Those who follow “Game of Thrones”–the hit HBO TV series–will likely remember an old quote from season one delivered by Cersei Lannister. After being threatened by Littlefinger, a devious villain, she nearly has him killed, before ordering her royal guards to back off. Before ordering Littlefinger to carry out her orders, she declares that “power is power”–a rebuke to his own validation of the old trope that “knowledge is power” in the world of politics. Yet it is Cersei’s assertion that has proven to be true, in both the show as well as in world politics.
US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is an example of the truth to the words of the Mad Queen. Former diplomats, from Aaron David Miller to Martin Indyk, have joined multinational organizations in condemning the move. The Arab League, European Union, and United Nations have all denounced Trump’s move. There are numerous reasons that these opponents have for their condemnations, yet almost all of them can be disproven or ignored.
The Arab League views the Golan as territory that is “Arab Syrian” land and under a “vicious occupation.” Yet the Arab League also is divided on whether or not to readmit Syria to the organization. Many Arab countries loathe its dictator, Bashar al-Assad, due to his close ties with Iran and its proxies throughout the region. Some Arab governments have actively supplied rebel organizations with arms and cash to overthrow his dictatorship.
In any case, the Arab League has long been viewed as a hapless and unorganized entity, with friction among its many member-states leading to its lack of cohesion. Indeed, some members of the Arab League have warmed ties significantly with Israel and the Trump Administration as of late, and pay only meager lip service to the Golan Heights. The Arab World has been destroyed. Its pre-eminent powers–Iraq and Syria–have been crushed either by a US-led occupation or civil war. Libya and Yemen, too, collapsed under the pressures of the Arab Spring and the Iran-Saudi proxy war. Lebanon’s economy sank as it was subsumed by the Iran-backed terror group, Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia and its allies are under international scrutiny for human rights abuses in Yemen, their own countries, and the death of Jamal Khashoggi. Jordan and Egypt are mired in financial difficulties, and Egypt is dependent on Israeli and American assistance for its military campaign against jihadists in the Sinai Peninsula. In other words, their “rejection” of US-Israeli moves with the Golan and Jerusalem are meaningless, and the world knows this.
The European Union, similarly, has condemned the move. European diplomats worry that this opens a pretext for Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. But as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo points out, these two cases are very different. Russia destabilized Ukraine in a war of aggression, and seized the territory. Israel obtained the Golan (a historically-Jewish territory) in a defensive war for its existence in 1967, and fought off another Syrian war of aggression on the plateau in 1973. Furthermore, the Golan was originally part of the British-designated Jewish homeland until British & French colonial forces unilaterally decided otherwise in 1923. Not only has Pompeo rejected that US foreign policy will recognize other annexations through war–as the EU worries–but the EU position is hypocritical in light of its own imperialist history. In any case, the EU, too, is a largely ineffective organization. With declining economic clout, growing internal fissures, and a deep history of oppression and colonialism throughout the world, Europe’s influence on the international stage is eroding. The Brexit confusion has only hastened this, as have the Yellow Vest protests, Angela Merkel’s resignation, Germany’s slowing economy, and southeastern member-states’ flirtation with populism.
The United Nations’ position on the Golan Heights is predictable. A corrupt and bloated organization, the UN has stacked its Human Rights Council with some of the world’s worst violators of human rights, who all obsess over Israel. Moreover, the UN has failed to do almost anything of significance internationally. Their “condemnations” are toothless and have failed to save innocent Syrians, Uighurs, Rwandans, Darfurians, Bosniaks, Kurds, and others throughout the world suffering from injustice, genocide, oppression, and other chaos. The UN is also losing funding, perhaps due to its enormous failures throughout the years as well as its own human rights violations. In other words, like the EU, the UN has no moral high ground to act from, and lacks any power to enforce its rulings.
