in The Wall Street Journal on March 8, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

Biden’s biggest Middle East problem: Too many competing goals

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By John Bolton

Before Washington unleashed strikes against Iranian assets and Iranian-backed militias in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, media reporting highlighted the Biden administration’s concerns over potentially broader regional fallout. Fearful of escalating the current conflict and producing a wider war by crossing Tehran’s publicly declared “red line,” we heard, the United States would not attack inside Iran.

Retaliation, we heard, would be carefully calibrated lest it disrupt negotiations for a lengthy cease-fire and the return of Hamas-held Israeli hostages. Or disrupt talks to recognize “Palestine,” with the Palestinian Authority as Gaza’s postwar government. Or prevent Saudi Arabia’s recognition of Israel.Or complicate President Biden’s desire to withdraw American forces from Iraq and Syria. Or complicate his efforts to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Or more.

So intricately reticulated were Biden’s worries, that striking the right balance seemed impossible. Such worries are legitimate, but not for the reasons advanced by anonymous administration sources. The problem is of Biden’s own making. He has too many wrongheaded, confused and contradictory strategic objectives colliding and gridlocking, most likely leading to inadequate or undesirable results for them all. Washington needs not just aspirations, but priorities and concrete strategies to realize them. You can only simultaneously drive so many camels through one needle’s eye.

Biden’s wish list is overbroad and deeply flawed. For example,the idea of raising the Palestinian Authority from its ashes on the West Bank to govern Gaza leaves Israelis across the political spectrum speechless. The Post’s Ishaan Tharoor recently described the Palestinian Authority as “weak and increasingly unpopular,” a “sclerotic institution, riven with corruption,” and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, as presiding “over his rump of a fiefdom like other Arab autocrats in the region, stifling civil society and repeatedly dodging calls for fresh elections.” It defies common sense that such an entity should be entrusted with responsibility on the West Bank, let alone post-conflict Gaza.

Nor do the objectives of full diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, or a formal Saudi-U.S. military alliance, require near-term Palestinian statehood. Before Oct. 7, Riyadh and Jerusalem were progressing toward mutual recognition, motivated by their shared view of Iran’s threat, amplified by the palpable economic and political benefits likely after recognition. The current conflict has not altered those realities. Rather, Iran’s “ring of fire” strategy against Israel has emphasized, not reduced, the congruence of Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s national security priorities. Riyadh and other Persian Gulf capitals could help by publicly explaining why this is really an Iranian war against Israel, not an Arab- or Palestinian-Israeli war. The issue of Palestinian statehood was not resolved before several Saudi neighbors recognized Israel, nor will it be a dealbreaker for Riyadh.

And while it is clearly desirable to deepen politico-military ties between Washington and Riyadh, the Senate will be ratifying no significant treaties this year or well into the future, given the Constitution’s two-thirds majority requirement. If Biden’s negotiators are suggesting that quick treaty ratification is realistic, both Israelis and Saudis should beware. Nor would a Donald Trump victory in November be likely to change the picture, since no one can honestly say what he will do, other than look to put himself in the best possible light.

Recognizing a Palestinian state before peace is agreed with Israel only compounds the error. British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said recognition“can’t come at the start of the process, but it doesn’t have to be the very end of the process.” Sadly, these suggestions mirror Yasser Arafat’s endless campaign in U.N. agencies to make “Palestine” a state just by saying so. They contradict years of U.S. policy, as well as the Oslo accords, and will cause Israel to stiffen its resistance. This is no way to treat an ally gravely threatened by Tehran.

As for the “wider war” issue, the United States and Israel have been in a wider war since Oct. 7. The real worry should not be “wider war,” but the cause of the current one, which is unmistakably Iran. Until Iran stops interfering beyond its borders — stops arming, equipping, training and financing terrorist groups and stops seeking nuclear weapons — there will be no lasting Middle East peace and security. Iran does not and will not fear U.S. power until it pays heavily for what its barbaric surrogate Hamas unleashed four months ago, now joined in violence by Hezbollah, the Houthis and Shiite militias.

Prioritization is essential here — and actually straightforward, contrary to White House hand-wringing. By torquing Iran’s menace into the still-unresolved issue of the Palestinians, Biden has fused multiple problems into a larger, even harder problem. Instead, the United States and Israel should focus first on thwarting Tehran’s multiple offensives, then more intensively focus on other issues. Whatever their public commentary, Arab leaders fully recognize that cementing ties with Israel is critical to their own security, especially facing a possible future with a feckless American president. Every day that passes without consolidating like-minded states against Iran renders achieving any of Biden’s multitudinous goals more difficult.

The Middle East has never been an easy problem set. Biden is making it unnecessarily more difficult.

This article was first published in The Washington Post on February 6, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

Here are the dangers of a second term for Donald Trump

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By John Bolton

If returned to office, Trump will need others to carry out his directives. He will want White House staffers to follow his orders without asking troubling questions, as testimony in the classified-documents case demonstrates. These staffers will not be known for independent, creative thinking, just personal fidelity to Trump, for whom loyalty flows only one way.

