A Palestinian boy and Israeli soldier in front of the Israeli West Bank Barrier. Many voters were alienated from Hillary Clinton because of her hawkish record on the Middle East—we're headed for an administration even more reckless and dangerous. Image by Justin McIntosh

Among the many disturbing appointments by President-elect Donald Trump are the people charged with conducting U.S. policy in the Middle East. Trump’s ignorance of the region will make him even more dependent on his advisers than most Presidents. And that’s not good news.

Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, as with other oil men who have taken leading positions dealing with U.S. Mideast policy, will presumably favor close relations with Arab despots, even if they are terrible on human rights. However, as CEO of ExxonMobil, he would likely oppose actions that could destabilize the region, and respect the views of State Department professionals who provide analysis and advice. Unfortunately, Tillerson may suffer the fate of William Rogers, Nixon’s first Secretary of State, a moderate on Middle Eastern affairs who was routinely bypassed and ignored by President Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger.  His businessman’s pragmatism may not carry much weight in the incoming administration, where  foreign policy discussion will likely be dominated by ideologues.

Trump has promised that his Vice President, former Congressman and Indiana Governor Mike Pence, will play a leading role in shaping administration foreign policy. Pence, a member of the Subcommittee on Middle East and Central Asia of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was a strong supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and an opponent of calls for a withdrawal of U.S. forces. He has supported the ongoing war in Afghanistan and was an outspoken opponent of the nuclear deal with Iran. And Pence has been an outspoken proponent of the Israeli right, blasting international organizations for recognizing Israel as an occupying power and denying or defending Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere.

Trump’s pick for Secretary of Defense, Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, may have been responsible for war crimes himself. As head of the First Marine Division in Iraq, Mattis played a leading role during U.S. sieges of the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004, in which apartment blocks, hospitals, and mosques were targeted and more than 5,000 civilians killed. “I personally witnessed women, children, elderly people and ambulances being targeted by U.S. snipers under Mattis's command,” said journalist Dahr Jamal, who was inside Fallujah during the siege. He added that Mattis played a key role in allowing eight Marines implicated in the massacre of two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians to escape prosecution.

While Mattis differs from Pence and Trump in that he opposes Israel’s ongoing colonization of the occupied West Bank, he has been endorsed by a number of rightwing Zionist groups due to his strong hostility towards Iran. Indeed, Mattis has proclaimed that the three greatest threats to U.S. national security are “Iran, Iran, Iran,” insisting that the Islamic Republic—whose military budget ranks behind such regional allies as Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, Iraq, UAE, Oman, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—is “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.”

Mattis’s obsession with Iran led President Obama to replace him as head of the U.S. Central Command. He was an outspoken opponent of the seven-nation agreement curtailing Iran’s nuclear program, though he recognizes that it would make little sense for the United States to unilaterally abandon it now.

And then there’s Trump’s choice of Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as his National Security Advisor. On one hand, Flynn has expressed skepticism regarding the efficacy of drone warfare, strongly criticized the decision to invade Iraq, and has challenged calls for arming anti-Assad Salafist groups in Syria. But he is also  a notorious Islamophobe who insists that “Islam is a political ideology” and a “malignant cancer” bent on destroying Judeo-Christian civilization. He claims that Sharia Law is spreading into parts of the United States, and that President Obama is a “jihadi” who “laundered” money for Muslim terrorists.  

Flynn has been particularly paranoid about Iran, grossly exaggerating its support for radical groups in the greater Middle East and promoting the bizarre notion that Iran has killed more Americans than Al Qaeda. He has repeatedly condemned and misrepresented the Iran nuclear agreement, insisting that “regime change in Tehran is the best way to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program.”  

Flynn has advocated pulling out of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, insisting that peace is impossible—not because of continued Israeli occupation and colonization of the West Bank, but because “people that are coming from one side of that line with daggers are putting knives into women and children in Israel.” He calls for even closer relations with Israel’s rightwing government.

Perhaps the most disturbing nomination is that of David Friedman to serve as U.S. ambassador to Israel.

Friedman, a personal friend of the billionaire President-elect who has also served as his bankruptcy lawyer, is further right than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. An outspoken supporter of the Israeli occupation and colonization of territories seized by Israel in its 1967 military conquests, he is head of American Friends of Bet El, which supports a cluster of rightwing Orthodox settlements illegally constructed on confiscated Palestinian land in the West Bank just east of Ramallah. He supports Israeli annexation of the occupied territories, a direct violation of the United Nations Charter and a series of U.S.-backed U.N. Security Council resolutions, and insists the United States should end the “two-state narrative.”

Friedman has echoed Trump’s view that Israeli settlements are not an obstacle to peace, reversing the positions of no less than nine previous administrations of both parties. The settlements’ continued growth diminish the possibility of any viable contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank. Support for Israeli colonization challenges findings by the United Nations Security Council, the World Court, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the U.S. State Department that they are illegal under international law.

Regarding Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up more than 20 percent of the population, Friedman has insisted that unless they decide “to support the state,” he does not believe in “bestowing upon them the benefits of citizenship.” He has also accused President Obama of "blatant anti-Semitism" for supposedly not condemning Palestinian terrorism sufficiently and has falsely accused a top Egyptian-American aide of Hillary Clinton of being a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Friedman has shown little tolerance for those who disagree with his far-right views, even among fellow Zionists. He has referred to J Street, the moderate pro-Israel lobbying group which advocates strong U.S. support for Israel but opposes the occupation and settlements, as “far worse than kapos—Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps.” He has accused the Zionist group of being “smug advocates of Israel’s destruction,” asserting “They’re not Jewish, and they’re not pro-Israel.” 

Ironically, many voters were alienated from Hillary Clinton because of her hawkish record on the Middle East, including her support for the Iraq war. It now appears that we will end up with an administration even more reckless and dangerous.

Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco.

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Comments

I like that last dig about voters alienated from Hillary Clinton for her hawkish record in the Middle East (who consequently voted for Trump or a third party) being somehow responsible for what we have now. Better relations with Russia (Flynn and Tillerson) and actually fighting against ISIS (instead of nurturing them through weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and using them as a proxy force) seems a better option than Hillary/Obama/McCain rabid anti-Russian no-fly zone, risk WWIII solution. With Trump there's going to be worse, the much worse, and then the "well, we avoided WWIII for now." It's a messy deal, too bad Americans were refused any coverage whatsoever to more sane options in the election. What is ironic is that if Democrats are so concerned about having an unstable person in office wouldn't it make sense to try to leave on better terms with Russia? Why absolutely insist Russia be considered an expansionist evil aggressor (the reverse is true actually - considering it's America that is surrounding and expanding Russia with alliances, ABM sites, and weapons) if the next prez is a nut job with his fingers on the nuclear arsenal? That seems insane itself, but America, to support it's addiction to a war/banking economy will take high risk. That's how our elites roll. As far as Iran, America will never let up on that country unfortunately. Truly sad. After overthrowing their Democracy in 54 and installing and supporting a dictator for 25 years we still lack any understanding whatsoever. This is common for addicts, we are out of touch with basic feelings, remorse, are never wrong and blame others for our mistakes continually. Unless we change ourselves and how we operate we will go after Iran, that's just how it is because Iran has what the biggest addict wants - oil. So really, the way I see it, Trump and Hillary and Obama and McCain are all symptoms of a disease of which America is largely the source of. If we don't address the disease (a system that uses people, places and things as a means to end not ends in themselves) the symptoms get worse. Let's pray that we recognize we are out of control and are willing to change and make amends before we take the world down with us. And if this isn't possible, may we go down by ourselves so the rest of humanity can at least go on living.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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