Martin Indyk and Aaron David Miller speak negatively of the Golan decision due to its consequences on the “rules-based liberal international order.” This order came into existence following the end of the Second World War, and was revamped with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet the existing “new world order” has long been irrelevant. The world has changed in numerous ways since 1945, and even since 1991. Russia has returned as an aggressive yet influential actor on the world stage. It has broken the rules set by this order with few consequences. Ditto for China, whose political and economic clout protects it from sanctions despite its aggression in southern Asia and numerous violations of human rights. The US often breaks the very rules it sets. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has no jurisdiction over the US, even though Americans helped create it. The US leaves the UN Human Rights Council and cuts funding to the UN whenever it wishes. The United States–the world’s hyperpower which set the international rules–is really the only one who can undo the rules. It doesn’t have to follow them since it is its creator. The US is a god–if you will–amongst nations. The rules simply don’t apply, because “power is power.” Of course, this only sets an example in that other countries follow America’s lead. Increasingly, other nations break some of these rules, too, and get away with it. Sometimes, even, they do so with US backing.
Miller and Indyk also claim that the US move draws attention to the Golan at a time when there was none. They claim it will only embolden Iran and its “Axis of Resistance” to take the territory back, with Russian backing a possibility. They say the Arab states will reject the US MidEast peace plan due to increasing humiliation. But this is all an oversimplification of the reality on the ground. As I pointed out earlier, the Arab States provided shallow lip service, but are not in a position to disobey the US on this issue. Many have tacitly accepted that the old peace parameters for Israel, Syria, and the Palestinians no longer apply, or aren’t in their national security interests.
Regarding Iran and its proxies–including the Syrian government–they have long vowed to “liberate the Golan” no matter what the US position on its annexation was. Like other terrorists, these armed groups would have tried to attack Israel regardless of the status of the Golan in Washington DC. Ditto for the UN position on the territory. The same can be said for Russia, which is a Syrian ally and rejects almost anything the US does. However, as other international observers point out, Moscow is undoubtedly happy about the move for its own policies with Crimea. Russia’s closer relations with Netanyahu’s government and competition with Iran over Syria cast doubt over how much support the Russians would really give for a “war of liberation” against the Golan. As for Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and various Shiite militias over the northern border, they are hardly in any position to attack the Jewish state. Syria’s army is very weak after many years of war, as is its economy. If not for the intervention of foreign actors, the regime would have collapsed. Moreover, Assad’s army is still fighting the last holdouts of rebels and jihadists while preparing for the possibility of Turkish intervention or Kurdish armed insurrection. Iran itself is under severe financial duress after the US reimposed sanctions on it. Those opposed to the sanctions are powerless to stop them, while Iran’s military assets in Syria have been bombarded by Israel. The Iranian military is archaic and ill-prepared for war, while its economy cannot sustain one.
Hezbollah and the Shiite mercenaries under its tutelage are also weaker than Israel and have no interest in conflict at this point. The slowing Lebanese economy, waste of money on war in Syria, and sanctions on Iran have financially weakened these actors and restricted their options for “resistance.” Furthermore, Israel’s bombing campaign in Syria and destruction of Hezbollah’s tunnel project in the north have humiliated and humbled the movement. Hezbollah can hardly afford to pay “martyr funds” to injured fighters or the families of the deceased, and it has lost thousands of its troops in the Syrian Civil War. Hezbollah’s own image has also declined in the Arab World, as it is viewed as little more than an Iranian tool. The goal of these militias for now is to keep Lebanon stable and occupy Syria until the war is truly over.
In the Middle East, Israel is the undisputed superpower. Not only is its military the most powerful, but its economy continues to grow. It remains stable despite the collapse of neighboring countries, including some of the most influential and hostile in the region. Israel’s diplomatic and economic clout worldwide is increasing, including among the stable Arab countries in the region. And most importantly, the Jewish state has the full backing of the US Administration. Meanwhile, the United States’ own power has increased in a few ways, despite Trump’s often ignorant and incoherent policies. It has severely destabilized the Turkish, Chinese, and Iranian economies at a moment when all three countries sought to challenge Washington in numerous ways. It has maintained sanctions on Russia over Crimea and other issues even as Russia seeks to extend its influence worldwide. It has also hampered the ability of the UN, EU, or Arab World to circumvent US national interests.
Many pundits have assumed that the era of Brexit, Trump, and populism are but a mere unfortunate blip in a new “rules-based international order.” However, in the grand scheme of things, the “new world order” is a small segment of time in a world where “might makes right.” For generations, European and other US allies encouraged America to take the lead in forming such an order. Now that is resulting in the US riding roughshod over it and returning the Earth to an age of the strongest powers doing whatever they want. In other words, “power is power.” Welcome to the era of The Cersei Doctrine.