Analysis: Trump’s Kurdish Treachery Casts Netanyahu as Lone Rider on Paper Tiger

The prime minister’s reckless gamble on a shameless U.S. president unravels before Israel’s startled eyes

    Analysis: Chemi Shalev | Haaretz

The only indication that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recognizes the enormity of his strategic failure is his renewed emphasis in recent days on the traditional motto that “Israel will defend itself by itself.”

In a speech at Thursday’s annual ceremony commemorating the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Netanyahu continued to pay lip service to “staunch” U.S. support but refrained from boasting of Washington’s ability to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Instead, he said, the onus will fall on Israel and its army.         

Netanyahu has known since June that U.S. President Donald Trump’s last-minute decision to cancel a planned U.S. retaliation against Iran for the downing of its intelligence drone diluted America’s ability to deter Tehran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions.

In terms of its reverberations across the Middle East, Trump’s nixing of the operation was the equivalent of Barack Obama’s ill-fated 2013 decision to refrain from retaliating against Syria for killing hundreds of its own civilians in a chemical weapons attack near Damascus.

Whatever doubts lingered, however, evaporated this week in the wake of Trump’s unconscionable announcement of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria’s northern border, which amounted to a green light for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to launch his long-awaited offensive against the Kurds. Trump not only abandoned a loyal ally to a gruesome fate – an ally that paid for the U.S. campaign against Islamic State with the blood of its valiant soldiers; he also proclaimed his desire to abandon the Middle East as a whole to the sinister designs of the forces that are in it and surrounding it.

But even when Trump is being viewed by both allies and enemies of Israel as a paper tiger, Netanyahu has no choice but to continue riding it, because, as the original Chinese saying goes, the alternative of getting off is far more daunting. It would mean confessing to his own abysmal failure.

Netanyahu bet the house on Trump, lauded him as Israel’s lord and savior and even used him as a central prop in two election campaigns this year. If, as many expect, Israelis are doomed to go to the ballot for the third time, it is unlikely that Netanyahu and his Likud Party will put up the same gigantic posters that featured a smiling Trump as Netanyahu’s best friend forever.

Netanyahu’s folly is compounded by the fact that he surely knew who and what he was dealing with. The writing was on the wall from the outset, and the headlines from Washington reinforced the message on a daily basis: The president is as unstable as he is unreliable.

But Netanyahu’s burning desire to reverse eight years of stormy relations with Barack Obama, his obsessive negation of the Iran nuclear deal and his corrupt adulation for a president who fought the same media and rule of law that Netanyahu detests, obscured the warning signals that should have led the prime minister to take a more cautious line. Therefore, he threw caution to the wind and plunged head first into Trump’s turbulent world.

Netanyahu persuaded himself and convinced most Israelis that there were, in fact, two Trumps in the White House: One was the “stable genius” who supports Israel to the hilt and the other was the unstable megalomaniac who is bent on undermining U.S. allies and on giving aid and succor to its worst enemies.

Trump’s decision to stick a knife in the back of the Kurds dispelled the illusion. It painted Netanyahu’s policy as a reckless gamble that could render Israel alone to fend for itself.

Netanyahu also succeeded in convincing public opinion that Israel resides on its own separate planet, its fate unmoored to that of the free world as a whole. He behaved as if the poison that Trump was injecting into Washington’s ties with democratic capitals and his support for authoritarian tyrants had nothing to do with the future of a free and democratic Israel.

Netanyahu’s ability to extract symbolic gestures from Trump, such as recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and the transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, blinded him to the wider negative impact of Trump’s Middle East approach. His sick identification with Trump’s wars against the free press and the rule of law obscured his view of the harm that Trump was inflicting on America’s international stature as well as its own internal strength and cohesion.

Trump, after all, is dismantling the very foundations of the world order that has been in place since the end of the World War II, the same order that has seen Israel survive and flourish. U.S. presidents, for better and worse, acted on the basis of the belief that American leadership was essential for safeguarding democracy and for warding off its enemies. The U.S. has been the anchor of the Western democratic world, but Trump has raised anchor and sailed America off into his wild blue yonder – with Netanyahu and Israel in tow.

Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds, however, cannot be painted in a positive light. There is no spin that can cast it as something other than what it is: One of the most shameful betrayals in U.S. history. Even hitherto supportive Republicans, including the uber-loyal evangelicals, were compelled to denounce the president. Netanyahu, however, could not join them: He has attached his fate to Trump’s so hermetically that even a hint of disagreement would undermine his claim to fame.

