Since President Trump announced in December that the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the following has happened:
1. Guatemala joined the US in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital;
2. The Czech Republic announced it also is considering recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital;
3. Norway stated that it will cut funding to Palestinian NGO’s that support boycotts of Israel; and
4. Large anti-government demonstrations erupted throughout Iran.
Only the first two relate to President Trump’s move on Jerusalem, but all show that the sky has not fallen in on American Middle East interests. The Palestinian Authority stated that it no longer accepts the United States as a mediator and will no longer engage in American-sponsored peace talks, but they weren’t serious before the announcement so what exactly has been lost? In the end, the Palestinians need the US much more than the US needs the Palestinians.
What the president has done is align American policy with American ideals and interests. Regardless of whether this was by impulse or strategy, Trump showed the world that he will act regardless of what the UN and the Islamic rejectionists think. In doing so, he positioned America to take advantage of the developing Iranian situation.
The most important thing the president and other Western leaders can do now to help the Iranian people is to show support. Trump’s tweets often are a national embarrassment, but sometimes they reflect a national consensus. In his own crude way, the president’s tweets in favor of the Iranian demonstrators and telling the Mullahs that “the whole world is watching” sent exactly the right message.
The Iranian people need to hear that the world supports them. They surely know there is little outsiders can do to help at this time, but being silent would be tantamount to sending a signal of abandonment. It will show the Mullahs that we will acquiesce in their crushing of the Iranian popular rebellion.
Speaking out forcefully during the protests is exactly what President Barrack Obama did not do during the Iranian “Green Revolution “ in 2009. Curiously, despite many positive aspects of the man, in the foreign policy realm I find that taking the opposite approach of President Obama usually yields better results.
Obama’s silence in 2009 is similar to the silence today of our feminist leaders (Linda Sarsour?) and leaders of other Western nations (Emmanuel Macron?). Iranian women are leading the way in challenging the repressive theocratic regime. It’s time our feminists and Western Heads of State acknowledged them.
Don’t be confused by those who say that we should remain silent lest we give the Mullahs an excuse to violently suppress the rebellion as being part of an American plot. The Iranians know the score. They live it every day. The fact that this rebellion is entirely bottom up, that it started in the villages and that it is leaderless means that across Iran there is widespread disaffection with the regime. Iranians won’t be confused by tweets from the American President. It’s practically insulting to hear commentators say that Trump’s words will cause the Iranian people to rally to the side of the clerics. Do they think the Iranians are so shallow?
Unfortunately, most likely this rebellion will end being repressed brutally by the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). We can do little to prevent that, and we shouldn’t claim otherwise. The rebellion’s impact, however, will be far reaching and long lasting. By shouting anti-regime slogans and making clear that they do not want their wealth spent in Gaza and Syria, the Iranian people have laid down a marker. The Mullahs understand. They ignore it at their own peril. Houti Rebels, the Assad Regime, Hamas and Hezbollah either know or soon will find out that unquestioned Iranian support likely is over. Iran is stretched way too thin.
Seeing this, President Trump should follow Ronald Reagan’s lead when Reagan faced the Soviet Union. Trump should press Iran everywhere. So long as the demonstrations continue Trump can content himself with tweets. Should they be crushed, however, he must expand sanctions on all areas where the IRGC profits (which is most sectors of the Iranian economy as they act as a quasi state-within-a-state). If this hurts Western companies doing business with Iran, so much the better. In addition, Trump should assist those who fight Iranian proxies. We don’t have to support unquestioningly the policies of all who fight the Iranians (such as Saudi actions in Yemen), but we needn’t sit back in the face of Iranian-backed expansionism either.
Through diplomatic and other channels (including tweets), the president should let Assad, Hezbollah and the others know that if they continue to oppose our allies we will support our people fully. While our friends can count on us, where exactly will Hezbollah turn? To that end, we should start pressing publicly for the full disarmament of Hezbollah and its complete integration into the Lebanese sovereign army. That certainly won’t happen any time soon, but it will further pressure Hezbollah to explain its existence. That Hezbollah’s radicalism isn’t shared by all Lebanese was made clear by Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil’s statement last week that he does not have any ideological problem with Israel and was not against it having security. Let Hezbollah publicly explain to the rest of Lebanon why Lebanese children should suffer for Hezbollah’s hatred. Let the Iranian Mullahs explain to their citizens why Iranian treasure should be squandered on Hezbollah.
In short, we must give the Iranian Mullahs a choice. They can fight our allies or they can help their own people. Only one way gives them hope for longevity.
Unlike President Obama, assertive statements from President Trump mean something. He may not act like a President, but he will act decisively. The foreign policy establishment is aghast. Much of the media is appalled. That means Trump’s gambit actually has a chance to work.