No more excuses for a train-wreck foreign policy
It is astonishing to observe some Americans twisting themselves into pretzels so they can continue to make excuses to explain the bizarre behavior of President Donald Trump on the world stage. The line most commonly heard is that he has “kept us out of new wars.” The reality is somewhat different. He has kept us in old wars in Afghanistan and Syria that he could have ended while also needlessly ratcheting up tension with countries like Russia, Venezuela, Iran and China that could easily escalate into armed conflict. The situation with Moscow is particularly dangerous as President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned that his country’s defense doctrine includes going nuclear if there is an attack on Russia by a superior force.
But the most frightening aspect of the current situation is the feeling that the man whose finger is on America’s nuclear trigger is not quite sane. The steady stream of insulting and vulgar tweets that seem to serve as a substitute for more substantial mental activity reveals a man who is profoundly ignorant, completely narcissistic and hopelessly insecure. To say the least, Trump is not presidential. He is not even rational except in a conniving, manipulative fashion intended to embarrass his adversaries and place them on the defensive. And his enemies list appears to include all Americans who are not “with him.”
The Constitution of the United States in Articles I and II details the procedure for impeachment by the Senate of a president who commits “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” I believe that threshold has finally been crossed. It was crossed last Thursday when President Trump telephoned either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or some other senior Israeli government official before, one hour later, tweeting the following: “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Representative [Ilhan] Omar and Representative [Rashida] Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel and all Jewish people. And there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!”
Netanyahu then followed Trump’s lead with a series of tweets of his own, banning the visit of the two congresswomen because “Only a few days ago, we received their itinerary for their visit in Israel, which revealed that they planned a visit whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy. For instance: they listed the destination of their trip as Palestine and not Israel…the itinerary of the two Congresswomen reveals that the sole purpose of their visit is to harm Israel and increase incitement against it.”
The two women are in fact the only two congressional supporters of the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to use economic pressure to convince Israel to end its brutal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, meaning that the other 533 members of congress are not so inclined. BDS supporters have been blocked from travel to Israel under an anti-boycott law passed by the Knesset in March 2017, suggesting that free speech in Israel is conditional.
Even though BDS is a non-violent protest movement, it has been condemned by the U.S. Congress and also by nearly all Jewish groups in America, quite possibly because it is having a real impact in an environment where legitimate criticism of Israel is effectively forbidden. There is considerable irony in the fact that Jewish groups have in the past used boycotts to advance their own tribal interests while condemning the use of the same tactic when it is employed against Israeli oppression.
The Israeli ban was subsequently partially lifted to allow Tlaib to travel to the occupied West Bank to visit her 90 year old grandmother, but the congresswoman indicated that she has refused the offer as she is being treated “like a criminal.” Clearly, Netanyahu and Trump saw political benefit coming out of the exchange. Netanyahu is facing re-election in two weeks and will be able to boast of his demonstrated ability as a “strong leader” to obtain maximum support for anything he does from the White House. Trump is also already running for re-election next year and is working hard to make Israel an issue, labeling the Democrats as the party that is anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. He will also expect Netanyahu to do him favors as appropriate closer to the actual U.S. election.
So much for the view from the two heads of government. The other perspective, and why the president should be impeached, is that Trump’s decision was, as usual, to propagate a disgusting and deliberate lie that is also extremely damaging to actual United States interests as well as to our form of government.
To put it in simplest terms, President Trump is conniving with a foreign government headed by a war criminal to block the entry of and also demonize two congresswomen whose political views differ from his own. He is endangering the women, who have already received death threats, by expanding on the lies that are being circulated about them due to their criticism of Israel’s appalling human rights record.
Netanyahu, for his part, would prefer that prominent observers not be able to report on the actual conditions prevailing on the West Bank and in Gaza. Indeed, Israel’s occupation of much of the West Bank is an ongoing crime that is carefully hidden from most foreign visitors. Netanyahu’s government already carefully manages the summer recess annual pilgrimage by members of Congress, such as the one that ended last week where 31 Republicans and 41 Democrats made the journey to kiss the prime minister’s ring. And it should be noted that as Omar and Tlaib are only two of a handful of Democratic lawmakers who dare to criticize Israel, their impact on party policy is decidedly limited, rendering even more incomprehensible the panic over their travels.