Netanyahu did publish a statement expressing support for the Kurds and promising undefined Israeli assistance. He did so because he knows that there is no way to whitewash Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds: The beleaguered descendants of the biblical Medes tribes have long been seen in Israel as a natural ally against the Arabs, which spawned years of actual military collaboration during the 1970s and 1980s. Trump’s treachery hit too close to home just as his promise to leave the Middle East altogether left no room for ambiguity. Perhaps Trump didn’t know that Israel was in the Middle East, some consoled themselves.

Netanyahu’s predicament is made worse by Trump’s declining political fortunes and exacerbated by the Ukraine scandal and its ensuing impeachment proceedings. With only one year left before the 2020 elections, the president is like a cornered animal, striking out blindly against his hunters. He may decide that continuing to support Israel at every turn works in his favor, but he could very well reach the opposite conclusion and abandon Israel to its fate. Netanyahu, for all his bluster, has no idea which way the president will eventually turn.

Netanyahu’s assertion that “Trump is good for Israel” is being sorely tested, unlike Russian President Vladimir Putin who can validly claim that “Trump is good for Russia”, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un who can boast that Trump is great for North Korea, Erdogan who can now cite Trump’s benefits for Turkey and even the ayatollahs in Tehran who are beginning to digest that the U.S. president may be good for them as well.

Netanyahu may have inflicted on Israel greater long-term damage by virtue of his corrupt undermining of Israeli norms and democratic values, but in terms of national security, his total surrender to Trump and concurrent detachment from potential alternatives, from Democrats to the European Union, is nothing less than gross malpractice.

In normal times and in a normal country, the fate of a prime minister whose main policy has been exposed as a sham would be sealed. His career would be over. If Israel goes to the polls again, Netanyahu may find that his citizens prefer normalcy without him to Trump-style lunacy with him continuing at the helm.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On 10/13/2019 at 11:57 am

    Trump’s Impeachment Inquiry Is Imperative for the World

    In the battle over the impeachment inquiry, Donald Trump has shown once again just how deft a manipulator he can be. Will it be enough? A failure of American democracy would be a disaster — and not just for the United States.

    Roland Nelles in Washington | Der Spiegel

    America’s Founding Fathers bestowed considerable power on the country’s president. He or she serves as the head of the Executive Branch; is at the helm of the administration and the military; and also determines a large share of foreign policy.

    Having just waged the bloody Revolutionary War for independence from the British crown, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and the other Founding Fathers wanted to ensure, no matter what, that the president didn’t rule like a monarch.

    In 1787, the Constitution established “checks and balances” intended to provide Congress with a major role in government affairs and oversight over the Executive Branch as essentially, it’s co-equal.

    At the same time, the president would have to respect the laws and always govern conscientiously and for the good of the people. This includes the duty to not abuse the power of the presidency to one’s own advantage.

    That’s how a great democracy arose in the U.S., one that has been replicated around the world many times over. It is an admirable system and the foundation of America’s strength — and, so far at least, it has always functioned reasonably well. Despite all its weaknesses, the U.S. is a country that its citizens can rightly be proud.


    But now, Trump is in power, a president who doesn’t seem to care much about norms. He is testing the limits of democracy in the Ukrainian scandal as he relies on tricks, cover-ups and deception. The question now is whether American democracy will survive unscathed and whether it can return to its role as the bright beacon of democracy.

    This isn’t a game or some kind of cheap reality show — these are deadly serious times. Whenever abuse of power becomes the rule rather than the exception, whenever it is left unsanctioned, we see the door opened to despotism.

    A failure of democracy in the U.S. would be no less than a catastrophe for the rest of world. Just as America served as a positive example for decades, it could just as quickly become a negative role model for the many leaders around the world dreaming of omnipotence.

    As the saying goes: Everybody is good for something – even a bad example.

    Trump’s imitators are already hard at work around the globe, in countries like Brazil, Hungary and Italy. If he gets away unsanctioned, they would be even more emboldened to follow his autocratic impulses.

    Trump’s greatest strength is his ability to warp his own reality. In doing so, he blinds his followers to the truth, ensuring their continued support. He has a tremendous talent when it comes to manipulating people, and his approach to the current scandal is further proof of that.

    Trump wanted to enlist the governments of China and Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden. With the cover blown on the Ukraine scandal by a whistleblower, Trump is now presenting himself as the victim of a conspiracy hatched by the Democrats.

    He even described it in a tweet as an attempted “coup”. In the echo chambers of the Trump world, at Fox News and on the internet, people are only too happy to lap up these conspiracy theories.

