Trump’s Jerusalem Embassy Move, Obama’s Project Cassandra Upset Shows Harm of Emotion-Driven US Foreign Policy
US foreign policy is a seemingly erratic and irrational subject. Its mastery requires a firm grasp of international issues, America’s ever shifting partisan politics, and human psychology. Although facts, logic, and circumstances should be the determining factors in US foreign policy, how the American People and their political leaders feel tends to matter more. Under the leadership of men like Donald Trump, it is how he, his leadership team, and his supporters feel that primarily determine the shape of US foreign policy. Even under the leadership of a highly cerebral President like Barack Obama, emotions also tend to trump intellect. Unfortunately, it is when the emotional and intellectual paths diverge that US foreign policy creates problems instead of solving them.
It was recently discovered that the Obama Administration allegedly shielded the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah in order to facilitate a reset of US-Iranian relations. The Obama Justice Department and Treasury Department seem to have actively impeded a massive dragnet called Project Cassandra that targeted the smuggling efforts of top Hezbollah operatives and Iranian officials. The alleged goal of the Obama Administration was to prevent a crackdown on Hezbollah and Iranian citizens from derailing talks with the Obama Administration. Where critics of the Iranian Nuclear Deal largely see the agreement as little more than a “bad deal,” the Iranian Nuclear Deal was never truly meant to extinguish Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The Iranian Nuclear Deal was a good faith effort the Obama Administration hoped to use as a means to empower political moderates in Iran and reset US-Iranian relations.
The problem with the Iranian Nuclear Deal, which was obvious even before this latest revelation, was that the Obama Administration cared more about a diplomatic reset more than anything else. Obama officials did not care if the Iranian Nuclear Deal would be ineffective in curbing Iran’s long-term nuclear plans nor did they care if the Iranian government would use financial gains from the Deal to tighten its grip on power and fund terrorist activities across the Middle East. They clearly did not care about the Iranian People, who had just experienced a brutal crackdown in the face of the 2009 Green Revolution, which proceeded the Arab Spring Revolutions by two years. Obama officials felt the Iranian Nuclear Deal and good US-Iranian diplomatic ties were essential to reforging US influence in the Middle East following the Bush era, which was largely defined by the Iranian-influenced Iraq War, so they ignored all other factors.
Instead of focusing on Iran as the key to peace in the Middle East, the Trump Administration has returned to America’s traditional Middle East focus, i.e. Israel. In fact, Trump has decided to double down on America’s pro-Israel stance by taking the unprecedented step of declaring Jerusalem Israel’s capital and pledging to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. When UN members rebuffed the decision, Trump threaten to cut foreign aid to nations that criticized Trump policy before attempting to punish the International Community by cutting US funding to the UN. To Trump and his supporters, the UN is actively conspiring against the US when nations offend them by dissenting and criticizing. In their minds, Israel is the center of the Middle East. They feel Israel is sacrosanct, thus Israel’s security and regional supremacy is perceived as a top US priority.
In reality, Israel is Israel’s own worst enemy, or at least the actions of Israel’s hardliners are. Due to Israel’s Biblical roots, Right-wing religious conservatives have declared the modern political state of Israel so sacrosanct, Israeli hardliners cannot be openly criticized for their mistreatment of the Palestinian People. It is, however, precisely this attitude toward Israel that makes Israel a target of terrorists, governments that do not like the US or Israel, and Middle Easterners. By capitalizing on the emotional attachment to Israel, President Trump has embraced policies that are inflaming anti-Israel sentiments around the world. By responding to the resulting backlash with punitive measures, which actually do more to provoke anger than discourage dissent from US stances, Trump is choosing to prioritize Israel above US interests and hurt his own objectives with emotional responses.
When it comes to public policy, whether foreign or domestic, emotions can help nations seek policies that fulfill altruistic goals. Acting on the wants and impulses of leadership is, however, terrible policy. The US may have an interest in securing better relations with Iran and protecting Israel or US leadership may simply want a better relationship with Iran and want to keep Israel safe, but these objectives can only be achieved through sound policies based on facts and logic. Quite frankly, wanting something is never enough to make it a reality. If Presidents want to achieve their public policy objectives, they must develop public policies that take into account current circumstances, the interests of others, and vital national interests. Regrettably, both Obama and Trump have failed to heed this critical lesson.
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