There are a number of other things wrong with what took place between Trump and Netanyahu vis-à-vis the two congresswomen. First of all, Israel is the top recipient of U.S. military aid at more than $3 billion each year. It also profits from trade arrangements, co-production projects and charitable contributions from American Jews and Christian Zionists that amount to an estimated three times that much annually. That members of Congress should have the right, even the obligation, to visit Israel to see where all that money goes should be unquestioned and it has, indeed, been unchallenged prior to this incident. Tlaib and Omar are the first congressmen to be denied entry to Israel. That Trump apparently orchestrated the entire incident in connivance with a foreign government in support of his own political ambitions and that foreign power’s narrow interests is a clear abuse of executive power.
To be sure, numerous Democrats have decried the Israeli decision, but they have tended to frame it in such a way as to praise Israel while also slamming Trump. They note, in a friendly way, that it will hurt Israel’s otherwise pristine image as an upstanding democracy and close ally, both of which assertions are in any event demonstrably false. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi issued a statement that was typical, saying “As one who loves Israel, I am deeply saddened by the news that Israel has decided to prevent Members of Congress from entering the country. Last month, Israeli Ambassador Dermer stated that, ‘Out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any Member of Congress into Israel.’ This is a sad reversal and is deeply disappointing. I pray that the Government of Israel will reverse that denial. Israel’s denial of entry to Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar is a sign of weakness, and beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel. The President’s statements about the Congresswomen are a sign of ignorance and disrespect, and beneath the dignity of the Office of the President.”
Senator Bernie Sanders was one of the few legislators to actually approach the heart of the matter, saying “The idea that a member of the United States Congress cannot visit a nation which, by the way, we support to the tune of billions and billions of dollars is clearly an outrage. And if Israel doesn’t want members of the United States Congress to visit their country to get a firsthand look at what’s going on—and I’ve been there many, many times—but if he doesn’t want members to visit, maybe [Netanyahu] can respectfully decline the billions of dollars that we give to Israel.”
Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) disapproved of the decision, stating in a tweet that “We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution. We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”
One of the few Republicans to enter into the discussion was Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who characteristically tweeted what amounted to an attack on the congresswomen, stating that it was a mistake for the Israeli government to deny them entry because “Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state.”
Trump’s attack on the two congresswomen comes on top of another bizarre foreign policy related intervention. It involved sending his official hostage negotiatorRobert O’Brien to Stockholm on the taxpayers’ dime to obtain freedom for an American rap musician ASAP Rocky who was in jail after having gotten into a fight with some local boys. Trump did not actually know Rocky, but he was vouched for by the likes of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, both of whom have had nice things to say about the president. Trump also exercised his usual disregard for standard diplomatic courtesy by tweeting furiously against Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Lofven, over Rocky’s detention. The negotiator was instructed to threaten Sweden that if they did not release Rocky there would be “negative consequences” for the bilateral relationship.
And if you need more good reasons to impeach Donald Trump, here they are:
- Trump has twice attacked Syria with cruise missiles based on flawed intelligence without a declaration of war and without Damascus representing an actual threat. That is a war crime and the stationing of American soldiers in Syria without the consent of that country’s government is also illegal.
- The Trump administration’s “Justice” Department is seeking to extradite truth-teller Julian Assange of WikiLeaks so he can be locked up for life or killed in prison like Jeffrey Epstein.
- America’s Secretary of State and National Security Advisors are implementing policies that impose punitive sanctions that have served to starve or otherwise kill thousands of Venezuelans, Iranians and Yemenis.
- Far from being Russian President Vladimir Putin’s patsy, Trump has unnecessarily escalated tensions with Moscow more than any American president since the end of the cold war by moving NATO troops up to the Russian border and arming Ukraine, putting our nation and much of the world at risk of a nuclear exchange whether by accident or design.
- Trump has unnecessarily withdrawn from an Iranian nuclear agreement and from two arms treaties with Russia, all of which enhanced the national security of the United States.
- The Trump administration has continued to lavish support on the Middle East’s two kleptocracies Saudi Arabia and Israel, endorsing everything they do. The tilt towards Israel, including U.S. recognition of sovereignty over illegally occupied East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, has been particularly unfortunate as it could lead to a major war in the region with the U.S. placed right in the middle of the conflict.
Finally, there are certainly some who oppose getting rid of Trump because it would give us Mike Pence as acting president. True enough, and Mike certainly has some interesting Christian Zionist views about the end of the world, but how could he possibly be worse than Donald Trump?