THE ANGRY ARAB: US Middle East Policy in a Future Democratic Administration

A Democrat in the White House could easily engage the U.S. in more regional conflicts and wars, writes As`ad AbuKhalil.

Some of the Democratic contenders in the November debate. (Screenshot)

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

It is too early to speculate on the prospects of a Democratic administration for next year’s election. If a switch in the party occupying the White House occurs, it would be significant for the direction of domestic policy. But less change should be expected in foreign affairs. In fact, a Democratic president could easily produce more wars and military intervention than Donald Trump.  Democratic voters should expect that as they shop among the candidates.

Trump wanted to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and those positions have been rejected not only by the military establishment but also by the overwhelming majority of Democrats and Republicans in Congress.  Mainstream media have become a central element in the war lobby:  They only cheered Trump when he bombed Syria, and called for more bombing. 

With both parties now serving as the lobby for unending wars in the Middle East, a Democratic president is likely to expand U.S. military involvement and intervention. In Syria, it will be in the name of helping the Kurds or fighting terrorism or whatever else excuse they will produce.

None of this is to say that Trump has presided over an era of peace in the Middle East region; far from it. Trump inherited a full legacy of war and conflict from his predecessors and while he tried to disengage from some of those conflicts he was unable to do so due to heavy pressure from the military establishment (which seems to have unofficial control over editorial pages of mainstream newspapers); the foreign policy elite in Congress, and from think tank world in Washington, D.C.  Trump also continued the long-standing U.S. policy of subsidizing Israeli aggression and occupation. 

Trump’s policies toward the Middle East are most likely to have greatest impact on occupied Palestine, but such is the record of every U.S. president: every president wants to prove he is more pro-Israel than his predecessor.

Israeli soldiers in Palstinian city of Hebron, 2004. (Wikimedia)

Israeli soldiers in Palstinian city of Hebron, 2004. (Wikimedia Commons)

Not Always Eye to Eye

The Democratic candidates do not necessarily see eye-to-eye on U.S. foreign policy priorities. Pete Buttigieg, for example, represents the traditional “muscular” (how is that for patriarchal terminology in U.S. foreign policy?) viewpoint of American foreign-policy — and domestic policy as well. Buttigieg is the Democrat that Wall Street and the military industrial complex appear most to support. He’s also become mainstream media’s favorite Democrat because he embraces U.S. foreign policy dogma and veers away from a progressive domestic agenda.

For many decades Israel has had a wish list of what it wants the U.S. to accomplish on its behalf, not only for the Arab-Israeli conflict, but for the region as a whole. In all those years, Israeli wishes have been largely fulfilled, under Democratic and Republican administrations alike.

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Israel no longer has to spy on the U.S. military. Instead it has succeeded in getting the U.S. to share raw satellite intelligence data. Over the years, Israel has obtained the loan guarantees it sought to build settlements and spend more on its military aggression.

Israel has persuaded the U.S. to share more of its military technology and intelligence on Arab countries (including key U.S. allies.) Under former President Barack Obama, the steady supply of U.S. funding of the Israeli military war machine hit an unprecedented level. Obama committed the U.S. to basically subsidizing Israel occupation and aggression for the next 10 years. Israel today remains the only country with the per capita income of a developed country that continues to rely on U.S. foreign aid.

Absent From Debates

Foreign policy does not figure prominently in the Democratic debates or in candidates’ stump speeches. But there has been a significant shift this year compared to previous years, especially since 1983, when I first arrived in the United States.

It was customary then for Democratic presidential candidates to outdo each other in shows of fanatical loyalty to Israeli interests. I remember how every presidential candidate — during the 1980s and 90s and even after — was eager to prove his intent on relocating the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv (occupied Jaffa) to occupied Jerusalem. The competition was over who would be the fastest. 

So, when Democratic pundits today express outrage over Trump’s relocation of the embassy they should remember that the seeds of this step began with Democrats such as President Bill Clinton and a party then of strident Zionism.

Not that the Republican Party was less loyal to Israel. But it had at least some leaders who were were willing to criticize Israel. By contrast, the Democrats had no equivalent to Charles Percy or Charles Mathias — two highly influential Republican senators who were willing to violate the conventional wisdom on Israel. [The Jewish vote was overwhelmingly Democrat in those days.]