No responsible president would want such a staff; he or she would instead seek advisors who voiced their opinions straightforwardly, not hesitating to bring bad news when necessary. Presidents face tough issues requiring tactical decisions where even philosophically like-minded advisors will disagree. So selecting a strong, competent White House staff has nothing to do with “restraining” a president or undercutting his constitutional authority. It is simply good management.

Everyone knows presidents make the final decision, but a White House of serfs will serve neither presidents nor America well. Indeed, being surrounded by neutered aides fearful of firing could again cause Trump’s downfall, at potentially terrible cost to the country.

The president’s free hand in staffing the West Wing contrasts with appointments for the vast majority of senior “officers of the United States” who manage the broader federal government, where the Senate’s advise-and-consent power limits his discretion.

Trump and many supporters see a “deep state”, a careerist cabal in law enforcement, intelligence, foreign policy, and the military, covertly running the government and conspiring to destroy him and his regime.

‘Deep state’ is a fallacy

The “deep state” is a fallacy, but there is no doubt that government bureaucracies develop distinctive cultures. What Trump and his acolytes don’t understand is that this culture arises not from clandestine conspiracies but from legislative mandates and incentive structures that federal agencies live within. It is often not a pretty picture.

I have, for example, long argued that the State Department needs a “cultural revolution” to redirect its efforts, one that will take decades to bring about. But directing recalcitrant bureaucracies, however difficult and frustrating, is a required skill for any president who truly wants to accomplish significant change and not merely bloviate about it.

Since Trump does not understand this logic, he will inevitably and repeatedly cross lines that will cause conflict, often constitutional conflict. Take the four pending criminal indictments against Trump. He will have constitutional authority to order Justice to dismiss the two cases brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith, or, if necessary, pardon himself.

Trump has already argued for a government shutdown to stop Smith’s trial preparations and investigations. While the president’s authority to self-pardon is disputed, litigating a Trump self-pardon could take years before definite resolution, even assuming someone has standing to litigate the issue. And if the Supreme Court invalidated Trump’s self-pardoning, it might take yet another impeachment saga to remove him from office. He will not depart voluntarily this time.

The result could well be mass resignations from Smith’s office, and perhaps across Justice. This time, there will be little prospect, as during the “Saturday Night Massacre”, of halting a tide of resignations. When Richard Nixon ordered the firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, Attorney General Elliott Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, resigned because of commitments that they made during their confirmations. Nixon then ordered the department’s third-ranking official, Solicitor General Robert Bork, to fire Cox, and Bork said he would also resign. But Richardson talked him out of it, arguing that Bork alone could prevent a flood of resignations from lower-ranking Justice lawyers. Richardson told him, “You’ve got the gun now, Bob. It’s your duty to pull the trigger.” Bork did so, maintaining the department’s basic function and integrity were vital.

Every time Trump seeks retribution through Justice, as he has on multiple occasions, the risk of protest resignations arises, impairing the effective operation of the entire federal legal system. In such circumstances, who would serve in a Trump Justice Department? The same question applies across the federal bureaucracy.

The New York and Georgia indictments are more complicated. Trump has no authority to direct them, nor can he pardon himself, because they are not federal cases. What would he do if convicted and sentenced? Quite possibly, he would simply reject such outcomes (particularly if they involved jail time), arguing, typically, that they were “witch hunts”, and refusing to accept the validity of the legal results.

Impeachment may be only remedy

What then? How do state or local officials deal with an incumbent president contesting their jurisdiction and authority? And who at the national level would assist them? Yet again, impeachment may be the only remedy.

Because of that possibility, Congress will be in constant agitation during a second Trump incumbency: constant combat with Trump over his legitimacy in office will distract America from pending threats, especially internationally, where his attention span is already perilously short.

Beyond Justice, the entire “deep state” will face comparable tribulations. Trump’s prior clashes with national security bureaucracies are well known. Who will be willing to serve there as political appointees, and who among them could expect easy Senate confirmation?

Trump is completely comfortable with extraordinary personnel turnover, partly because he has no idea what is required to steer the massive federal bureaucracy, and partly because high turnover means he alone remains the centre of attention. Trump is not focused on reducing the federal government’s size and scope so much as on achieving objectives personal to him, particularly retribution. In consequence, vast portions of the national security machinery may simply grind to a halt in a second Trump term. We are entirely in uncharted territory.

Deviations from conservative norms

There is no “Trumpism”. His lack of philosophy and inability to reason in policy terms leaves him uniquely susceptible to dramatic shifts in his “positions”, and certainly in his rhetoric. If his self-interested cost-benefit analysis of something changes, his “policy” view changes accordingly, and quickly. This is a major contributing factor to Trump’s endemic untrustworthiness and unfitness for the presidency.

Examples of his deviations from conservative norms already abound, as in 2016 when Trump said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” this is hardly a law and order position. Nor is his solicitude for Jan 6 rioters, including hosting a fundraiser at his Bedminster resort and pledging to contribute to their legal defence fund.

“There have been few people that have been treated in the history of our country” like these defendants, he said, incorrectly. Had they really been Antifa members, he would have favoured maximum sentences. The consistent conservative view is straightforward: Whatever the politics of those who invade the Capitol to disrupt Congress’s orderly functioning, they should serve maximum prison terms without parole.

