President Trump's hundred-day mark has come and gone — we're four months into his term now, though it seems more like a year, perhaps because of the interminable campaign that preceded it. There are no real administration accomplishments to speak of, unless you count the president's debacles: firing FBI director James Comey and then virtually admitting straightaway on national television that his own act might be construed as an obstruction of justice. Never mind. We will soon know more about the conversations between Trump and Comey. As he rode home from the final meeting, Comey wrote a memorandum of the conversation, now presumably on file at FBI headquarters. Besides, the president has hinted that he taped the conversation himself, as a check on Comey. Perhaps prompted by the word "tape," Senator John McCain actually let slip the even more freighted term "Watergate." The former FBI director is scheduled to testify before a congressional committee next week, just after we go to press. The media will be all over it; you won't have to wait for my report next quarter. I will write one anyway, however, to record the high jinks in progress at the time our essays are being written.
The Trump faux pas over Comey sucked all the air out of official Washington for only a brief time — until former FBI director Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel to investigate the case. But there is still more. According to The Washington Post (May 23, 2017), the president in March had separately asked former Senator Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, and General Mike Rogers, head of The National Security Agency, to publicly deny that there was any evidence of collusion between his campaign and the Russian government. They apparently refused.
Then there is this. The president was filmed by a Tass TV crew yukking it up in the Oval Office with two honored guests from Russia: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and their media entourage. Trump apparently dropped a nugget of intel on the Russian guests that he had allegedly learned from Mossad: a laptop or other electronic device can be used to trigger a bomb on a plane. The president was quoted as having called Comey a "nut job," adding that firing him relieved the pressure of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia. One assumes the effect would have been similar even if Trump thought Comey were sane. Meanwhile, the main subject of the FBI investigation, General Mike Flynn — the president's first national security adviser, whom Trump still calls a good guy — has invoked his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to incriminate himself in sworn testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. It is assumed he is waiting for an immunity guarantee before rolling over on superiors.
In the absence of policy issues, the 24/7 media remain fixated on the quirks of the needy chief executive — his craving for approval, his obsession with self-dealing and revenge. He whined during his Coast Guard Academy graduation speech that he has been treated more unfairly than anyone in history. Fortunately, he was able to escape for a few days in late May to try to shore up his credibility in the capitals of the Abrahamic faiths: Saudi Arabia, Israel and Vatican City. No longer needing to throw red meat to bigots, he didn't blame all Muslims for terrorism and avoided the "radical Islamic terrorism" mantra. There were gaffes, of course, such as the press release calling for Middle East "peach," but typos are inevitable when one types. It's the "thinkos" that are more worrisome. His ignorance of the history of other countries — or even that of his own — has become a running joke. But what was the Civil War to him, after all?
President Trump said on his recent trip to Israel that the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians can be "solved" more easily than one might think. He is not burdened by the complex history of the last 120 years. In 1897, a pamphlet by Theodor Herzl, Der Judenstaat, made the argument for a political "solution" to discrimination against Europe's Jews: geographical separation, though he did not demand Palestine. It garnered little support among Jewish leaders, some of whom thought it might endanger Diaspora Jews. Then, in 1917, Chaim Weizmann promoted the idea to British politicians, and Lord Balfour's Declaration was born, advocating a "national home" for the Jewish people in Palestine. The idea appealed to the devout American president, Woodrow Wilson, who was interested in a governing role in the Near East, "in the name of peace, democracy and, especially, Christianity." Some have termed this "biblical romanticism." The U.S. State Department opposed endorsing the document, knowing there was an indigenous population already in place. Thirty years afterward, in 1947, following the decimation of European Jews in the Holocaust, the United Nations recommended partition into two states, and in 1948, the state of Israel was declared.
Approximately 20 years later, on June 5, 1967, Israel consolidated power over what it considered Greater Israel in a lightning war, defeating Egypt, Syria and Jordan in a mere six days and occupying swaths of others' land. It was a war of choice, according to the memoirs of Israel's leaders during this period. They have made their gains stick, giving back only some tranches of land they didn't care about, principally the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt negotiated the deal with the Likud government in 1977-79, following a bold move by Egypt's Anwar Sadat, who went to Jerusalem personally to make his case. After a brief respite came Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, to crush the PLO, which had taken refuge there after the loss of the West Bank and Gaza. That spawned the revolt of the Lebanese Shia, whose Hezbollah militia finally drove Israel out in 2000.
The rest of the Middle East's milestones are no more promising, particularly the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan, which brought to life al-Qaeda and its offspring, the so-called Islamic State. But Benjamin Netanyahu seems to feel secure with his new Sunni friends, all now focused on the threat from Iran, made more intimidating by the gift that keeps on giving — the U.S. destruction of Iraq in 2003. Donald Trump seems to think he can negotiate a huge deal and bring peace to Israel/Palestine, but few are convinced after 50 years of military occupation and the steady implanting of Israeli settlers on Palestinian land. See our symposium inside this journal for the new problems the parties are trading up for. If there is not going to be a fair division of territory, then a very complicated civil-rights struggle will have to take place. We have reprinted a UN document (later withdrawn under U.S. pressure) along with the discussion illuminating the core ethnic problems that will have to be overcome if there is to be only one state for two peoples.
May 26, 2017