Shift in Democratic Base

In recent years, however, the base of the Democratic Party has caused that to change. Hillary Clinton’s endorsement of the Iraq war; the Democrats’ enabling of the George W. Bush administration’s war on Iraq and the debacles brought by the war on terrorism all spread disillusionment with the party’s foreign policy dogma. While the Democratic Party’s foreign policy may not have shifted much in Congress, the changing tide was evident in the party’s liberal base in 2016, when Senator Bernie Sanders’ less blindly pro-Israel position (only measured by the criterion of conventional Democratic Zionism) opened a gap with his establishment rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

It would be a stretch to say Trump radically altered the contours of U.S. foreign-policy towards the Middle East, specifically towards Israel.  His policies are merely the culmination of a decades’ old, whole-hearted U.S. endorsement of Israeli aggression and occupation.

A Democratic administration is unlikely to even alter Trump’s course on Israeli settlements or the location of the U.S. embassy.

Pompeo tours U.S. embassy in Jerusalem with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, March 21, 2019. (State Department/Ron Przysucha via Flickr)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tours U.S. embassy in Jerusalem with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, March  2019. (State Department/Ron Przysucha via Flickr)

U.S. opposition to Israeli settlements has been softening for many years. With the exception of George Herbert Walker Bush, successive presidents since Ronald Reagan have largely allowed Israel to continue to expand settlements with very little rebuke. This paved the way for the Trump administration, in November, to change the U.S. position on those settlements. Declared illegal under international law since the end of the 1967, the Trump team declared them legal.

Given a staunchly pro-Israel Congress, a Democratic president is unlikely to do anything about that.

It would let Israel keep building new settlements and refrain from moving the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv (occupied Jaffa). The new embassy location, after all, has been sought by the U.S. Congress, by both Republicans and Democrats, since at least the 1990s.

A possible exception is Sanders (who nevertheless prefaces every remark he makes on Israel by asserting that he is “100 percent pro-Israel.”) A Sanders administration might go back to registering U.S. disapproval of settlements. Sanders has even expressed willingness to levy economic sanctions against Israel in reprisal for the settlements. But these promises could be hard to keep if he became president and had to face the entrenched vigilance in Congress against any measures it deems harmful to the interests of Israel.

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil

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11 comments for “THE ANGRY ARAB: US Middle East Policy in a Future Democratic Administration

  1. Jeff Harrison
    December 19, 2019 at 12:17

    I have a bad feeling about all this….

  2. Chris
    December 19, 2019 at 11:47

    Not one word about Tulsi Gabbard’s anti-interventionist, anti-regime change Middle East platform.

    • rosemerry
      December 19, 2019 at 14:39

      Do you really think she has the slightest chance from the MSM or the Democratic Party leaders to advance her campaign? When we see how Sanders was treated in 2016 and is being treated now, what hope has a real antiwar candidate?

    • Norma Lynne
      December 21, 2019 at 05:07

      She has not said anything of distance against the illigal settlement or occupation of Palestine.

  3. Anonymot
    December 19, 2019 at 09:57

    Well said, but you do miss a point. Hillary was for the US invasion of Iraq, but far more important, she was the rubber stamp Secretary of State when her Deep State intimates said let’s set the entire Middle East on Fire. She mumbled cool , vaguely pro-Israeli words, but she was totally committed to war for Israel and a hot war with Russia. That’s why there is little left of the Arab world and the Ukraine. We are involved in a potentially terminal time pushed forward by the black-hat Republicans and, equally, by the white-hat Democrats.

    Hypocrisy has trumped democracy.

    And it should be clearly noted that only one anti-Clintonian has spoken forthrightly about foreign policy, Tulsi Gabbard who the disgusting NYT froze out of MSM news. NO ONE else, Sanders included, has done more than mumble a platitudinal sentence or two about anything concerning foreign affairs! Deep State is Deep Pockets and shallow minds. Money wins in our politics every time.

  4. AnneR
    December 19, 2019 at 06:41

    Thank you Professor AbuKhalil for this accurate perception of the pro-zionist, anti-Palestinian position of the dual-headed corporate-capitalist-imperialist, AIPAC knee bending party.

