Aaron David Miller served as an analyst, minister and analyst in the Republic and Democratic Administration and is the author of End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Don't Want) Another Great President . Richard Sokolsky is currently a non-resident senior employee at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was a member of the Secretary of State Policy Planning Office from 2005-2015 and served in the State Department in six administrations. Who says the Trump administration doesn't know what it does in the Middle East? Certainly, there is much confusion, diplomatic maladministration and dysfunction in the Trumpian's foreign policy. But on two critical issues, it is fatally functional: The administration is focused on a laser beam on irreversibly burning American bridges to Iran and administering the last rites to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And if you look at the administration's actual policies, it is clear that they are not only intended to counter President Barack Obama's actions but also to create non-return points, so that subsequent administrations cannot return to previous approaches, even if they wish. If the administration succeeds ̵ 1; and it is well on its way – it will have damaged the United States' national interests for many years to come. Story Continued Below At the beginning of his presidency, it was not clear what President Donald Trump had planned for Iran and Israel, two of the most complex tensions in the Middle East. Attacking Obama for his Iranian nuclear agreement and his…
Who says the Trump administration doesn’t know what it does in the Middle East?
Certainly, there is much confusion, diplomatic maladministration and dysfunction in the Trumpian’s foreign policy. But on two critical issues, it is fatally functional: The administration is focused on a laser beam on irreversibly burning American bridges to Iran and administering the last rites to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And if you look at the administration’s actual policies, it is clear that they are not only intended to counter President Barack Obama’s actions but also to create non-return points, so that subsequent administrations cannot return to previous approaches, even if they wish. If the administration succeeds ̵
1; and it is well on its way – it will have damaged the United States’ national interests for many years to come.
Story Continued Below
At the beginning of his presidency, it was not clear what President Donald Trump had planned for Iran and Israel, two of the most complex tensions in the Middle East. Attacking Obama for his Iranian nuclear agreement and his criticism of Israel won no doubt with Trump’s conservative, evangelical base. Still, there were moments on the campaign track when Trump expressed interest in negotiating a better nuclear trade with Iran and conveying the “century act” between Israelis and Palestinians, rather than killing the prospects of both. Trump offered several times to meet Iranian President Rouhani without the possibility of negotiating a new nuclear agreement. And his unparalleled delegation of the Israeli-Palestinian file to his son-in-law suggested a real commitment to a serious peace plan.
The administration has now made a complete face. Whatever Trump’s personal desire to prove is he is the world’s largest negotiator in Iran, his fierce adviser, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and NSA want John Bolton, get rid of the mullahs who govern the Islamic Republic, not engage them. Pompeo and Bolton are now striving not only to provoke Iran to withdraw from the Joint Overall Action Plan (JCPOA) and perhaps also in a fight, but to block a successor from the engineering business, either a wider geopolitical pivot against Iran or to participate in diplomacy to resolve outstanding American-Iranian differences. The administration’s Monday announcement that it will end all exceptions to sanctions against countries still importing Iranian oil fits this pattern to rely on coercion and threats than diplomacy. Regarding Israel, regardless of the president’s personal views on Israeli-Palestinian peace (and during the campaign they were more balanced than they are today), Jared Kushner and his team now appear to be hell in creating a “made in Israel” peace plan that will be dead before arrival and drive the last nail in the coffin of a peace process that is already on life support.
Last year, Pompeo laid out 12 extreme demands that Tehran would have to face before the Trump administration would agree to resume with Iran. The demands would have required Iran to give up all its rights under the JCPOA and stop following what Tehran sees as its legitimate interests in the region, for example, to stabilize Iraq and support Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s government to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq. This dictation was quickly and cruelly rejected by the Iranian government.
No amount of economic or diplomatic pressure the United States imposes on Tehran will force it to bind under these orders. But the administration’s amazing demands have set a standard that will be used to assess what future nuclear agreements a democratic or other type of Republican administration can negotiate with Iran, which almost certainly requires both US and Iranian compromises. This means that a president who does not meet these standards will be accused of terror, making compromise and domestic support for a new agreement much more difficult. The administration not only kills Iraq’s nuclear agreements. It stays there from coming back to life.
