(January 29, 2020 / JNS) Disdain for President Donald Trump and the people who work in his administration runs deep in the media, as well as the foreign-policy establishment. At the core of this attitude is the current administration’s rejection of the conventional wisdom about diplomacy and the Middle East that governed American policy for decades.
Trump’s critics frame the debate about the administration as one that pits experts against amateurs. In this telling, Trump and his aides are a pack of bumbling ignoramuses. They are depicted as foolishly ignoring the advice of people who are more experienced and much smarter than they are, and thereby making already bad situations, such as the ongoing confrontation with Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, worse.
It’s true that Trump had no foreign-policy experience before becoming president. The team that he appointed to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian struggle was similarly lacking in diplomatic credentials. In particular, the trio of presidential adviser/son-in-law Jared Kushner, Middle East special envoy Jason Greenblatt and America’s ambassador to Israel David Friedman were essentially Trump’s real estate industry cronies rather than the sort of veteran policy wonks who would have been expected to fill such important slots in a more “normal” administration.
That’s why the critiques of Trump’s actions—his withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reimposition of sanctions on the regime, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the Jewish state’s right to the Golan, as well as his attempts to force the Palestinian Authority to cease funding terrorism—didn’t just elicit strong critiques from the ranks of those who had served in past administrations. The tone of the analyses that poured forth from liberal think tanks where alumni from the Clinton and Obama administrations, as well as some from the two Bush presidencies, now serve has been not so much harshly disapproving as dripping with contempt.
The same attitude is present in the commentary from establishment types about the Middle East peace plan that was rolled out this week in a White House ceremony. In an odd echo of the rage at Trump being heard from the leadership of the Palestinians, foreign-policy veterans have, for the most part, responded to the plan with a mixture of incredulousness, anger, predictions of doom and, most of all, with sneering condescension.
The best example of such a response can be found in an article published by Politico under the joint byline of Aaron David Miller and Robert Malley under the title of “The Real Goal of Trump’s Middle East Plan: It’s not peace. It’s power.” Miller and Malley dismiss the Trump plan as one whose goal is merely to dominate other nations. They predict that it will kill any hope of peace or of the satisfaction of legitimate Palestinian aspirations. But they also lament that if the Palestinians don’t respond forcefully enough—presumably by launching a new wave of terrorism—that failure to punish Trump and Israel will only lead to more outrages in the future.
Aside from seeming to be rooting for another bloody intifada, a dispassionate examination of their record undermines trust in their expertise.
Miller, who is currently a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, served as Middle East peace processor in the U.S. State Department from 1978 to 2003, and took part in several attempts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with special responsibility for American efforts to implement the Oslo Accords.
Malley is another government veteran who helped organize the Camp David Summit, where President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak attempted to get PLO chairman Yasser Arafat (whom he subsequently falsely exonerated as being responsible for the summit’s failure) to agree to peace and a Palestinian state. He later served as point man in President Barack Obama’s efforts to broker Middle East peace. His long service led to him being named the head of the International Crisis Group, an influential and wealthy transnational liberal consulting firm.
But only their record of failure in achieving peace and curbing terrorism matches Miller’s and Malley’s undoubted knowledge of Middle Eastern diplomacy. For decades, the pair advised presidents of both parties that the only way to solve the region’s problems of the region was to pressure Israel to make concessions in order to appease the Palestinians. They consistently failed to understand that the Palestinians were uninterested in a peaceful solution where the two states would live alongside each other. And their failures, particularly the Camp David fiasco, led to directly to a terrorist war of attrition that brought misery and death to both Israelis and Palestinians. Rather than learning from their mistakes, they have continued to double down on advice that has been thoroughly discredited by the last few decades of history.
So while we don’t know whether Trump and Kushner will leave the Middle East better off than they found it, we already know that Miller and Malley—and those who heeded their bad counsel—left it far worse. Along with the rest of the foreign-policy establishment, they have been the architects of failure after failure, and instead of suffering opprobrium for their mistakes, they have been rewarded with praise from the media and profitable sinecures from which they can pontificate about their successors.
In a world in which people have been judged by their records instead of their resumes, Miller and Malley—and everyone like them—would be ignored or mocked rather than treated as experts who have the right to lecture the president and his supporters.
Whatever you may think of Trump, his rejection of the advice of such people demonstrates good judgment and not disdain for wisdom. By eschewing the false remedies the so-called foreign-policy wise men have been selling the country all these years, Trump has rooted his strategies in reality, not fantasy. It may not work, but Miller and Malley are in no position to criticize him. Instead of spouting off about Trump’s alleged foolishness and folly, they should do us all a favor and simply shut up.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
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