    The amorality and hypocrisy of the present and past members of Congress, Presidents and their Admins is obscene, frankly. While decrying, berating, starving, sanctioning, destroying other countries, like Iran, Russia, Venezuela, Syria, Libya, and so on, our taxes are happily handed over by those immoral, amoral greed soaked, Moloch and Mammon worshiping politicos to a robbing, ethnic-cleansing, eager killer, imprisoner, torturer of the native peoples of Palestine (every inch of that land) racist, orientalist criminal entity peopled with absolutely NO right to the lands they have blatantly, violently stolen with complete western supported impunity.

    And yes – Sanders has muttered a few conciliatory words to Palestinians. But he always prefaces those useless remarks with his clear pro-zionist sentiments.

  5. Seamus Padraig
    December 19, 2019 at 06:21

    No kidding. Why do you think many people preferred Trump over Hellary? She was threatening a no-fly zone over Syria if elected, Trump was not. (OK, there were other reasons for voting against Hellary as well, but that was certainly one.)

    • Norma Lynne
      December 21, 2019 at 05:15

      Agree with the sentiment that tRump show much less eagerness for foreign wars and a good chunk of voters find this an appealing feature campaign to HRC hawkish stand and That freaky laugh as she commented after Ghadafi assassination.

  6. michael
    December 19, 2019 at 00:20

    “So, when Democratic pundits today express outrage over Trump’s relocation of the embassy they should remember that the seeds of this step began with Democrats such as President Bill Clinton and a party then of strident Zionism.”
    Actually the recognized capital of Israel and the American Embassy were officially moved to Jerusalem in an overwhelming bipartisan manner by Law in 1995: See:
    While perhaps understandably focused on support of Israel, the two biggest effects of the recent Democrat Obama in the MidEast were:
    1) His treaty with Iran. American sanctions against Iran have been ongoing (essentially an act of war) since Carter’s then Clinton’s National Emergencies against Iran. Given the vitriol that Hillary (“obliterate”) and the neocon think tanks show toward Iran, Obama/ Kerry’s treaty was dead on arrival regardless of who won the Presidency. It only solidified the international and historical view that American treaties are not worth the paper they are printed on. Iran is not interested in wasting more time with American lying diplomats.
    2) Obama’s betrayal of Turkey. The CIA-supported, Fethullah Gülen-led coup against Erdogan in 2016, was un-necessary and stupid. When the coup failed, Erdogan demanded that Obama hand over Gülen, just as Erdogan had handed over many “people of interest, no questions asked” to Obama’s CIA. Obama refused. Turkey had been one of America’s strongest allies in the region, and Obama threw that away with the failed coup and pushed Turkey closer to China and Russia (possibly less treacherous than Americans?) The Kurds in Syria may pay for Obama’s stupidity, although there are 15 million Kurds in Turkey and only 2.5 million in Syria, so accommodation is likely.
    Would have been interested in the “Angry Arab view” of Iran– the hemmed-in Shia Muslim protector nation– and particularly Turkey, whose role in the MidEast seems drastically changed.

    • Deniz
      December 19, 2019 at 13:13

      I find the story that Gulen, a teacher/imam out of nowhere who was able to amass $23 billion in wealth through charter schools and who happened to be brought into the US by Graham Fuller, being able to independently launch a coup against Turkey – laughable. Not only that, but allegedly, the US is sacrificing its relationship with its strategic Muslim cold war ally and the biggest military power in NATO, all to protect Gulen’s civil rights* – this is just absurd. Erdogan was challenging Israel too much, so they decided their Muslim Brotherhood asset was no longer useful and decided to give him the Noriega treatment; unfortunately, the US has far less competency in these operations than what is portrayed in Hollywood.

      Since the DNC has decided to crawl into bed with the Deep State, Trump is a much better option for Turkey than Biden. I cant see Bernie starting a war and Warren does not seem totally corrupted yet, but I doubt they will be given a pass without selling their souls. I am not sure why the author takes Buttigieg seriously.

      * Please refer to Mr. Assange for any questions about the US commitment to civil rights.

  7. jo6pac
    December 18, 2019 at 17:51

    Sadly if the liberal neo-conns of deep state have anything say about it the wars will continue no matter what party win potus.

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