The management decision to appoint Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Protection Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization is also intentionally and unnecessarily confrontational, and once done, given the hard core, the militant and enduring nature of the IRGC, it will become almost impossible to regret. A subsequent administration, if it tried to undo the designation, would be vulnerable to the charges to enable state sponsored terrorism. The move will strengthen hardliners in Iran who oppose living with the United States and weaken the elements of the country that favors improved relations with America, which now have no choice but to be silent or close to the voice of IRGC, further diminishing opportunities for future engagement and diplomacy with Iran. Empowered hardliners will crack even harder on Iranians who want less political oppression, greater respect for human rights and more political and civic freedoms. All of these results were undoubtedly intended by Pompeo and Bolton, and are working with the economic warfare that the administration is fighting against Iran, which aims to provoke internal anxiety in the country which could ultimately lead to an exaggeration of monastic rule. The introduction of the total embargo on Iranian oil exports, if successful, will bring even more economic misery to the Iranian people, hardening the notion that the US government is an enemy not only of the ruling regime but also of the Iranian people – one attitude that will make it harder to count down hostility to America in the future.
In what would deliver the last coup de grace to any normalization of future relations between the United States and Iran, Pompeo and Bolton do everything they do can lead Iran to a military conflict with the United States There are An increasing risk that US forces and Iranian IRGCs and Iranian-backed militants may stumble upon them in an accidental conflict, especially in Iraq or Syria, but also in Yemen, where the administration’s undoubted support for Saudi Arabia’s inhuman and ineffective military campaign against Iranian backed Houthis risks further provoking Houthi missile attacks in the UK, creating a pretext for the Trump management to come to the UK’s defense.
There are a number of steps that the US could take to mitigate the risks of an accidental conflict with Iran. But the administration has failed to create diplomatic or operational arrangements for communication and crisis management with Iran, suggesting that the goal is not to prevent such a conflict without intentionally provoking one. And, predictably, the IRGC designation has met with a hostile Iranian response: Iran’s Majlis (Parliament) has declared every American soldier in the Middle East a terrorist. Thousands of US military personnel now carry targets on their backs. As they operate near IRCG units and Iranian-backed military in Syria and Iraq, the odds have increased dramatically so that it will become a kind of confrontation with a high risk of escalation. In other words, US action has helped set the stage for an American-Iranian conflict that could rule out American-Iranian reconciliation for many years.
A less confrontational relationship with Iran in this administration’s only accident. It also does everything to kill and bury the long-term policy of seeking a two-state solution to achieve a conflict resolution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Over the past year, the administration has made a relentless campaign of economic and political pressure on the Palestinians – the closure of the PLO office in Washington, withdrawing US aid from the UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees and cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority. While the details of the Kushner Plan have been covered in secrecy for over a year, his team has driven and leaked to the media a plan that prioritizes Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies and needs, one allegedly heavy on economic problems and light on the core issues of Jerusalem , borders, refugees and Palestinian peers.
Since at least the mid-1990s, both democratic and republican administrations have undertaken a two-state solution with the majority of the West Bank’s return to the Palestinians – based on frontiers from before Israel’s 1967 attacks of this territory – and a physically undivided Jerusalem host capital in both states. But the Trump administration has reversed nearly 20 years of American politics by even denying the unequivocal and consistent support of the concept in principle of a two-state solution. Trump supported the idea in September 2018. But since then the administration has lost the concept and even worse delegated it. Last week, Washington Post reported that the words Palestinian State are unlikely to appear in the Kushner Plan. Even more telling, testifying before Congress last week, Pompeo refused to support Palestinian political science as the goal of US politics.
Although the words “two state solution” were published the administration’s view of the Palestinian state was clearly far from the size and contour that any Palestinian leader could accept as part of an agreement. In this way, Trump administration’s policies not only clear the very idea of a meaningful two-state solution and push the Palestinians further away from engaging seriously in negotiations leading to a solution. They adapt so closely with the prime minister Netanyahu’s vision to a much less probable future.
