On December 6th, President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, stating that the United States would begin the process of moving their embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. In his usual boastful commentary, Trump stated that past presidents had failed to deliver on pledges to acknowledge the city as the capital of Israel and that his act was to correct such past failures. This decision is important, as Jerusalem, being a contested city between Israel and the potential state of Palestine, was generally conceived as a key focal point of negotiations between the two parties. With Trump officially recognizing Israel’s claim to the city and refuting Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem, it overstepped the traditional understanding and trepidation in dealing with the fragility of the issue. This was seen by many nations and diplomats as an inflammatory act undermining the delicate balance within both the peace process and the city’s importance for Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Trump’s decision is a clear departure from the general American political approach to the issue and further continues his own brash style of diplomacy, now called the “America First” policy. Rather than being any genuine foreign policy decision, it is rather a wolf in sheep’s clothing, being a calling card for garnering domestic support at the risk of greater implications on the international sphere especially in light of his new “America First” doctrine.
In a domestic sense, Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as the “official” capital of Israel is commonly recognized as a literal fulfilment of one of his campaign promises. Although past Presidents, such as Clinton, Bush and Obama, made similar statements, they generally retreated from acting upon such a promise once they came to office. As with many of Trump’s foreign policy decisions, this decision is reflective of his narrow focus, being an imbalanced focus on bolstering his domestic support and competency while neglecting or pushing aside the greater spectrum of consequences emanating from his decision.
In terms of support, the decision to recognize Jerusalem is a clear populist move. Taking a politically and religiously charged stance to a highly contested issue, Trump seeks to make the most out of the populist political tones in the decision, utilizing the theatrics of the decision to bolster the bottom line of his support. Being likely supported by the large American Evangelical Christian and Jewish Community whom may view the issue in a religious context, it is a clear attempt to speak towards the hearts and minds of his domestic supporters. However, in terms of a foreign policy analysis, it lacks any substantial benefit or substance. Although some conservative pundits may support Trump’s decision as a new way to push forward the negotiation process between Israel and Palestine, it only provides a veil of political concealment that covers the unpredictability of Trump’s actions. In rationally plotting a trend for Trump’s foreign policy decisions in addition to the simple mismanagement of his internal bureaucracy, such a track record simply provides no support towards the presence of a thoughtful or analytic reasoning behind his decision. Rather, it emits the common characteristics of Trump’s brash and domestic-centric handling of American diplomatic relations. As the United States has met fierce criticism and identified significant obstacles in both the task and implications of relocating the US Embassy, it would be hard to characterize Trump’s decision as a novel approach rather than a decision where he may have bitten off more than he can chew.
In the international sphere, Trump’s decisions has a wide range of negative impacts. As seen in the recent vote at the United Nations, the United States can no longer take for granted its position as a global leader. Although there can be some success attributed to its actions, especially in the fact that many more nations abstained rather than voted against the US, the general “low” level of diplomacy and political threats embraced by the US, accompanied by the clear protests from nations such as Turkey matter, reveals the general diplomatic weakness afflicting the American Administration. Taking an uncharacteristic strong-handed approach to the issue, resorting to such methods potentially reveals a lack of alternative methods and the general current weakness of the American Diplomatic Administration. Trump’s comments and utilization of political threats, especially the threat to withhold monetary aid to nations voting against them, further isolate themselves in the United Nations. Further embellished by the rather childish American invitation of nations who didn’t vote against the US, it clearly shows that the US is further separating from the past “Obama Doctrine” and its first example of the officialised “America First” approach to foreign policy.
Although his decision could at best be construed as a decision aimed at strategically polarizing the global community to place America as “re-emerging” independent political leader and jump-start the peace process, its similarities to Samuel Huntington’s realist thesis of a “Clash of Civilizations” combined with his “America First” policy reveals a highly flawed understanding and approach to the foreign affairs.
Unlike the Cold War, which dominated political thought for most of the 20th century, today’s world can be construed as a multipolar or at best, an “overextended” unipolar moment, which necessitates nations to act in coordination with other states. As the famous “end of history” by Francis Fukuyama has largely been refuted and the geopolitical situation of the world continues as an ever more globalized and complicated transnational community, to attempt to take leadership without the assistance of other nations would be foolhardy and be reflective of a flawed, simplistic and archaic way of political thought. Trump’s America First approach to foreign policy is highly problematic and only serves to provide a political name to the highly abrasive, lacklustre, and rather farcical ideal of an isolated position in today’s globalized scene of transnational politics and globalized diplomacy. Drawing parallels to Trump’s meteoric rise to the Presidency, his attempt to translate such notions of independence and “Make America Great” onto the international sphere is simply sticking an official label onto an already problematic approach. As seen in Trump’s current decision, his policies often fail to serve any purpose other than to cement his name in American foreign policy as a fulfilled political promise and cement his own personal stature amongst the American political institution, while “wagging the dog” in regards to the greater consequences emanating from his brash decisions, both current and past.
Further bolstering the highly problematic view of Huntington, Trump’s current decision drives wedges in between cultural and religious identities, two aspects that illuminate the lives of millions of peoples beyond Israel and Palestine. Taking on a brash approach to such issues that cannot be contained solely in the political realm adds further instability onto the already problematic issues. Consequently, further attempting to continue down such a path as an isolated diplomatic entity would further overextend the US to its detriment. Trump’s decision thoroughly upsets the possibility of a “two-state” solution for Israel and Palestine which has been regarded as the “gold standard” of the Israel-Palestine peace process. As the US has defined their view on the tenuous issue of Jerusalem, the US has abandoned their position as a quasi-impartial mediator between the two parties.
Although this is not the first time the US has overstepped their role in the Israel-Palestine dispute, with Obama often conflicting with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu over issues such as the Iran Deal and West Bank Settlements, Trump’s decision clearly erases all such boundaries concerning diplomatic tact and abrasively forces the United States into a clear position without negotiation or pre-emption. Although Trump has maintained that his decision will not affect the negotiation process and like-wise American support for a lasting peace process, the issue of Jerusalem cannot be separated from such an issue and Trump’s words largely act as a weak façade to cover the clear divisive, precarious, and fallacious nature of his decision. As the Middle East still has ongoing instability in Yemen and Syria and has largely built a rather negative relationship with the Trump administration, the lack of any viable benefits for his decision in recognizing Jerusalem certainly defies any logical reasoning in his decision for America to abandon its position as a venerable moderator. Especially with Trump’s focus on countering Islamic extremism, his decision seems highly counterintuitive considering the inflammatory nature of his decision.
As seen above, Trump’s decision can be aptly seen as a narrow-minded decision absent of greater considerations for the greater implication. Although Trump’s decision may be perceived as jumpstarting the negotiation process that has admittedly stalled, the failure to take into account the already fragile nature of the current state of politics within the Middle East does not perceivably provide a stable base for such a change.
By Timothy Law
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