The December 6 announcement by Trump of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his administration’s intention to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to that storied city sparked much consternation and puzzlement, both prospectively and in its aftermath. The consternation, especially among career diplomats and Middle East policy experts, revolved around the likely effects of such a move both for Israeli-Palestinian relations and U.S. relationships with the larger Arab world. Wouldn’t this policy change, by making a unilateral concession to Israel, make even more difficult a two-state solution and unnecessarily inflame Arab world opinion?
The puzzlement stemmed from the timing. Why announce this now? Israel declared Jerusalem as its eternal, united and undivided capital in 1980 and the U.S. Congress passed a law requiring the U.S. to move its embassy to Jerusalem in 1995 but U.S. presidents, including Trump, have signed a waiver of the law every six months for the last two decades justifying their actions in terms of national security concerns. Why didn’t Trump wait another six months or year or announce this policy change six months ago?
The consensus answer to why Trump broke with precedent is that his actions are being driven by domestic political priorities, in particular, the support for a militant Israel evinced by members of his white evangelical base as well as of deep-pocketed rightwing donors such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Johnnie Moore, co-chairman of Trump’s unofficial faith advisory board, said in the aftermath of Trump’s announcement that, “The issue was–to many–second only to concerns about the judiciary among the president’s core evangelical supporters.”
While this macro-scale view of Trump’s domestic political support might explain why he is choosing to break with U.S. foreign policy precedent and risk so much, it does not explain why this break is happening now. For a more nuanced and plausible answer to this latter question, one has to zoom in for a closer look at Trump’s domestic political landscape and ask what Jerusalem might have to do with a closely contested Alabama senate race between Republican Roy Moore, proud fundamentalist and accused pedophile, and Democrat Doug Jones.
For several weeks after the accusations against Moore for sexual abuse and harassment of teenage girls during the time he was in his thirties, he seemed radioactive to the national Republican establishment. Trump changed that with his December 4 early morning tweet endorsing Moore. The very next day, Steve Bannon, Trump’s alt-right alter ego, spoke at a Moore rally in Mobile, Alabama. And on December 6, Trump upended U.S. policy in the Middle East with his Jerusalem announcement.
Is the quick succession of these events a coincidence? Or is it evidence that Bannon continues in his former role as Don Trump’s consigliere? Changing U.S. policy was something Trump had wanted to do from the start. He was evidently persuaded to forego the move six months ago and sign the waiver. However, the unexpected events of late November turned what would have been a shoo-in for the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama into a slogging match with a capable Democratic contender. Might this turn of events have seemed to Trump (if not also to Bannon) the perfect moment to throw some red meat to the base in Alabama and motivate any evangelicals having second thoughts about voting in an accused pedophile to go to the polls on December 12?
Whatever the motivation for Trump’s move on Jerusalem, one thing is certain. This president’s first and (apparently) only priority is to please his base by fulfilling as many of his election season promises as he can. In doing so, he demonstrates that he truly is the President of Red America.
M. Davout (pseudonym) is a professor of political science who teaches in the Deep South.
11 thoughts on “Jerusalem and an Alabama Senate Race”
I’m only surprised they didn’t wait until December 7th, Pearl Harbor’s anniversary. But then they are ever so disregardful of anything beyond their own noses.
I think you’re right. Trump is GREAT at raising hell (at least doing the unexpected) with one hand while grabbing for some other prize with the other.
Now, think, if you were an adversarial leader and you were watching the Donald, wouldn’t it be just perfect to get away with something during one of the Donald’s performances? You know he goes for a performance. Wouldn’t this be a great time to go for one of your prizes (or goals) as well?
Question, why did Clinton, Bush 2, Obama promise the same and then not deliver? Why did the Senate make the same recognition this year? Maybe its not all about Trump?
Some answers: Clinton and Bush 2 didn’t deliver because they knew how controversial and unsettling the decision would be. It makes peace in the Middle East less likely, not more. To my knowledge, Obama never promised to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the U.S. embassy there.
The U.S. Senate is a strong supporter of Israel, and AIPAC exercises a strong influence over U.S. policy toward Israel, so it’s not surprising the Senate would take this position.
Yes, it’s not all about Trump. But Davout’s article is about the timing of Trump’s announcement. Southern evangelicals are, generally speaking, strong supporters of Israel and believers in the “End Times.” By making his announcement when he did, Trump energizes these evangelicals as those in Alabama prepare to go to the polls to vote for Roy Moore. It’s a sly move for short-term domestic political advantage — but if it torpedoes efforts at peace in the Middle East and leads to open war, it will come at an enormous long-term price.
Not only will it strengthen Mr Trump’s base and the religious right wing at home, it will have similar effect in Israel!
So is their, past oresident’s support of Jerusalem also politically expedient?
Past presidents expressed notional support for Jerusalem as the capital, but they never acted on it. In that sense, you could say their (tepid) support was politically expedient. They pleased hardliners in the U.S. and Israel without having to take concrete action.
Trump has acted. And his reason doesn’t revolve around Israel. Consider this article:
In reading various articles discussing President Donald Trump’s recent announcement — taking upon himself the mantle of Global Dispenser of Self-righteous Suzerainty — I came upon the following:
Trump Risks Uniting the Entire Arab World Against the US, by Patrick Cockburn, The Unz Review (December 9, 2017)
Leaving aside the “day late and a dollar short” headline and skipping ing to the final paragraph:
“By recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump and Israel may have broken a political rule which says it is dangerous to mess with de facto situations others have informally come to accept. Doing so can have unexpectedly disastrous consequences. A good example of this happened less than three months ago when President Masoud Barzani held a referendum demanding Iraqi Kurdish formal independence, though the Iraqi Kurds had enjoyed de facto near independence since 2003. The Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian governments, who had accepted the previous situation for years, reacted furiously and within three weeks the Kurds lost control of Kirkuk and much of their territory. It may be that President Trump and Israel will likewise find that they risked more than they imagined and will pay a heavier price than expected for formalising Israeli rule in Jerusalem” [emphasis added].
In the Comments section following the above article, I came across this astute observation:
“It’s an action of Hubris. Rather like formalizing Jewish rule in the United States rather than accepting it as the de facto situation that is informally accepted. In ancient Greek, hubris referred to actions that shamed and humiliated the victim for the pleasure or gratification of the abuser.”
Excellent. I seriously doubt that President Donald Trump has the first clue whose capital he has declared and whom he has truly humiliated.
Very well put, Mike.
Why don’t I get ‘Bracing Views’ anymore? Probably screw-up after Dept. of Justice – hahaha! – decided my comments were worse than Astore’s! Please restore them. I like your sight & opinion!
? I have no idea.
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