In the same way that candidate Donald Trump disrupted establishment politics in 2016 when he ran for president and defeated establishment politicians on both sides of the aisle, he has completely upended traditional foreign policy in the United States. Pinstriped Foggy Bottom bureaucrats are still in shock with President Trump’s aggressive and — apparently — effective approach to North Korea’s recalcitrant Kim Jong-un.
Moreover, at one fell swoop, he completely replaced his foreign policy team installing the straight-talking John Bolton as his national security adviser and former CIA Director Mike Pompeo as secretary of State. They are clear-eyed realists who reflect the president’s approach to foreign policy: Stop fumbling around and get work done.
The evidence is clear. Mr. Trump is not satisfied with the meandering and tepid efforts that have typified years of failed American diplomacy. He has been tough on trade, particularly with China. He has chastised European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for reneging on monetary support for the alliance, while rebuking them publicly on their own immigration policies. He has moved indefatigably to crush ISIS, and he has punished Syria for its use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians. The man has a bias for action and more lies ahead for the U.S., particularly in the Middle East.
Witness a year ago when Mr. Trump stunned many foreign policy observers by deciding not to visit Israel first but rather Saudi Arabia, where he received a royal welcome from Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Niceties aside, the president wasted no time telling the Saudis and other assembled Gulf State potentates that they had to deal forcibly with terror and confront the pre-eminent evil in the region, Iran.
The message and the messenger were clear. Indeed, it seems youthful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has taken a cue from Mr. Trump’s blunt style. He recently declared that Israel has “the right to have their own land” and that formal relations between Israel and the kingdom could be mutually beneficial, a remarkable admission from a major Arab player.
Moreover, the crown prince stunned a Jewish organization in New York last month by asserting “In the last several decades the Palestinian leadership has missed one opportunity after another and rejected all the peace proposals it was given. It is about time the Palestinians take the proposals and agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining.” Sound like someone you know?
Saudi Arabia’s immediate concern is Iran, who they do not trust. That was true even when the U.S. adopted its “Twin Pillars Policy” during the 1960s to deal with the power vacuum created by Great Britain’s departure from the Gulf region. Preoccupied with the Vietnam War and concerned about NATO’s access to oil, that U.S. security arrangement involved the shah of Iran and Saudi Arabia to mutually secure the Gulf from Soviet aggression.
The U.S. lavished both countries with military hardware and the shaky arrangement worked until the shah was overthrown in 1979 by mullahs like those of today. Saudi Arabia understands Iran’s pestilential threat to the world. And so does Israel.
Could a new Twin Pillars Policy emerge from a convergence of this thinking? Both Saudi Arabia and Israel are delighted that Mr. Trump has withdrawn from the Iranian nuclear deal that President Obama foolishly embraced. Iranian adventurism in Syria and Lebanon has long threatened Israel. Meanwhile, Iranian support for fellow Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen poses a direct threat to Sunni Saudi Arabia.
Sun Tzu said it best in the “Art of War.” “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.” Iran satisfies this aphorism precisely for both Israel and Saudi Arabia. Could that lead to a cooperative strategy involving the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia, the guardian of two of Islam’s three high holy sites, Mecca and Medina? An impossibility? Not for a president who has tossed out the book when it comes to hackneyed diplomacy.
Saudi Arabia has given every indication that it’s willing to engage in reshaping conditions in the Middle East. That includes its posture with Israel, which controls that third high-holy site, the Al Aqsa Mosque and Qubbat al-Sakhra (Temple Mount) complex in Jerusalem.
Moreover, the young crown prince is forward-looking and understands that close relations with the U.S. — particularly the Trump administration — is now desirable. The conditions are ripe for a new U.S. Twin Pillars Policy involving Israel and Saudi Arabia, not only to confront the Iranian menace to the region, but possibly create a new and productive path toward peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Stay tuned for that Saudi embassy in Jerusalem and a possible partnership in overseeing a holy site there. That would be Trump-like boldness and possibly a productive “disruption” like others we’ve seen.
• L. Scott Lingamfelter, a retired U.S. Army colonel, combat veteran and Middle East foreign area officer, served in the Virginia General Assembly for 16 years.
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