Washington Watch: War and peace

The good news about Trump’s Deal of the Century is that more than 81 years remain in this century.

Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo arrives for a closed briefing before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. May 16, 2017.  (photo credit: REUTERS/AARON P. BERNSTEIN)
Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo arrives for a closed briefing before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. May 16, 2017.
President Donald Trump’s long-promised Middle East peace plan went on life support this week with a major reshuffling of his national security team. Some are predicting it will be DOA – dead on arrival – while the optimists are saying it’s too early to pull the plug.
The good news about Trump’s Deal of the Century is that more than 81 years remain in this century.
This resembles an exercise in futility. Like so many things in Trumpworld, the president, who is loathe to do the required careful planning and heavy lifting, is looking for a quick fix and bragging rights and will blame any failure on anyone and everyone else. Even his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the principle architect of the plan.
It makes one wonder how good a businessman Trump is when you see he gave over this historic project of bringing together Israelis and Palestinians to three inexperienced Orthodox Jews whose politics tend to the right of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The enterprise nearly collapsed last December when Trump took the issue of Jerusalem off the back burner, put it up front and turned the heat on high.
Palestinians felt burned and took to the streets to express outrage over Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem in May to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday. He may even cut the ribbon personally, something the real estate mogul likes to do on his favorite new properties.
White House sources say Trump plans to unveil his “detailed blueprint” for peace probably later this spring – after the embassy opens and (if and when) he meets with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
Major staff changes this week could delay the debut of the peace initiative, or deep-six it entirely.
Mike Pompeo, the incoming secretary of state, and John Bolton, the new national security advisor, are unlikely to leave the peace process to Team Jared. Bolton, closely associated with the Israeli far Right, is even less likely to achieve any buy-in among a distrustful Palestinian leadership.
If you think the Trump presidency is chaotic now, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
While Trump is unencumbered by ideology, intellectual curiosity or convictions beyond his own personal gratification, both of his new hires are smart, experienced ideologues and battle-tested veterans of turf wars and bureaucratic backbiting. They are unlikely to abandon a choice piece of turf like the Middle East to Kushner, who just lost his top secret clearance, or, for that matter, to each other.
They may want to take over and rewrite any plan the Kushner team has been working on. And you can bet their plans, while pleasing Israeli settlers and nationalists, will be even less likely to bring the parties together.
Bolton may even try to send Kushner back to New York, assuming he doesn’t have security clearance problems of his own.
Bolton has said “the two-state solution is dead” and suggested a “three-state solution” that would have Egypt retake control of Gaza and Jordan most of the West Bank that Israel doesn’t want. The Palestinians, he has said, have no right to self-determination.
That is a prescription for more conflict, not peace.
There seems no point in publishing a peace plan when the leaders on both sides of the conflict are in failing health, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas physically and Netanyahu politically.
In the wake of Trump’s Jerusalem decisions the Palestinians have declared him disqualified as an honest broker and are shopping around for the Russians and Europeans to take the lead in any peace talks. Washington and Ramallah pretty much communicate with each other through Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The Kushner plan was reportedly looking to those three Arab states to make a broad regional security agreement with Israel and then persuade the Palestinians to buy in. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman rejected that last week in talks in Washington, saying there must first be real progress on the Palestinian issue.
On another front, the foreign policy shakeup adds new uncertainty to the issue of Iran.
Trump will have to decide by May 12 whether to re-certify Iranian compliance with Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear agreement. He has called it “the worst deal ever” and threatened to pull out unless his demands for changes are met.
He’s unlikely to get those changes since the other signatories to the deal – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany and Iran – all refuse, saying it may be flawed but it is working.
Netanyahu, a harsh foe of the JCPOA, has been demanding “fix it or nix it,” although many in his intelligence and security establishment, including four former defense ministers, are telling him the Iranians are in compliance and however imperfect it may be, it is worth keeping.
That’s also what Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis is telling Trump, but not Pompeo and Bolton, who insist it is beyond repair and should be abrogated.
Bolton has called over the years for preemptive wars against Iran and North Korea to destroy their nuclear programs and force regime change. It has been said by former colleagues that he will be able to push his extremist ideas on this president and make him think they are his own.
Carl Ford, a former CIA official and senior State Department intelligence official during the George W. Bush administration, warned in a Facebook posting that Trump and Bolton could “find themselves blundering into a Cuban missile-like crisis” over Iran, North Korea and China.
And US military action against Iran is almost certain to trigger devastating retaliation against a vulnerable Jewish state.
In hiring Bolton Trump has selected an architect of the Iraq war that Trump called “disastrous” and claimed (incorrectly) that he adamantly opposed from the outset.
If Trump pulls out of the Iran deal, Iran will probably “move quickly, without any restraint, to enrich uranium, the fissile material needed for nuclear weapons,” warned Ambassador Wendy Sherman, the lead JCPOA negotiator.
“The march to military conflict will be hard to stop” with Bolton leading the NSC, she said. “Nothing about this decision will increase American security.”
Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev wrote, “Bolton has yet to meet a war he didn’t love... an international conflict he didn’t believe could be solved by force of arms.”
Only in this chaotic Trump administration would you look for stability, responsibility and adult leadership in a retired marine general and defense secretary called “Mad Dog.”