May 26, 2019

Sunday Reads: Trump’s self-preservation battle, Putin’s leverage in the Middle East, The Romanian king who saved Jews


Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush and Peter Baker offer a very curious look into President Trump’s self-preservation battle:

Mr. Trump’s difficult adjustment to the presidency, people close to him say, is rooted in an unrealistic expectation of its powers, which he had assumed to be more akin to the popular image of imperial command than the sloppy reality of having to coexist with two other branches of government.

Noah Feldman believes that Israel should remain cautious about Trump’s Jerusalem move:

Remember: America first, which means Trump first, is perhaps the only principle that can trump Trump’s pro-Israel approach. Israel will need to remember it, too. The Israelis have gotten the recognition they wanted. Now they will have to pay for it, one way or another.


Nahum Barnea thinks Trump was right about Jerusalem, but he stresses that things should be put into proportions:

What needs to be done now is to put the speech into perspective and into proportion. It’s neither a third Palestinian Nakba nor a second UN Partition Plan for Israel. Like Trump said in his speech, it’s a recognition of reality. What was a de facto recognition is being turned into a de jure recognition…

There is one more point which should be mentioned in a bid to put the speech into proportion. The person who turned Jerusalem into Israel’s capital wasn’t Donald Trump. It was Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. And he did it despite the world’s criticism and against the advice of many of his colleagues.

Liel Leibovitz argues that despite the Jerusalem decision, Trump’s actions in the region have not been good for Israel:

Instead, he leaves untouched a Middle East in which Teheran continues its march towards regional hegemony, gleefully threatening to wipe Israel off the map, failing to prevent Iran from establishing bases inside Syria and completing its takeover of Lebanon while shamefully continuing to fund the Lebanese army, which Iran and its proxies now control. He has also failed to take any significant action to protect the Kurds or to provide Israel with anything more substantial than loud proclamations.

Middle East

According to Andrew Bernard, everything has been going wrong for Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy:

The developments in Saudi Arabia under the leadership of Mohammed bin Salman are undeniably momentous. Despite limited results so far, the promised scope of his economic, cultural, political, and religious reforms has electrified the country. What’s more, both the Saudis and the Israelis are on the same page as the Trump Administration about the need to counter Iranian influence. With so many opportunities to shape the future of the region for the better, it’s unfortunate that both Saudi Arabia and the United States are squandering the opportunity.

Maxim Suchov argues that western players have been getting Russia’s role in Iran and Syria all wrong:

When the United States or Israel has a beef with Tehran, they assume Russian will jump to Iran’s side. Yet Russia wants to avoid complicating its relations with the United States and Israel over Iran.

This highlights what is possibly the biggest problem of the Russian-Iranian partnership: lack of trust. There’s barely any trust between any set of players in the Middle East to begin with, and often even less with outsiders. Russia and Iran have a bad history with each other that shapes their perceptions and defines their political discourse. A retired Russian diplomat once remarked to Al-Monitor, “Putin enjoys good personal chemistry with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and seems to trust him more than he does the Iranians.” 

Jewish World

Walter Laqueur discusses the unfortunately timeless relevance of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion:

And now here we are again, in a mini-revival of our own, with a small but influential number of sophisticated-seeming Western politicians and intellectuals eager to explain to us how, in the otherwise head-turning welter of recent events and defeats—from abrupt crises in our economic systems, to reversals of Western and especially American power abroad, to terrorism reaching our own shores—a single, all-seeing cabal can be identified manipulating our politics, our society, even our brains.

Benjamin Ivry tells the story of the Romanian king who saved Jews, Michael the first:

Over a half century later, in an interview with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), King Michael showed that this maternal warning was indelibly etched in his memory: He recalled her ultimatum that if he did not “say something and try and alter this, I’ll be known as ‘Michael the Bad.’” The combined pressure from mother and son on Antonescu had some positive results; by 1943 and early 1944, thousands of deported Romanian Jews, including many orphans, were permitted to return to their homes. As King Michael informed the USHMM, their initiative to help the Jews “did work to a certain degree,” although the Queen Mother’s “position was getting rather dangerous, from the German point of view.” Why did they make a point of going against the tide of Romanian nationalist anti-Semitism? King Michael explains simply that his mother was “completely distressed” about the persecution, since the Jews “were human beings like us.”