Steven Horowitz

Trump, Putin and Iran

America’s forgotten people have spoken, and the elite establishments representing both major US political parties have been sent a powerful message: Global capitalism is not working for us, and we’re willing to make revolutionary change in order to secure our economic well-being.

How did Donald Trump win? He was able to capture an unprecedented hold on small-town rural and suburban working class whites, while maintaining the traditional Republican base of community-orientated small entrepreneurs. At the same time, he was able to suppress the vote of working-class urban blacks with a message that the welfare state is not an adequate replacement for the good-paying factory jobs that have gone overseas through a process of corporate globalization. As he portrayed himself as a champion of the working-class, Donald Trump also appealed to a portion of working-class Latinos and alienated anti-corporate Bernie Sanders voters. His message that Hilary Clinton was corrupt and in the pay of “international financial interests” struck a chord from a tune long played by right-wing populists.

Many right-wing Israel supporters blocked out Trump’s not-so-subtle white nationalist memes, hoping that his potentially strong pro-Zionist foreign policy will be in the Jewish interest. For the Jewish Left, it was Trump’s assumed anti-Semitism that made many individuals extremely uncomfortable. But it was a desire to retreat to Canada (not Israel) that appealed to the Left.

For Jews not born in the shadow of the Holocaust, the rise of white nationalism in conjunction with extreme populism has certainly been an eye opener. Even the most assimilated Jews seem to have caught on to the bigotry directed at them by many Trump supporters. But are these same Jews savvy enough to understand that in the post-Holocaust era, there is a vital importance for a secure and defensible Jewish state? Canada cannot be a panacea of protection from the oppression of millions of Jews. Furthermore, assimilation can never be a logical answer to the insanity of perpetual anti-Semitism.

Israel is located in the treacherous neighborhood of the Middle East. And for better or worse (hopefully better) Donald Trump is now the President-elect of the United States. The US has been the hegemonic power within the region for close to seven decades. Trump has surrounded himself with pro-Israel counselors and staff. But the new president’s foreign policy still remains somewhat of a mystery. His base and constituency appear divided by those evangelical religious elements who are strongly pro-Israel, yet there is also a distinct minority (perhaps even the majority) who simply don’t want Trump to get bogged down in the Middle East.

If slogans describe foreign policy preferences, the Trump slogan of “America First” (taken from the anti-Semitic movement of the 1930s) would appear to represent a variant of realism synthesized into a neo-isolationist package when referenced against the current global liberal order. Mercantilism, more than free trade, is probably the economic foundation of Trump’s geopolitical direction. If it’s in America’s economic interest, it’s good; if not, perhaps it’s better to just stay home. For the future of both Europe and the Middle East, such a policy can lead to dangerous vacuums in leadership.

But a policy dichotomy defined as either vacuums or all-out hegemony, as well as a foreign posture of strict economic interest within a context of neo-isolationism, is neither logical nor rational. The new Trump administration must find a third way. They can neither leave the Middle East nor contest it as a zero sum game. That is, contesting it with either outside powers or with countries from within the region. Trump’s populism must seek powerful partners for the purpose of international cooperation directed toward anti-hegemonic outcomes. Russia is an example of one such power. The same agenda of cooperation and anti-hegemony is true for countries within the region of the Middle East.

The Middle East is currently dissected by the crosscurrents of zero-sum proxy wars on both global and international levels. The great hope of the new Trump administration will be its reset with the Russian Federation. If Russian involvement in the Middle East is an attempt to break out of NATO’s hegemonic domination of the European continent, then with a US president in command who appears friendly toward the Kremlin, a deal could be struck over Syria and Iraq. But if Russian intentions in Syria are less tactical and instead geo-strategic, then America’s interest is certainly not in creating a dangerous vacuum that the Russians could easily fill.

