Even if there is a decent idea, the President’s ignorance and pathological need to seem smart (reminder: he isn’t) ruins everything. That might be the ultimate danger of Trump.
The meetings with Shinzo Abe may have been awkward for their handshakes, their lack of decorum, and the idea that it is ok to have national security meetings in gaudy public ballrooms. But the relationship between the US and Japan makes sense, and the Abe government and the Trump one have mutual grounds. It isn’t easy, since Trump is Trump, but that’s a manageable relationship.
The meetings with Justin Trudeau may have been awkward since his Canada has positioned itself as the literal refuge for those who are seeing America’s back, and his liberalism stands in deliberate stark contrast to the ravaging right-wing currently in power in the US. But the nations have to work together, and in terms of intra-nation issues there isn’t much daylight. Trump makes everything worse, but even he can’t screw up the US-Canada relationship (caveat: probably).
But Israel? The Israel/Palestine issue? The greater Middle East? That’s where the dangers of having an idiot President who is virtually an illiterate on any issue and who refuses to read beyond headlines, knowing that doing so will force him to confront his own deep ignorance, really comes into play.
We saw that yesterday in the joint Netanyahu/Trump press conference, the pairing of which might have set the record for the most unearned messianic bravado in history. Netanyahu is a grubbing politician who has convinced himself–and the Republican party–that he is the international tribune of the Jewish people, rather than a prime minister who assembles coalitions with no further principles then the continuation of his power. And Trump is, well, Trump.
But hell, at least Netanyahu knows things. Trump, cavalierly, tossed decades of US policy out the window.
“I’m looking at two-state and one-state” formulations, Mr. Trump said during a White House news conference with Mr. Netanyahu. “I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”
This is, of course, completely unworkable. It sounds reasonable, and as with the Kushner “outside-in” approach to a peace treaty, has an inkling of rationale behind it.
One could assume that this is a ploy by Trump, the self-described king of negotiators, seeming like he’s being amenable to the Israeli far right by being open to their one-state plan, in which the Palestinians are either politically exsanguinated, completely extirpated, or altogether eliminated. Those are the only options for a one-state “solution”.
So, then Trump says he’s open to this, but when it is clear that’s no answer, resigns and says, “sorry boys, two states it is!” And the thing is, that’s not really the worst idea. It’s somewhat simplistic, but it recognizes the reality of the Netanyahu government, and works with what is in front of you, rather than just what you want.
But the problem is that:
- Everything he, and his Republican Party, have said and done over the last eight years have put them firmly in the Likud camp, to the point where there is no daylight between the two political parties, which makes these feignts toward one-state seem very plausible. Remember, this is a GOP which repeatedly gave Netanyahu (who is, again, not Israel) place of pride over the US President when it came to US policy.
- Clearly, this makes Palestinians livid. It is a renunciation of probably their biggest political achievement since the foundation of the state of Israel: universal recognition of their right to statehood, at least in theory. It makes it seem like that’s just another bargaining chip, and combined with subsuming them in the venality of Gulf state politics in the front against Iran, does not make the US seem at all like an honest broker. They are shooting themselves in the foot before even beginning. And that brings me to the main point.
- This is not the kind of thing you announce, you goddamn idiot. Even if this is, in theory, a clever negotiating tactic, it is lunacy to say it out loud, in a press conference. That distorts the entire process, and the entire point of offering it. It puts you in a corner, and makes the other party entirely and justifiably contemptuous of your fairness. You are saying, out loud, “maybe both sides will have to compromise, or maybe one side will get literally everything they want. Those are the only two options.”
But Trump, thinking himself clever, and wanting to show the world just how great a negotiator he is, has to say out loud the one thing you shouldn’t say out loud. And that’s the problem with having an idiot child as President.
And please don’t fall into the trap of saying that he “chided” Netanyahu on settlements, or laid down the law. At the same time, Mr. Trump urged Mr. Netanyahu to temporarily stop new housing construction in the West Bank while he pursues a deal, echoing a position past presidents have taken. “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit,” he told Mr. Netanyahu. There is nothing behind that. It is the illusion of fairness, but is so tossed-off, and so underwhelming, that it is part and parcel of the dumbshow described above. A fake to seem like he is saying the right thing.
Remember what Trump said in the conference:
Mr. Trump did not address these (insanely complex) dynamics, instead emphasizing his confidence that he could produce a breakthrough. “I think we’re going to make a deal,” he said, describing that as personally important to him. “It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand.”
Just remember that is Trump-speak for “I have no idea what I am doing, but if I say enough adjectives, can con people into believing it.” That’s the POTUS, man.