As we are writing this column, President Trump just left Rome, after what can be considered a highly successful visit to Saudi Arabia and the Holy Land, as even The New York Times had to acknowledge. The purposeful contrast in his remarkable speech to over 50 heads of states from Muslim majority nations in the Saudi capital of Riyadh from President Obama’s June 4, 2009 Cairo speech, was evident, and confirmed the historical importance of Trump’s election for U.S. foreign policy and America’s standing in the world. Hilary Clinton, most definitely, would not have given this speech!
Rereading Obama’s 2009 presentation immediately after listening to Trump’s talk, we were struck by how differently Trump addressed the basically identical individual building blocks of both speeches: While Obama’s presentation was a series of apologies for alleged past U.S. misdeeds and transgressions, followed by promises of reconsideration and restitution under a new Obama administration, Trump’s presentation in typical fashion was a deal-offer to the Arab-Muslim world, refreshingly and uncompromisingly formulated as “do good for us, and we will do good for you.” He also left no doubt in his speech about his administration’s position on Iran, when defining the country as the principal cause of instability in the Middle East and the primary state-sponsor of terrorism through militias in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon (Hezbollah), in Yemen (Houthis), and in Gaza (Hamas). He only further reemphasized this message in Israel.
Most of the Sunni Arab world and Israel never were happy with Obama’s Cairo speech. Subsequent foreign policy decisions by the Obama administration, peaking with the Iran nuclear agreement, however, produced outright ire. Trump’s success in Saudi Arabia and Israel, therefore, did not come as a surprise. Historians will, likely conclude that Obama’s Cairo speech laid the groundwork for eight years of U.S. foreign policy that led to the destruction of Syria and Libya, the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilian lives and the largest refugee migration from the Middle East and North Africa since WWII. In reaching these conclusions, they will point to pronouncements in Obama’s Cairo speech, like: “… that is why I ordered the removal of combat brigades by next August. That is why we will …. remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July and…. all of our troops from Iraq by 2012.”
Historians will also conclude that Obama’s foreign policy, at minimum, represented a realignment of the U.S. interests toward the Shiite government in Teheran, and away from Sunny Saudi Arabia, Golf States and Israel, reaching a climax with Obama’s signing of the so-called “Nuclear Deal” with Iran. Many Middle Eastern political leaders saw it, however, more as a “sell out” of longstanding friends and appeasement of a radical and expansive Shiite Iran.
Judging by the reception President Trump and his delegation received from Saudi royals, over 50 Muslim government leaders and the Israeli government, sentiments toward the Trump administration are clearly more favorable. The radical pivot in U.S. Middle East foreign policy under Trump is not only remarkable because of its speed but also unprecedented by how quickly it elicited a remarkably positive response from most of the Muslim world and Israel. The last presidential election in the U.S., therefore, very obviously did matter not only for the U.S. but the whole world.
Trump, among the splendor of the royal palace in Riyadh, considering all the heavy gold and marble that also characterizes his buildings, must have felt quite “at home.” He also, likely, was relieved for, at least temporarily, being able to escape the toxic political atmosphere of Washington, D.C., where the “cold war,” the city’s political establishment and media have imposed upon the Trump administration immediately following the election, had, suddenly, significantly gained in temperature with the appointment of a Special Counsel by the Justice Department.
Trump, indeed, left town, leaving important unfinished business behind: One, we consider of utmost importance, was the promised appointment of a new F.B.I. Director before his departure. As sources are telling us, he seemed well on his way in keeping his promise, when letting it be known that former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman was his preferred pick. Our sources, indeed, also told us that the President had formally extended the offer and Lieberman had formally accepted the position.
Why the appointment went unannounced, is as of this moment unclear because nobody in the White House really appears to know. The most likely explanations we heard is the engagement by Trump of Marc Kasowitz as outside lawyer vis-à-vis the newly appointed Special Counsel. Kasowitz is the senior partner in the law firm that currently employs Senator Lieberman. Strong opposition from some leading Democrats may also have swayed the President in holding off on the appointment.