For example, the free speech of the administration, which was not bound by any American national interest – to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and open an embassy, caused serious damage to the credibility of the United States as a mediator, marginalized the Palestinian authority  as an important US interlocutor and subordinate US policy against the Palestinians against US policy against Israel. The administration’s treatment of Jerusalem has drawn a clear hierarchy: Israel’s needs are undeniable and sacred, Palestinian needs are negotiable and worldly. The prospect of a Palestinian capital in eastern Jerusalem is now longer than ever: With continued Israeli efforts to formalize its control over Jerusalem and the presence of more than 300,000 Israelis living there, it is difficult to imagine that it will be political or territorial space for the establishment of a real Palestinian capital.
The second long-standing diplomatic assumption – that settling activity would be restricted during the negotiation period and that 70-80 percent of West Bank settlers in blocks near the 1967 lines would be incorporated into Israel right in exchange for landing other Palestinians – have been undermined by an administration that does not intend to cut an agreement that would leave the Palestinians in control of the majority of the West Bank. In fact, the administration has virtually erased the concept of the 1967 lines by enabling and greening the expansion of settlement activity and one-sided Israeli acts on the ground without protest or the introduction of any redlines, not just in the West Bank but in Jerusalem as well. In March 2017, Israel announced the creation of a new settlement in the West Bank, the first for decades. After an initial downturn in 2017, building activity increased 20 percent in 2018.
There is no chance that any Palestinian leader – let alone one as weak and limited as Mahmoud Abbas – will accept these terms on the ground as part of a deal. And speculation is growing even that Netanyahu could use Palestinian refusals on the Kushner plan to be able to directly attach attachments to the West Bank.
It is another area where the administration has done great damage. The Trump administration’s announcement before the day of the last Israeli election that it recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights – a decision that was left out of any logic other than to help recall the Prime Minister Netanyahu – could give a US decision to give similar status to  Israel’s possible decision to attach parts of the West Bank. The administration has refused to challenge Netanyahu’s statement that, in a defensive war, Israel can keep what it holds. And last week, Pompeo, who responded to a reporter’s question, refused to criticize Netanyahu’s statement to attach West Bank settlements.
When attached, there will be no opportunity for any solution that separates Israelis and Palestinians, thereby condemning both of them to live in a one-city prescription for infinite conflict and violence. In the cruel of the irony, the administration’s plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can put some hope of a diplomatic solution to separate Israelis and Palestinians, and instead guarantee eternal conflict.
So if the chances of the plan’s success are slim, especially in light of the latest Israeli elections and the emergence of a higher government, why start it? The answer is obvious: We believe that management has defined success in other ways. With zero chance of getting an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, the administration’s real playoffs are fundamentally changing US politics against the conflict and making every effort to increase the odds that no successor can reverse new rules. And there can be no better time than now. Listening to US Ambassador David Friedman – An Important Impact on Administration Policies – Last Month’s AIPAC Conference: “Can We Leave This a Management Who May Not Understand The Need For Israel to Maintain Overall Security Control of Judea and Samaria and a Permanent Defense Position in The Jordan Valley? “He asked. “Can we risk one day Israel’s government complaining,” Why did we not make more progress when US foreign policy was in the hands of President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary of Pompeo, Ambassador Bolton, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and even David Friedman? “How can we do that?”
The goal is not only to drive an effort through the peace process but to ensure that America’s traditional notion of a two-state solution will not rise from the dead.
Why couldn’t a new administration really commit to engaging Iran and pushing a two-state solution simply to return to traditional politics? We cannot rule this out; but this opportunity faces very long odds, especially if the Trump administration is responsible until 2024.
Even under normal circumstances with a committed and highly qualified administration, Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are extremely difficult problems than dealing with, sounding solution alone. The success depends on leaders America cannot control who has conflicting interests and their own domestic barriers and, in the case of Iran, on bitterly suspicious opponents. The problems are politically radioactive for all parties and are perceived as existential. And the longer these conflicts persist, the more anchored attitudes and alternatives for progress agreements. In fact, time is an enemy not an ally; and even under the best circumstances there are always a number of interruptors. In its own infinite way, the administration is well on its way to hanging closed for the seasonal signs on both improving relations with Iran and on a two-state solution and unfortunately damaging American credibility and national interests in the process.