The Assad-Hezbollah-Iran-Russia axis in the Middle East is either a temporary phenomenon being used by Moscow against NATO enlargement, or it is something far more sinister directed at Israel and the Sunni Arab world. Iran cannot be allowed to break out of a US unipolar grip by creating, with Russia, its own regional sphere of domination. The destruction of Sunni cities and the ethnic cleansing of Sunni populations in Iraq and Syria are direct threats to the future of Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Gulf states and Jordan. The advancement of Iran within the region has been Obama’s negligent policy, and his legacy will suffer dearly for it. Certainly, President Putin must understand that such a policy cannot be allowed to continue. President Trump must position his foreign policy (in opposition to Obama) to achieve an alternative reality for all the nations of the Middle East.

The future of Europe and the Middle East are now directly meshed. The new Trump administration is supremely positioned to make foreign policy history through coordination with the Kremlin on a mutual policy of peace through cooperation. America needs a new foreign policy structure of peace in order to reconfigure its economy at home. This structure will neither be isolationist nor solely in the defense of a unipolar global order. It will need many poles, but unlike traditional multi-polarity, it won’t be fluid and fragile. Instead, it must be a structure built for long-term permanence, like a great work of architecture or a fine building.

President Trump must not make the colossal mistake of the last administration, by sidling up to Iran and leaving America’s allies in the lurch. And in Europe the anachronism of NATO expansion must not be replaced by hegemonic spheres of interest. The division of regional security breeds a fragmentation which in turn causes chaos and war. The post-Cold War European security regime can only be replaced by a structure of unity, inclusive of Russia but not at the expense of any other nation.

The issue of nuclear weapons in the Middle East must be addressed in conjunction with the region’s myriad proxy wars, militias and non-state actors. Sunni extremists are just as dangerous as Shiite extremists. Syria, Lebanon and Iraq must become a world project to build a region of moderation without nuclear weapons. The current Iran nuclear deal must be seen as a mere interim agreement leading to either nuclear proliferation or a more permanent and balanced agreement. If nothing is done, the region will become an insane nuclear competition within a decade or so. With the support of Russia and the United States, and in conjunction with all the other powers of the world, a new and stable sustainable order in the Middle East can certainly be built.

Here is an example of such an order: 1). A Zone of Peace shall be established among the states of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, so that trade and navigation shall move uninterrupted. 2). All foreign navies shall be denied basing rights within the Zone of Peace. 3). All foreign air forces shall equally be denied basing rights within the Zone of Peace. 4). No state within the Zone of Peace may attack another state. 5). If such an attack should occur, the permanent members of the UN Security Council would come to the aid of the aggrieved state, and points 2 and 3 would become temporarily suspended. 6). If such an attack should occur, the states within the Zone of Peace would come to the aid of the aggrieved state. 7). Only sovereign states would be allowed to possess military equipment. Extra-territorial militias would be outlawed. 8). Nuclear enrichment would not be allowed, and its enforcement by the strictest verification regime of the IAEA would become the norm. The reprocessing of plutonium would be prohibited. 9). All states within the Zone of Peace must recognize and have diplomatic relations with all other states. 10). All states within the Zone of Peace must sign the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), and negotiations for a Middle East nuclear-weapons-free zone must begin no later than 24 months after all states have finalized mutual recognition. 11). All states within the Zone of Peace must respect the human rights of their citizens, and states whose use of force against their own people which violates international standards shall be suspended from the Zone of Peace. 12). All states within the Zone of Peace shall pledge their allegiance to a non-hegemonic regional structure, and states within the Zone of Peace will also pledge not to conspire with other states for the purpose of such hegemony. 13). All states within the Zone of Peace must abide by the rules (to be established) for the equitable dispensation of all regional hydraulic resources. 14). The Zone of Peace is NOT dependent on the conclusion to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Furthermore, this conflict shall be decided through negotiations among the parties themselves without coercion or outside interference. Genuine compromise and goodwill must become the principles upon which these negotiations rest.

In conclusion, the American election of 2016 and the new administration of Donald J. Trump offers great hope for better relations between the US and Russia. We all pray that these two nations can come to terms with UN Security Council Resolution 2254. If they can, then better relations across the board will be secured. However, if they can’t, all Israelis expect the new US administration to aid in the process of diminishing the Assad-Hezbollah-Iran-Russian axis.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).