    It’s ludicrous, really: Trump is many things, but he is certainly not a victim. Now we can see that the world’s most powerful man is apparently willing to abuse the power of his office to increase his chances of re-election.

    When the House investigates the matter and considers the first steps toward removing Trump from office, it is merely exercising its right under the U.S. Constitution and doing exactly what the Founding Fathers intended in such cases.

    This is NOT treason, as Trump and his followers have claimed — it’s the duty of members of Congress who have given a sworn oath to protect the Constitution — from external and internal enemies.


    The Republican Party’s failings are an additional problem in the current crisis.

    How would the Republicans have reacted if Barack Obama had made calls to Ukraine or China as president in 2010 to order investigations into his then challenger Mitt Romney?

    The outrage would have been enormous, to be sure.

    So, what now? Few Republicans have dared criticize Trump’s behavior in the Ukraine affair, so far. Even though it seems pretty clear that the president abused the power of his office in his effort to collect political dirt against a rival, most Republicans are pretending everything is just fine.

    Idolatry of Trump is paralyzing the party. Many Republican members of the House and Senate are Trump’s disciples and they view the world just as he does. Others don’t dare to rebel against him out of fear of losing their seats. It is painful to watch and see how many people are falling for Trump’s tricks.

    How long can this go on? It’s time for America to show that it’s capable of defending its democracy against the autocratic abuse of power by its president — first through an impeachment inquiry and then through impeachment itself, if necessary. In the name of its own future, but most importantly to set an example for the rest of the world.

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 10/13/2019 at 3:22 pm

    An interesting analysis. Of special note is Shalev’s observation: “Trump, after all, is dismantling the very foundations of the world order that has been in place since the end of the World War II, the same order that has seen Israel survive and flourish.”

  • Clyde Duncan  On 10/13/2019 at 11:14 pm

    ABUSE of Office ….

  • Clyde Duncan  On 10/14/2019 at 11:52 am

    US Betrayal of Kurds Destroys the West’s Credibility for Years to Come

    Imagine the Allies outsourcing the destruction of the Nazis to another force – and then betraying it once the job was done.

    Dominic Waghorn | Sky News

    The Kurds have been sold down the Euphrates.

    America’s credibility as a reliable partner and with it ours is now shot. Why should anyone do a deal with the West again and think it will mean anything?

    The Kurds were our surrogate boots on the ground against the biggest terrorist threat of our time. Islamic State was butchering hostages and inspiring and masterminding attacks on us in our streets, nightclubs and markets.

    But after the debacle of Iraq, as voters we forbade our governments from sending in troops to tackle the Islamofascists in their phoney caliphate.

    Instead we used the Kurds. We persuaded them to be our infantry along with others supporting them in the air. They lost thousands of lives but thought it would be worthwhile.

    And in one phone call, their closest partner gave their sworn enemy the green light to invade and destroy them.

    Imagine the Allies in 1945 outsourcing the destruction of the Nazis to another fighting force – and then betraying it once the job was done.

    There has been plenty of hand-wringing and the usual moralising at the UN.

    But a week into this chaos and carnage and neither the British nor US Congress have come up with meaningful sanctions to make the Turks think again.

    We have forced the Kurds to choose the lesser of two evils – a deal with Assad; the butcher of Damascus whose warplanes bomb hospitals, whose forces use chemical weapons on their own people, whose prisons have seen the torture and disappearance of tens of thousands.

    That is the man we have forced some of our closest allies to now switch sides to.

    They have no choice because we deserted them, despite our enormous debt to them and their sacrifice.

    Could they have seen it coming?

    They aren’t the first people to reach an understanding with the West and be let down.

    The Kurds have learned the West is not a reliable partner.

    Muammar Gaddafi learned it too as the mob killed him and sodomised him with a bayonet.

    Tony Blair had promised him rehabilitation if he gave up his weapons of mass destruction, but he fell from power because NATO jets and western special forces helped the uprising against him.

    Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011

    Iran has learned it the hard way also.

    After five years of tortuous negotiations, it reached an agreement on its alleged nuclear weapons programme.

    But Israel and hawks in Washington persuaded Donald Trump to renege on that deal – he unilaterally pulled out and placed Iran under crippling sanctions.

    The US now wants Iran to return to negotiations on its terms, but why would Tehran bother if the next president could scratch out Trump’s signature on any agreement as he has with Obama’s?

    The Kurds had an understanding with the West. It was a question of honour, that their sacrifice would not be in vain.

    Trump seems never to understood that. They were expendable it seems.

    America’s betrayal of the Kurds, and Britain’s reluctance to do anything about it, does enormous damage to our credibility as partners – potentially for years to come.

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