When US President Donald Trump vowed during his election campaign to put ‘America First,’ many commentators mocked him for what was a very reasonable policy. Moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem isn’t putting Israel first, it’s putting America first.
For a number of years, especially under former president Barack Obama, American foreign policy had been subservient to internationalism, and on many occasions trying to work through crises through compromise and multilateralism. Israel always played second fiddle to America’s outreach to Iran; embracing of Islamist parties in Egypt and Tunisia, and bending over backwards to Turkey. America’s friends were left in the dust under Obama, and under Trump, America’s allies in the region received a welcome come back into its strategic umbrella.
However, we can see the failure of this policy most clearly in the Iran nuclear deal, the nuclear agreement with Iran. It was a bad agreement because it allowed Iran to divide and conquer those it ostensibly negotiated with and the terms were set according to the lowest common denominator, the least resistant like the EU, China and Russia. Nonetheless, Trump is changing all that in the short amount of time he has spent in the White House.
We have also witnessed how many leftovers of the Obama Administration, who still oppose their successors, have consistently warned the president over his stance and got it wrong in almost every instance.
Perhaps the most glaring error was when Trump was warned that recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and stating his official policy to relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would bring about mass violence and fires around the Middle East that could not be easily extinguished.
We now know that these were simply myths.
These threats were eerily reminiscent of earlier threats against another American president who bucked the trend on Israel and was proven correct.
When former Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion read aloud the Declaration of Independence 70 years ago, there was a tremendous debate surrounding whether President Harry S. Truman should recognize the fledgling Jewish State.
The opposing officials in the State Department argued that if Truman recognized Israel then there would be massive bloodshed in the Middle East, the Jewish State would never survive and the Americans would pay for it dearly in its relations with the Arab world.
Truman’s policy of recognizing Israel and standing against his opposition rested on the realities of the situation in the region, on America’s moral, ethical, and humanitarian values, and on America’s national interests. So too with Trump.
He is not moving the US Embassy necessarily because of his affection for the Jewish State, but because it is in America’s national interest.
It sends a strong message to the region and beyond that it will no longer have its foreign policy dictated by others, whether through diplomatic maneuvers or threats.
It will stand by its allies and stand against its foes. The Palestinians have made it clear that there was nothing to be gained in delaying the decision as they have demonstrated on numerous occasions that they have no interest in negotiations with Israel and have constantly thumbed their nose at the Americans, mistaking this administration for the previous.
Trump is not bucking the trend in placing American interests first; he is merely undoing years of aberrant US policy which placed American interests further down the list of priorities in deciding foreign policy issues.
The opening of the US Embassy is not so much a win for Israel as it is a win for those who seek a return to America’s moral and ethical role in the world, and above all, what is good for it regardless of fake protestations.
Gregg Roman is director of the Middle East Forum