NEW YORK -- Donald Trump would be an unreliable and potentially dangerous ally of Israel as president of the United States, a group of senior Republican national security officials told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
“Might Trump be, in some sense, ‘pro-Israel’? I see no reason to believe that this would be the case,” said Aaron Friedberg, former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and now a professor of international affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. “He is unsympathetic to other US allies and generally seems to favor a policy of disengagement from various parts of the world, including the Middle East. He talks tough on terrorism but he has put forward no coherent strategy for opposing it, and his openly expressed hostility to Islam could well make the problem worse.”
Friedberg’s name is among fifty signatures on a letter released earlier this week penned by GOP national security experts announcing their opposition to Trump. The signatories claimed that Trump would be “the most reckless president in American history” should he win in November. The letter also accused the New York businessman of “erratic behavior” that renders him unfit to handle the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.
Indeed, many of Trump’s own party’s top foreign policy figures – who have served in the Reagan, H. W. Bush and W. Bush administrations, and who have throughout their careers worked to bolster the US-Israel relationship – question why he would make an exception of the Jewish state, when the most consistent trait that Trump has espoused on foreign policy is unpredictability.
“Whatever sympathetic noises Trump may currently make about Israel, it’s important to remember that he does not possess clear, steady political convictions – he has changed his views on most issues many times over the past several decades, and even the last few months,” Friedberg added. “Why should he be expected to stand by Israel, or any other US friend for that matter?”
Over the past few weeks, Trump has questioned the purpose of the European Union, the rationale for continuing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the worth of free trade across North America and why the US does not more often deploy nuclear weapons.
“There’s no evidence that Trump cares an iota about the Jewish state. He cares only about himself,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute. “If he’s willing to throw NATO under the bus, Israelis are foolish if they think he would ever come to Israel’s aid if Israel came under attack.”
Rubin does not believe that Israel will have a friend in the next White House regardless of November’s victor. He questioned Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s commitment to any principle over internal party polling, which, according to Rubin, shows a liberal shift on Israel even further to the left.
But Trump is no better for Israel, Rubin charged.
Despite widespread criticism of his policy prescriptions, Trump seems unafraid of challenging conventional thinking. Yet something out of Trump's character happened after he stated, for several weeks this past winter, that he would remain "sort of a neutral guy" on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as president: He walked it back.
In March, during his first-ever foreign policy speech read from a teleprompter, Trump said his White House “will send a clear signal that there is no daylight between America and our most reliable ally, the State of Israel.” Trump told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March that the “Palestinians must come to the table knowing that the bond between the United States and Israel is absolutely, totally unbreakable.”
Trump’s advisers on Israel swear by his commitment to the state’s security, to the bilateral understandings that formalize their relationship and to the annual US funding that actualizes America’s words into deeds. But concern within the Republican Party centers on how Trump’s cavalier attitude toward other alliances– formal treaty alliances ratified by the US Senate, of which the US-Israel alliance is not– will apply to the Jewish state, which is currently negotiating a landmark Memorandum of Understanding on defense aid with the Obama administration.
Such understandings are not bound by law, and are effectively formal gentlemen’s agreements.
In the wider Republican Jewish community, several prominent figures – including hedge fund manager and GOP mega-donor Paul Singer, foreign policy thinker Robert Kagan, former editor of the Post Bret Stephens and author of Start-Up Nation Dan Senor – have refused to endorse Trump. Other national security figures who signed the letter opposing Trump include Elliot Abrams, deputy national security adviser to George W. Bush, and Dov Zakheim, former under secretary of defense.
The Republican Jewish Coalition has not mentioned Trump’s name once in any of its material since May, focusing instead on criticism of Clinton. And few Jewish Republicans have come out in support of the candidate. But among them are former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and billionaire businessman Sheldon Adelson, who said his support for Trump is based in his belief that, as president, he would benefit Israel.
“Fascism and bigotry are not Jewish values,” Rubin charged, asked whether a vote for Trump would be consistent with Jewish tradition and values. “If Trump cultivates white supremacists and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists, it’s a pretty good bet that he’s not acting by any value that anyone within the broad diversity of American Jewry can in good conscience support.”
Joshua Muravchik, a neoconservative thinker and author of Making David Into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel, noted that Clinton “carries the luggage of a party” that appears to be rethinking its longstanding commitment to Israeli security. She is nonetheless the preferable candidate for the state, he said.
“The election of Trump is not in Israel’s interests because it is not in anyone’s interest. He is some kind of sociopath. God knows what he would do as president,” Muravchik said.
American Jews have voted overwhelmingly Democratic each election year since 1984 by an average margin of three to one. Officials in the Clinton campaign tell the Post
that this year may see an even greater margin, and hope to increase Jewish voter turnout. But Trump aides say this is an exceptional year in which Israel is facing an exceptionally daunting threat landscape requiring Trump-like world leadership.
“I bristle at the ‘but is it good for the Jews?’ question— at most times, but most particularly this one. The issues at stake are exceptionally grave,” said Eliot Cohen, a former senior Pentagon official in the George H. W. Bush administration and counselor for the State Department under Condoleezza Rice. Cohen is another signatory of the anti-Trump letter penned by Republican national security officials.
“It would be a good thing for Israelis– or American Jews who need reminding– to hear that this is the wrong question to put forward about the Trump candidacy,” Cohen said, adding: “And in case they’re wondering, I’m an observant Jew.”