PATRICK LAWRENCE: Trump’s Weakness for Power

Coercive might and money may be all that matter in Manhattan real estate.  But they are bound to sink the president’s take-all-you-want “deal of the century” for Israel.   

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

With the publication of the Trump administration’s Mideast “deal of the century,” we can at least leave off any reference to it as a “peace plan.” The Palestinians, as is well-known, had no hand in producing the terms or the final text. But if this is not a deal and holds out no promise of peace between Israel and a Palestinian nation,  there is nonetheless much to read into the fraudulent framework for an Israeli–Palestinian settlement made public last week.

Today’s winners are tomorrow’s losers, to put the point simply.

Three years in the making, the Trump administration’s Mideast proposal is as naked a display as we have yet had of Washington’s commitment to power as the sole pillar of its late-imperial foreign policies. This is the essential take-home now that this document is public. There are numerous other examples of this emerging dependence on power alone, but the Dealmaker’s take-all-you-want deal with Israel (and non-deal with Palestinians) is the boldest case to date.

Diplomacy, accommodation, compromise, mutuality, the perspectives of others: It is already clear these are among the defining features of 21stcentury statecraft. Jealous of its dissipating preeminence, the U.S. proves indifferent to all such considerations. There is no longer even the pretense of deriving authority by way of example, so radical is Washington’s preference for coercive might alone. The paradox is not difficult to grasp: In displays of unadorned power we also find the limits of power. The Trump administration’s conduct of foreign policy—primarily but not only in the Mideast—makes failure and an American comeuppance inevitable. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and President Donald J. Trump at Trump’s WDC unveiling of details of Middle East Peace Plan, Jan. 28, 2020. (White House/Shealah Craighead)

The White House calls the 180–page document published last week “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People.” This is an arrogant display of contempt all by itself. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, developed the document in consultation with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other Arab allies. It gives Israel more or less everything it wants and leaves Palestinians with what amount to crumbs falling from the table.

Sham ‘State’ Proposed for Palestinians

The U.S. plan recognizes Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley, where the Israelis already exercise military authority, and grants Israel all of the West Bank land where it wants to build settlements. The sham “state” proposed for the Palestinians will have no military or defense, and Israel will control its security. Israel will also control the borders of this not-a-nation, so controlling Palestinians’ contacts with the outside world. Among the few concessions-that-are-not-concessions to Palestinians, they are awarded more or less useless tracts of land in the Negev desert.

Alert readers will have no difficulty finding a comparison here. The Palestinian nation outlined in this set of preposterous propositions resembles nothing so much as the Bantustans of apartheid South Africa — poverty-ridden bits of intractable land surrounded by the superior power of a nation built on racial identity. Check that: A comparison of equal merit is with the stony, infertile reservations where white settlers shoved Native Americans as the U.S. pushed itself westward.

Shame on any American who supports the Trump administration’s re-enactment in the Mideast of these 19thcentury crudities. Shame on any Israeli who makes of his or her nation so dishonorable a monument to the suffering and sacrifice of the six million.

There is an implicit theme running through the Trump–Kushner plan, and it is important to identify it. It has to do with the values expressed in the document; these are certain to prove its fatal flaw.

Dismissal of Palestinian Aspiration

For one thing, the U.S. blueprint is a straight-out dismissal of Palestinian aspiration. This may seem a spongy and idealistic consideration, but it is stone real when such questions — of nationality and identity, of recognition and parity — are at issue. The right of return is another dimension of this. The Trump–Kushner plan simply wipes this principle off the slate. But memory and history, like aspiration, cannot be so flippantly eliminated, no matter how much power is brought to bear. The last 70 years demonstrate this plainly enough.

The World Press Photo of 2012, depicting a funeral procession in Palestine.

For another, the White House proposal assumes an entire people can be bribed. This is implicit in its promise of $50 billion in development assistance for the new collection of Palestinian Bantustans. The conceptual flaw here is to mistake market value as the only value. This holds and regularly proves out among New York property developers such as Trump and Kushner. Money, power, and facts on the ground are all that matter in Manhattan real estate. None stands much chance of winning Palestinian acceptance, despite Trump’s insistence that the plan “will ultimately have the support of the Palestinians.”

Many years ago, during the first term of George W. Bush, Karl Rove gave an interview in which he asserted that the U.S. was no longer bound by “discernible reality,” as the White House aide put it. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” Rove explained. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will —we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.”

Rove Warning Overlooked

This singularly arrogant remark was much noted at the time but was thought to reflect only the kookier extremes of the Bush II administration. What a misinterpretation that has proven to be. Rove was effectively warning us that the U.S. had already begun its fundamental shift toward sheer power as the instrument of its foreign policies. This is plain in hindsight.

Huawei expo at industrial exhibition in Berlin, 2018. (Matti Blume, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

There are plenty of Obama cheerleaders who continue to credit him with cultivating a fundamental revision of U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. joined five other nations to sign the accord governing Iran’s nuclear programs in mid–July 2015; six days later it restored diplomatic relations with Cuba. Fine, but the complete record must also include Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen among the messes Obama, the serial assassin by drone, either made or prolonged. Obama’s years do not count even as a pause between Bush II and Trump. Underscoring the point, relations with Cuba are re-frozen, and Trump has unilaterally withdrawn from the nuclear pact in favor of a ruthless “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran that rests on power alone.

Many of the Trump administration’s policies are of a piece with this notion that power can transform reality. Beyond the Middle East, Washington makes up tales about Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, in an attempt to force China out of the market for 5–G telecoms technologies. In Europe, Washington threatens sanctions against companies working on the NordStream 2 natural gas pipeline, from Russia to Germany, to force Russia out of the West European market. The list goes on.