Trump’s ineligibility for a third term (which could be changed only by constitutional amendment) inhibits him in some respects. But in other ways, it also frees him from political constraints. In my experience, when substantive policy arguments made no headway, Trump was often persuaded by arguments based on personal political benefit. Because he need not fear the challenges of another presidential election, the political constraints around him are much looser, and the real “guardrail” of voter opinion will be minimised.

Moreover, he will be hearing endlessly about his “legacy”, a message with an uncanny ability to turn the heads of public officials away from philosophical and policy goals toward their own self-enhancement. How far astray he will go is unknowable, but his record indicates that conservatives supporting Trump because they believe he is one of them, could be quite surprised after four more years.

This article was first published in The Telegraph on February 3, 2024. Click here to read the original article.

Abolish UNRWA

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By John Bolton

The world undoubtedly was startled to learn that staffers of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency participated in Hamas’s barbaric Oct. 7, 2023, attack on Israel. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pledged a full investigation, and several countries, including the United States, suspended funding to UNRWA.

Washington should demand far more than just further revelations about UNRWA involvement in Oct. 7’s tragic events.

The larger, more complex truth about UNRWA is its decadeslong performance less as a U.N. agency and more as a bulwark of Palestinian resistance to reality, especially in the Gaza Strip. This larger UNRWA history has contributed significantly to making Palestinians a pariah people, unwanted even by fellow Arabs. And it is UNRWA, along with Hamas, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Palestinian Authority, that embodies the myth of Palestinians’ perpetual refugee status until Israel disappears. UNRWA has been a witting participant in weaponizing the Palestinian people against Israel, ultimately to their own severe detriment.

The answer to the UNRWA problem requires abolishing and dismantling the agency and its philosophy, which runs contrary to international refugee principles derived after World War II. Until the treatment of Palestinians, particularly Gazans, comes into conformity with the more humane approach institutionalized by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, there is little long-term hope that Palestinians will be deweaponized.

Basic UNHCR doctrine originated in the post-1945 mass movements of refugees and displaced persons. Its two main goals are providing protection and assistance for refugees. One form of protection, highly difficult but critical to attempt, is isolating refugees from the politics of the violent conflicts that made them refugees to begin with. UNRWA does the opposite, fanning the flames of discontent even in its basic education programs and cooperating closely with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. On assistance, UNHCR worries not only about refugees’ immediate needs but also their long-term prospects, either returning to their original homes or resettlement elsewhere. This, too, is dramatically different from UNRWA’s uniform focus on the “right of return” to Israeli territory.

UNHCR believes refugees should either return to their country of origin or, if that is impossible for whatever reason, be resettled in third countries. UNHCR often looks to the “country of first asylum,” typically a country bordering the one from which the refugees fled, but there are, at times, capacity and other restraints justifying resettlement elsewhere. One thing clear to all refugee agencies and experts, except UNRWA, is that long-term subsistence in refugee camps is the least desirable alternative. In the mind-deadening camps, there is no hope for viable economic activity or long-term prospects. Yet, to promote the larger political objective of using Palestinians as a wedge against Israel’s very legitimacy, that is exactly what UNRWA does.

The truly humanitarian strategy for Palestinians is to settle them in locations with sustainable economies. To that end, we should realize that Gaza is very different from the West Bank, and the futures of Palestinians should be separated accordingly. On the West Bank, there may well be prospects for long-term stability with the cooperation of Israel and Jordan. That possibility does not exist in Gaza. Assuming Israel and Jordan can agree on a political solution, circumstances on the West Bank are far better for long-term settlement of the existing Palestinian population than in Gaza, which is merely a high-rise, long-stay refugee camp.

Ironically, precisely because of the way prior enemies of Israel abused the Palestinians, there is enormous reluctance to accept them for resettlement. Egypt and Jordan, the real countries of first asylum, are the most vocal in rejecting the option. Indeed, no country in the Middle East has shown interest in permanent refugee resettlement. Surely, however, all can see that simply rebuilding Gaza is a guaranteed failure, perhaps leading quickly to a repetition of Oct. 7.

In any case, Israel is physically reshaping Gaza to ensure its own security, and new Israeli buffer zones and strong points are not going away soon. All parties with a stake in the conflict must accept that the two-state solution is dead. Not only is there no viable economic future in Gaza alone, but connecting it with an archipelago of Palestinian islands on the West Bank won’t improve prospects.

Abolishing UNRWA and replacing it with UNHCR will be difficult, but UNRWA may be collapsing under its own weight. Firing all UNRWA’s roughly 40,000 employees, well over 90% of whom are Palestinians, may be impossible, but whoever is reemployed must be vetted carefully and supervised for a probationary period before receiving job security. UNRWA’s mindset must be eliminated and replaced with UNHCR’s.

There must be a dramatic shift in expectations and policy objectives for the Palestinians as a matter of humanitarian priority, no matter how wrenching and disappointing. For decades, the two-state policy has been tried and failed. It’s time for a new direction.

This article was first published in The Washington Examiner on February 2, 2024. Click here to read the original article.