This is another guest post by Brian Goldfarb.
I have to add a caveat before I post Brian’s article. There is a lot here with which I disagree, but first of all I don’t like my blog to be just an echo chamber. It is always useful to hear other opinions, especially when they are balanced and come from a position of goodwill and of wishing the best for Israel and the world. Secondly, as Trump’s presidency progresses and his affairs become ever more tangled, we need to take a step back and reconsider the implications.
I have never been a mad keen fan of Trump, he was simply better than the alternatives.This past week, with State Department officials declaring that the Kotel is “not in your territory” and therefore Binyamin Netanyahu is not welcome to join Trump in prayer at the holy site, and then some furious back-pedalling from Trump, along with Trump’s sudden affection for Palestinian President-for-life Mahmoud Abbas, has brought about a lot of second thoughts and even soul-searching for very many Israelis who were jubilating at Trump’s election a mere few months ago.
We can add to this mix the latest scandals involving Trump’s leaking security secrets (possibly originating in Israel) to the Russians, and speculation as to whether the Russians influenced the American elections, and we are left confused whether all this is simply “fake news” intended to bring him down? Or are they real dangers, especially to Israel?
Read Brian’s post and decide for yourselves.
I started off with few hopes for a Trump Presidency and these have rapidly been eroded. As I said to my wife, Ros, the other day, “I expected this, but not so soon”: that is, the crumbling of the the credibility of the Trump Administration.
Let me explain. Unlike a friend of mine (a member of the petit bourgeoisie – and I mean no insult by that term: he ran a small chain of pharmacies very successfully and has ensured that he and his wife have a very comfortable retirement as a result) who texted me (we were in New York at the time of the election in November, 2016) when Trump was elected that “at last we have a businessman as President”, I was less than enthusiastic. I replied that even if he had been a successful businessman, which was open to doubt, there was no reason to expect this to translate into becoming a successful politician. After all, Obama, a relative failure from the liberal point of view (who now looks like an outstanding success in comparison) had had a relative short career as a politician before becoming President.
After a short exchange across the Pond, my friend conceded defeat (after a fashion), texting me that “don’t worry, Brian, even [my wife] thinks I’m mad!”
The best I expected from “The Donald” was that he would reduce US payments to UNESCO, the UNHRC and even the main body. He might even prove a true(r) friend to Israel than his immediate predecessor. With luck, I thought, he might lose control of Congress in November 2018, and thus the harm he could do would be further reduced.
In fact, the collapse came even sooner than I would have expected. The true “Donald” was revealed when he asserted that his inauguration ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial was “the biggest ever”, while photographs revealed that it failed to match Obama’s first inaugural by a country mile. The narcissistic need to be the best ever, whatever the evidence to the contrary, immediately raises worries, to be polite about it. In fact, H.L. Mencken, the great American essayist, got Trump’s measure almost a century ago, without ever meeting him, when he wrote (in the Baltimore Evening Sun of July 26 1920) that “On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron.”
What do I mean by “the collapse”?
The Obama administration (actually, the outgoing President in person) warned Trump against appointing General Flynn to the position of National Security Advisor, because of his links to the Russians. So what does Trump do? Yup, that’s right, appoint him to the position of National Security Advisor. Bear in mind that the outgoing administration had no axe to grind here: in fact, they were being (in spades, as it turned out) ultra patriotic. What happened next? The Acting Attorney General and her (equally acting) Deputy AG – both Department of Justice employees – wrote a letter to the White House Chief of Staff requesting a meeting in person and revealing all that was known about Flynn’s links to the Russians…and that he had lied about these to the Vice-President, Mike Pence. Their reward? They were sacked. And, 2 weeks later, so was Flynn…because he had lied to the VP about his contacts with the Russians.
And then, the day after this all came out, with the televising of Sally Yates open testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee (she was the fired Acting Attorney General), while we were still in New York, came the sacking of James Comey, Head of the FBI. Why, for goodness sake? This is the man who by re-opening the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails a week before the election probably cost her the election – according to a politically active US friend of ours: he claimed that at exactly that point there was a surge towards Hillary – why would Trump sack him? Why indeed? Later the same day, Trump revealed exactly why: because Comey was continuing with the “false” search into whether there actually is a link between Trump and the Russians that influenced the outcome of the election.
Methinks the President doth protest too much.
The media storm that followed was astonishing: even Fox News, right wing to a fault, was expressing scepticism concerning the President’s abilities.
You think it couldn’t get worse? It did, rapidly.
We returned to the UK last Wednesday (10 May). By Thursday, the White House was threatening to cancel Press Conferences, which means that the White House and the various Agencies will leak like sieves – as they are already starting to do. Where else do all these revelations come from? And does Trump think that all these career civil servants are personally loyal to him? Of course not. If not all, then the overwhelming majority are loyal to the Constitution of the US and to the Rule of Law.
Then today (16 May, as I write), it transpires that Trump met the Russian Foreign Minister, Lavrov, and the Russian Ambassador to the US in the Oval Office. Okay, so what? It’s what US Presidents do all the time. It’s an impressive place. But…Trump revealed intelligence gathered by an ally of the US as to a planned ISIS operation in a named city in (presumably) either Syria or Iraq with sufficient details to identify exactly who gained the intel. Given that the ally had specifically requested that this intelligence go no further and especially not to the Russians, what do you think the fall-out will be?
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) argues that the source is, in fact, Israel.
How did the Israelis get this info? I have no idea, being merely a retired academic, but I would bet that if a single hair of an Israeli source is harmed as a result of Trump’s crass leakage of such sensitive information, that’s the last such information the Trump Administration will get from them. Yes, the President is entitled to pass on such “intel” to whomsoever he sees fit. BUT, even George W. Bush (whom I rate as one of the weakest Presidents until Trump), when he wanted to involve the Russians in an intelligence briefing, made sure the Intelligence Agencies had fair warning and agreed as to what the Russians could and could not be told.
I would urge all readers of this website to link to MSNBC for their news reportage, and especially Rachel Maddow’s programme, 9.00-10.00 pm, Monday to Friday. You won’t get it until at least 18-24 hours later, but she’s a very sharp mind and a great interviewer. MSNBC is a liberal news channel, but a very good one. Try it, and let me know what you think of it.
Brian, as I said above, I’m glad to read differing opinions to mine – and I fear that my own opinions are moving towards your own as regards Trump. Much of my suspicion stems from Trump’s back-and-forth over relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem (the latest news is that he’s not moving it) as well as strange pronouncement by State Department officials that the “Kotel is not located in your country” (see beginning of this post).
I would just add that in today’s latest news, it appears (though who can believe anything any more?) that the intel that Trump leaked to the Russians did not originate in Israel, but rather in Jordan. That’s huge a sigh of relief for us at least, because if the intel had been Israeli sourced, Israel was planning a reconsideration of its intel-sharing with the US, with all the implications that this implies.
Not that this has stopped the American media for still speculating about the Israeli angle:
Meanwhile, US media continued to name Israel as the origin of the intelligence, with the Wall Street Journal reporting late Wednesday that multiple US officials had confirmed that the source of the information was Israeli and considered “the most valuable source of information on external plotting by Islamic State.”
Just these past couple of weeks demonstrate the volatility, if not unreliability, of the Trump administration. It’s not that he’s bad for America or for Israel. It’s just that we can’t get a handle on him, he’s unpredictable – and he seems not to realise how unnerving and how dangerous this situation is. And it is this that makes the world a more dangerous place.
He needs a few lessons on statecraft, not to mention public speaking, forthwith.