These policies share two features. They rest on power alone — in this they are Karl Rove’s dream made flesh — and they are bound to fail, if they are not already failing.

It is evident now that the European allies will defy U.S. efforts to sabotage NordStream 2 and keep Huawei out of 5–G. London announced last week that it will allow Huawei to participate in its 5–G development program. Germany made a similar decision last autumn.  

In the Middle East, it is equally clear that Iran has no intention of buckling under U.S. sanctions and military threats. U.S. influence in the region has already begun to decline since the drone assassination of a top Iranian general on Iraqi soil early last month. The Pentagon now faces popular Iraqi demands to withdraw its troops.

And now the Mideast — Israel and Palestine. The Trump administration sacrificed all claim to “honest broker” status when it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 — a unilateral move that prompted the Palestinians to stop talking to the U.S. about the plan Jared Kushner was by then developing. Of all that is wrong with the new Trump–Kushner plan, the absence of Palestinian input more or less assures that it will prove dead on arrival.

Power alone is power blind. Power blind is certain to fail, for it cannot see its way.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him on Twitter @thefloutist. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. 

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10 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: Trump’s Weakness for Power

  1. robert e williamson jr
    February 7, 2020 at 16:46

    Yup! An empire governed by a dictator who is fueled by billions! I do agree with Patrick to a point. This is all very bad.

    One thing that you can rely on is that when Karl, Rove gives a warning one best pay attention. The man is out of his mind.

    This IMPOTUS and his billionaire friends are showing no quarter. They intend to drive the opposition into the ground, acting as most fascists do. Going to grind the opposition down and recast them in their own image they think.

    None of this means or proves however these people are sane or otherwise mentally healthy. Karl is delusional, as usual, look in D.C., a place that does escape reality but is unreal regardless. SEE the current occupant of the White House. The only way he becomes a prophet is if the status quo is maintained.

    What Israel needs is a swift kick in the ass and their Doddamned U.S. government credit card taken away from them. It’s called comeuppance! So much for the home of the brave and the land of the free.

    As I have said time and again the problem in this country currently is the game is rigged. When the two major political parties both play to the demands of Israel mysticism reins. When events of this nature occur the reality is big trouble.

  2. February 4, 2020 at 21:13

    The President is the modern Ozymandias.

  3. February 4, 2020 at 17:37

    I believe the President is the Ozymandias of our era.

  4. H
    February 4, 2020 at 10:41

    trump lost his senses

  5. Eugenie Basile
    February 4, 2020 at 05:08

    The art of the deal. Fixed territory based on the present balance of power for 50 bln.
    The perception will be that the Palestinian leaders again refused a ‘deal’.

    • February 4, 2020 at 17:33

      Do you think that these “50 bln” are real money? Some loose promises of monarchs who got too much on their plate. You do not have to have a very high degree of dignity etc. to smell a rotten fish.

    • Eugenie Basile
      February 5, 2020 at 03:16

      Does it matter ?
      It is an offer that if refused is another nail in the coffin of the Palestinians.

  6. Moi
    February 4, 2020 at 02:06

    Amazes me that Trump is even being considered as a candidate for the next presidency. In real democracies (as opposed to oligarchies) a power-mad, adulterous, war criminal would stand zero chance of re-election.

    How all those evangelicals forming Trump’s base can reconcile his actions with his words is likewise beyond me.

  7. KiwiAntz
    February 4, 2020 at 01:33

    America’s power crazed arrogance & hubris is really a clear demonstration of how late stage Empires, in their final death throes, end their reign? All previous Empires in terminal decline showed the same traits before they collapsed? Trump has accelerated America’s late stage decline & well & truly torn off the American Empires, Dorian Grey mask & exposed a evil, rotten, cancerous, decaying carcass of a Nation in terminal decline & all the World, outside of the US, can see it? America’s capitulation to Israel’s interests shows the Zionist tale wags the US dog & with the Arab Worlds rejection of “The Scam of the Century” as a given, this is further confirmation of America’s waning influence? And Power can slip away without this US Empire even knowing it, as the author notes here in this article, due to the Empires utter arrogance as a result of creating its own FALSE REALITY based on hubris rather than real World situational awareness? The writing is on the Wall for the end of the US Empire? Everyone in the World knows it, that the World is becoming increasingly Multipolar thanks to America’s desperate attempts to prop up its waning prestige & preeminence by sanctioning the Globe & bullying everyone who doesn’t bend the knee to its deathcult ambitions? The blinkered Empire can’t sense its own demise & it won’t be pretty when that collapse eventually occurs? First Brexit then America Empirexit to come? Bring it on!

  8. February 3, 2020 at 23:25

    It was actually quite impressive how Trump could cow Europeans to submission on Iran issue. They tepidly protested, then took the most decisive action possible: begged Washington to be allowed some trade with Iran. Nope! So it was.

    Even the murder of Suleimani could produce tacit agreement of many allies and very warm reaction from UK.

    Apparently, the entire Trump/Kushner family was at their wits end how to provoke a wide protest. But years of work gave a fruit. Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation rejected unanimously. So what? But look at this headline, New York Daily News “Why did Trump release this awful peace plan now?” Is it actually a crisis? Some “wise people” really think so. The Hill “Democrats should redefine their support for Israel in Middle East” by Douglas Schoen who “is adviser to President Bill Clinton and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.”

    The gist is that Trump created a situation and something has to be done. Shoen knows what to do: “Democrats should make clear that no matter who leads the nation of Israel, they will unconditionally support our strongest ally in the Middle East and prioritize peace negotiations.” Unconditionally!! So simple, so beautiful, why no Democrat though about it before? (Republicans already did it).
    “The importance of the relationship between the United States and Israel cannot be understated.” Someone, bring him the donkey!

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