Trump’s Legacy of Peace

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For 72 years, U.S. presidents sought to achieve peace between Israel and the Arab world. For 72 years, they largely failed.

What for so long eluded presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Obama seems to have come effortlessly to President Donald Trump. In the space of just four months, together with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump has achieved four peace deals between Israel and Arab states—twice the number achieved by all his predecessors combined. Last Thursday, Trump announced Morocco has joined the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Sudan in the Abraham Accords normalization agreements with Israel. Three or four more Arab states are likely to join the circle of peace in Trump’s final weeks in office.

Not only has Trump brought more peace to the Middle East, more comprehensively and faster than all of his predecessors combined, but he made it look easy. Israel’s ties with its Abraham Accords partners are expanding massively by the day. Tourists from the UAE are streaming into the country. And with one in seven Israeli Jews descended from the Moroccan diaspora, the potential for business and cultural ties between Israel and Morocco is almost limitless.

Trump’s sundry Middle East peace deals are humiliating for his predecessors. Not only did they fail where Trump has succeeded, but they insisted that his achievements were impossible.

For instance, John Kerry, who as Barack Obama’s secretary of state oversaw the administration’s failed Middle East peace efforts, insisted back in 2016: “There will be no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world.”

Speaking at the Brookings Institution, Kerry continued emphatically:

“I want to make that very clear with all of you. I’ve heard several prominent politicians in Israel sometimes saying, ‘Well, the Arab world is a different place now. We just have to reach out to them. We can work some things with the Arab world and we’ll deal with the Palestinians.’ No. No, no, no and no. …There will be no advanced and separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process and Palestinian peace. Everybody needs to understand that. That is a hard reality.”

The “several prominent politicians in Israel” certainly included Netanyahu. It was during the Obama administration that Netanyahu began developing close strategic ties with a number of Arab states—particularly Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The sides came together due to mutual distress over the negative impact of Obama’s Middle East policies.

What was it about Obama’s policies that brought them together?

From the administration of Harry S. Truman onward, specific ideological articles of faith dictated U.S. policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Most importantly, the U.S. believed that Arab states would make peace with Israel only in exchange for Israeli concessions of land. Beginning with the Jimmy Carter administration, the “experts” embraced the theory that Israel had to give up land to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a precondition to any broader Arab acceptance of Israel.

A second pillar of U.S. policy toward the Middle East was forged shortly after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. From then on, all U.S. presidents sought to cut a deal with the Iranian regime, believing that the proper mix of carrots and sticks would convince the greatest state sponsor of terrorism to bury its hatchet against the U.S. Here too, the “expert” catechisms held sway.

What distinguished Barack Obama from all of his predecessors was his doggedness in wedding these dogmas into a collective ideology of American guilt. On the Palestinians, Obama viewed Israel as singularly culpable for a failed peace process that had seen the Palestinians hold fast to terrorism and repeatedly reject Israeli offers of Palestinian statehood. He was unmoved by the fact that Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip radicalized the Palestinians, instead of moderating them. As far as Obama was concerned, the U.S. had failed to bring peace because it hadn’t brought sufficient pressure on Israel to make it buckle.

As for Iran, while Obama’s predecessors were willing to disregard some U.S. interests to cut a deal with the mullahs, no one had entirely ignored reality. As Iran maintained its devotion to terror, pursued nuclear weapons and targeted the U.S. and its interests, Obama’s predecessors were thus forced to abandon their hopes for an accord.

Unlike them, Obama was committed to the belief that Iran’s animosity and hostile actions were rooted in past American bullying. Nothing could dissuade him from pursuing a nuclear accord with Tehran. Over two years of nuclear negotiations, Obama erased every U.S. redline, from barring Iran from enriching uranium to abiding by U.S. law that prohibited the transfer of funds to state sponsors of terrorism.

Having given up every condition, in July 2015 Obama and Kerry concluded a nuclear deal that guaranteed Iran would get atomic bombs within a decade and enriched the terror regime to the tune of $150 billion in sanctions relief—all while guaranteeing Iran a free hand in operating terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and expanding into neighboring states like Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

And then Trump was elected.

