1. Can Trump really get a new Iran deal “very quickly”?
It was described as a press conference, but the Friday presidential briefing at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, was a classic Trump-era hybrid: some business (with club members serving as an active audience, cheering the president and booing reporters), a fair amount politics and some real official matters, including the coronavirus pandemic, the state of the U.S. economy and world affairs, all mixed together in a golf club ballroom.
Though not a top item on the president’s agenda, Trump somehow got around to discussing Iran and its future relations with the United States, if he gets reelected in November.
“I’ll make the statement: If and when we win, we will make deals with Iran very quickly,” Trump said. “Iran is dying to make a deal, but they want to see because they’d much rather make a deal with Biden.”
Behind this somewhat crude presentation of the current state of U.S.-Iran diplomacy rests a more substantial assumption, one that is key to the Trump campaign’s foreign policy pitch, and to America’s key allies in the Middle East, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The idea is that in his four years in office, Trump has been tougher than any other president on Iran, and while the Ayatollah regime has thus far been able to withstand America’s pressure, they cannot hold on for four more years. Therefore, if Trump gets re-elected, Iran will have no choice but to compromise and accept the U.S. conditions for a new deal.
Israelis and many in the American Jewish community view Iran as a major threat and fear the possibility of it acquiring nuclear weapons. Many of them are eager to see a U.S. administration willing and able to stop this threat, either by diplomacy or any other means.
So, it’s worth checking how sound the argument is that only Trump can force Iran into a new deal.
On the one hand, it makes perfectly good sense.
Trump’s decisions to withdraw from the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, and to restore sanctions, have been wreaking havoc on the Iranian economy and have sparked protests throughout the country. Leaders in Tehran may very well choose to compromise with the “great Satan” which is America, in order to restore the flow of cash and quell popular unrest.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the differences between the JCPOA, which Iran agreed to, and the current American demands aren’t huge and focus primarily on the question of whether restrictions on nuclear activity are temporary or permanent, on enforcing bans on ballistic missile developments, and on increasing on-the-ground monitoring of Iranian facilities. These are currently deal breakers, but one could imagine Iran begrudgingly agreeing to some version of them if pushed to the corner.
On the other hand, Trump seems the least likely person to sign a new deal—or at least a new deal that would be better than the previous one.
In order to reach a deal, America needs to engage in diplomacy. And when it comes to Iran, Trump has proved to be uninterested or unable to do so. He did not reach out in any known channel to the Iranians, he ignored America’s European partners, appointed Mike Pompeo, an Iran hawk, to serve as his secretary of state, and just last week appointed Elliott Abrams, as hawkish as they get on Iran, to serve as his special envoy instead of Brian Hook, a veteran diplomat who stepped down.
In addition, the Trump administration has failed to convince the Iranians that America’s goal is not regime change. On the contrary, fully siding with Israel and Saudi Arabia and expanding pressure to a vast array of non-nuclear issues sent leaders in Tehran the opposite message. They might very well believe there is no sense in compromising with Trump because he’s not out to get a better deal, he’s going after their heads.
And finally, there’s the concern among Israelis and many of their supporters in the U.S. that Trump, eager to prove his deal-making abilities, will rush into the arms of the ayatollahs, just like he did with Kim Jong-Un. Trump’s statements about reaching a deal “very quickly” after the elections only help fuel this concern. After all, how good an agreement can it be in such a short time span?
The bottom line is that Iran will remain a thorny issue for the next president, regardless of who wins the elections. Trump’s promise of an Iranian capitulation waiting around the corner is hard to believe, and Biden’s hope for a quick fix on the previous deal is also way more difficult to achieve than it seems, in part due to changes already happening on the ground. Iran and its nuclear ambitions are not a “first day in office” project for the next president but rather an issue for years of talks, sanctions and—perhaps—even negotiations.
2. Will Adelson break with Trump?
Politico broke a major story last week. Donald Trump and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson are, apparently, no longer besties. They had a not-too-pleasant phone conversation in which Trump complained that Adelson wasn’t spending enough on his campaign, in a tone and manner that did not go over that well with the 87-year-old Vegas casino mogul, who is at the top of the GOP donors list.
The call, according to the report, left Republican officials “alarmed the president had antagonized one of his biggest benefactors” as they should be given the prospect of losing such a significant donor.
Will Adelson pull his support from Trump? Probably not.
You don’t become a multi-billionaire by operating based on anger and emotions. Adelson is a businessman who knows what his interests are and how to achieve them. And for a donor who cares deeply about a right-wing Israeli agenda and about defending the status of on-site gambling in an era of online gaming, Adelson knows he has no better ally right now than Donald Trump, regardless of how rude he may be on the phone.
3. Biden won’t hear of “occupation”
Mainstream Democrats were full of praise for the new Democratic Party’s platform which kept up the pro-Israel line of previous platforms. A recent report in Foreign Policy reveals that at least one of the issues regarding Israel went all the way up to the man himself and that it was Joe Biden who said no to any mention of the word “occupation” in regards to Israel in the platform.
This anecdote offers a few quick takeaways:
– Biden is willing to fight progressives when it comes to Israel
– Pro-settler Israelis and Americans have no reason to fear a Biden presidency
– Middle East peacemaking won’t be a top priority for Biden. It’s hard to make peace when you can’t even say the O-word.
4. A test case in Minnesota
Voters in Minnesota will head to the polls Tuesday for a primary election that has drawn national attention. First-term congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a progressive Muslim-American whose actions and comments have irked many in the Jewish and pro-Israel communities, is trying to get reelected. She’s facing a well-funded rival, Anton Melton-Meaux, who has received significant donations from pro-Israel groups and individuals.
Here’s what to watch for on Tuesday:
If Omar wins (a scenario that looks pretty likely right now,) many will see it as a sign that progressive support is what matters, not pro-Israel money. The truth, as always, is somewhere in between. There are many factors in play, not the least important is Omar’s strength in her district. Money is only one aspect of the race.
If Omar loses the race (and it’s her race to lose, not Melton-Meaux’s to win) it will help drive home the idea that crossing the line of party consensus on Israel is bad politics. But with an impressive roster of victorious progressives this year (Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Rashida Tlaib’s easy win), it will be equally safe to say that criticizing Israel is not as toxic as mainstream Dems would like you to think.
5. A bipartisan note
Too much political bickering over Israel?
Well, here’s some bipartisan pro-Israel political action.
Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Cory Booker introduced legislation last week that would tackle international attempts to block normalization with Israel. The bill requires the State Department to report on Middle Eastern countries that penalize their citizens for maintaining normal ties with Israel.
Why does it matter?
This is one of those pieces of legislation that may seem mainly declarative, but it is exactly these laws that provide the basis for taking on countries that uphold anti-Israel policies. In other words, it’s not as if this bill, if passed, would require America to take action against Gulf countries that boycott Israel. But if one day America decides to do so, the reporting will be there, providing legal basis for action.
And it’s also noteworthy that this is a bipartisan effort. You don’t see too many of them these days.