The appointment of Robert S. Mueller, the former F.B.I. Director, as Special Counsel for the investigation of Russian interference in the last presidential election and “related subjects,” was clearly a new low for the Trump administration. A not unexpected consequence of an undisciplined president and, so far, poorly managed White House, this appointment makes an already difficult situation even more challenging. Even a successful administration after a landslide election victory, like in Ronald Reagan’s second term, was almost derailed by an “independent prosecutor” when the Contra Affair broke.
President Trump would be well advised to recognize how few real political friends he has in Washington, D.C., including in his own Republican Party. It’s time to stop acting like a spoiled brat, responding to every perceived insult with Twitter blasts and personal indignation, and accept the fact that, more than ever before, politics in Washington has become a blood sport with clear intent to kill. The president also must understand that the initial “cold war” is over and a really “hot war” has started.
For President Trump this means that he must fight back, making use of his position, and start hurting his enemies. Like in real war, there is no alternative to winning or, at least reaching honorable peace. The position of F.B.I. Director is crucial for fighting back, especially with a politically weakened Attorney General and an apparently strongly independent Assistant Attorney General.
The only way Trump can fight back against leaks, innuendo and unsupported rumors, mostly the product of Obama administration remnants in the administration, and willfully distributed by hostile media, is by making sure that serious F.B.I. investigations into Obama administration conduct, that really matters to the public, are initiated. None of the not-for-profit organizations discriminated against in the IRS scandal were ever even interviewed by the F.B.I. In contrast to the Trump administration, the Obama administration had no problem in suppressing unfriendly investigations, even if guilt, as in this scandal, was freely admitted by the IRS. There, of course, also was no investigation of the Benghazi scandal, the sale of significant amounts of U.S. plutonium to Russia with help of the Clinton Foundation, the unmasking of Republican presidential candidates, including members of the Trump campaign, for political purposes. We, indeed, could go on and on.
And the F.B.I. Director, who did not pursue any of these potentially damaging scandals for the Obama administration, later also absolved Hillary Clinton from indictment over her private server. But, as we now know, he did initiate an investigation of Trump and his campaign regarding potential collusion of the Trump campaign with Russian government agents; yet also, apparently, never initiated an investigation into the flood of leaks, directed against President Trump and his administrations and over the unwarranted unmasking of political opponents by the Obama administration. Rumors have it that former F.B.I. Director James Comey that an investigation was never started because the F.B.I. was, itself, leaking like a thieve. No wonder, Trump fired him!
To facilitate the serious investigations of the Obama administration, Obama needs the right F.B.I. Director. Only once Democrats and the Trump-hating media will no longer be able to deny the corruption and illegal conspiracies during both Obama administrations, and the world recognizes the depth of constitutional maleficence during the Obama years, will Trump be given a chance to recover.
With currently only few friends in Washington’s political establishment, press and other media, likely even a majority in his own party would prefer a President Mike Pence. Though impeachment as of this point appears unrealistic, if Trump continues to twitter maniacally, and remains undisciplined in recorded talks with foreign dignitaries and network television interviewers, he may very well create majorities in House and Senate for his impeachment.
The accomplishments on his first overseas trip as president well demonstrate how to manage the presidency, – even when at home. Trump cannot allow the appointment of a Special Counsel to detract from his commitments to health care and tax reform legislation. Defaulting on these two promises (both much more important than “the wall” or moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem), would, likely terminally wound his presidency.
Like other presidents before him, Trump to a degree must learn to be feared. Friends and foes alike, whether in the House of the Senate, must know that they can rely on help from the President when needed but will be punished if they oppose his initiatives. Therefore, a president’s approval ratings and general popularity with voters are of considerable importance, – even in off years for elections, as this year. In the end, only popularity with the public gives presidents an electoral coattail, translatable into political power.