If Obama distinguished himself from his predecessors with his ideological zeal, Trump distinguished himself with his elevation of facts over ideology. Trump had a healthy disdain for expert dogmas that had repeatedly been proven false. Trump also believed the U.S. should side with its allies against its enemies, rather than court U.S. enemies at the expense of its allies.

When Trump entered office, he was confronted with the results of Obama’s ideologically rigid policies. A massively empowered Iran was waging war on U.S. allies through its various proxies across Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen, expanding its operations in Africa and Latin America, and cheating on the nuclear deal. The Islamic State, for its part, was in control of wide swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq.

Facing these forces of instability and war were the U.S. allies Obama had spurned—Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, Morocco and others. To relieve the pressure and dangers to their national security interests wrought by Obama’s policies, these allies had quietly developed cooperative security ties. It was these ties that Kerry derisively dismissed when he insisted Arabs wouldn’t live in peace with Israel unless Israel first surrendered to the PLO.

Had Trump been less deferential to reality, he might have followed Kerry’s lead and ignored the ties that had grown between Israel and the moderate Sunni states, insisting instead that the Palestinians must immediately be mollycoddled. But Trump accepted reality as the basis for his Middle East policies, and he listened to America’s allies.

These allies buoyed Trump’s determination to make good on his campaign promise to abandon Obama’s nuclear deal and confront Iran’s nuclear brinksmanship and aggression—despite “expert” opinion counseling continued appeasement. Trump’s willingness to confront Iran and stand with America’s allies gained him an enormous amount of credibility with moderate Arab actors across the region. The same governments threatened by Obama’s embrace of Iran were empowered by Trump’s policies of confrontation with the ayatollahs. His unblinking support for Israel gave the Arab states confidence that Trump would stand with them, as well. These actions directly set the stage for the Abraham Accords, which took the working relations Israel and the moderate Sunnis had already forged and brought them to the level of open and formal ties.

Critics of the Accords argue that Trump’s peacemaking is little more than bribery. In exchange for peace with Israel, the UAE is receiving F-35 fighter jets. Morocco is receiving U.S. recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara, as well as advanced drones. Sudan is being removed from the list of state sponsors of terror. Likewise, Trump’s earlier recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights were often ridiculed as “gifts” to Israel that brought no tangible benefit to America.

What these criticisms fail to recognize is that these “payoffs” and “gifts” are actually tools for further regional stabilization and peace. America’s longstanding refusal to recognize Israel’s capital and its sovereignty over the Golan Heights kept open the question of America’s commitment to Israel’s long-term survival, and thereby empowered the forces of war and instability in the region.

By standing with U.S. allies, Trump empowered them and demoralized Iran and its proxies. U.S. allies, in turn, have been able to step up in their own defense against Iran and other shared threats, rather than leave the work to America. Trump found a way to expand American influence and security without exposing U.S. troops to danger or investing substantial American resources.

In regard to Morocco and the Western Sahara, for instance, in a September 2018 interview with this writer ahead of an official visit to Washington, Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita laid out the rationales for such recognition.

Iran was using its windfall profits from the nuclear deal to develop footholds along the Atlantic coast in Northern and Western Africa, he explained. Through Hezbollah, Iran was arming the Polisario Front in Western Sahara with advanced weapons. It was using Shia missionaries to radicalize Moroccan and West African youth. Hezbollah was laundering terror funds for Iran in West Africa, as well.

Bourita argued that U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty in Western Sahara would stabilize the region and enable Morocco to work with its moderate neighbors to push out Iran and Hezbollah and end the war in Libya.

Recognition of Moroccan sovereignty wasn’t a payoff for peace. It was a means to ensure the success and expansion of peace throughout the region by strengthening America’s allies in their fight against America’s foes.

Now, as Iran gears up for a Biden presidency, it is again pushing forward aggressively, executing journalists and attacking Saudi oil tankers. Iran believes that without U.S. backing, Israel and the moderate Sunnis will stop confronting its various terror forces.

But this brings us to the most extraordinary aspect of the Moroccan-Israel accord, and what it tells us about the durability of Trump’s achievements. It was concluded after Trump’s political defeat. By supporting U.S. allies and opposing U.S. foes, Trump empowered the forces of peace and moderation in the Middle East to stop waiting for America, and to defend themselves and build peace together for their peoples and their region regardless of who is in the White House.

Originally published in

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