Talking U.S. Foreign Policy with Obama’s Former Ambassador to Israel (AUDIO INTERVIEW)
U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East policies have diverged significantly from those of his predecessor, Barack Obama. With respect to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the current American leader has assumed what many consider a hardline stance against the Palestinian Authority, cutting off hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and indirect aid previously earmarked for projects in the West Bank. This, while simultaneously gifting Israel with U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as its capital and parts of the Golan Heights as being under its sovereignty.
In response, the Palestinian leadership has vowed to torpedo President Trump’s “deal of the century” to solve the conflict, the economic components of which are expected to be unveiled at a workshop later this month in Bahrain.
For his part, Obama took a more even-handed approach, even coercing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu into declaring an unprecedented 10-month moratorium on construction in Israeli communities located across the 1967 lines outside Jerusalem. Obama was nevertheless unable to break the longstanding impasse despite two concerted diplomatic efforts, one in his first term and the other during his second stint in office.
Regarding Iran, in particular, the differences in approach between the two U.S. presidents are even starker. As president, Obama invested huge amounts of political capital into courting the mullahs, a process that culminated with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal. Along came President Trump, who upended the policy by pulling out of the pact and reimposing crippling sanctions on the Islamic Republic. This “maximum pressure” campaign is geared toward getting the Iranians back to the negotiating table.
With respect to Syria, President Obama was reluctant to launch another military campaign in the Middle East and walked back his declared “redline” for intervention after the Assad regime began using chemical weapons. Similarly, President Trump, who campaigned on an “America First” platform, has repeatedly expressed a desire to bring home some 2,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in Syria. While he on two occasions has green-lighted strikes on Syrian assets following Damascus’s use of non-conventional weapons, his aversion to getting bogged down in what is seemingly an endless war parallels that of Obama’s thinking.
The Media Line tried to break down each complex issue with Daniel Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Obama administration and currently a visiting fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies.