There are still a few races to be decided, but the overall results of the 2018 midterms are clear. The hoped-for “blue wave” turned out to be a blue trickle, but Donald Trump’s era of completely unfettered action is over. Voter suppression and gerrymandering stack the deck in favor of Republicans, yet there was enough disgust with Trump and congressional Republicans to swing about 30 seats in the House of Representatives to the Democrats. Republicans still gained at least two—probably three—seats in the Senate, despite the fact that Democrats got nearly 13 million more votes in the Senate races. That’s not a great indicator for the state of democracy in the United States.
It wasn’t the rebuke of Trump’s behavior and policies that some hoped for, but given the ongoing strength of the U.S. economy, the Republican losses still mean something. Democratic control of the House creates a check on Trump’s worst excesses, at least domestically.
In foreign policy, the gains will be more meager and harder to gauge. Congress still holds considerably more power over domestic affairs than foreign, and that is even more true for the opposition party in a divided Congress. Read more at LobeLog
On Saturday, Robert Bowers, a right-wing gunman strode into a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh and began shooting. When he was finished, he’d murdered 11 people.
Donald Trump led the quick march to bizarrely defend one of the most prominent U.S. cult symbols, the gun, by blaming the synagogue itself for not having an armed guard at the synagogue, as if such a guard would have fared better than the three Pittsburgh police officer that Bowers shot.
Trump later blamed the media for violent attacks, saying, “There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news.” That was to be expected, given the increasing attention to Trump’s own lengthy history of anti-Semitic dog-whistling and the scrutiny it was finally coming under in the wake of the terrorist attack in Squirrel Hill.
But the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history was not going to remain a domestic issue for very long. Given the disdain the government of Israel has been showing to the U.S. Jewish community for so long now, it was difficult to imagine that Israel’s response to the Squirrel Hill massacre would be positive. But few could have anticipated its cynical and opportunistic response. Read more at LobeLog
Just a few sentences into Donald Trump’s speech
to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) yesterday, the entire world was laughing
at the President of the United States. Reactions to the
rest of his speech might have vacillated between anger and ridicule, while his loyal base and administration servants sat with self-satisfied grins. But some of what he said should cause concern.
Whether it was his repeated emphasis on sovereignty over alliances—a common theme of authoritarian leaders—his railing about trade deficits whose effects on the US economy he clearly doesn’t understand, his attacks on international institutions and partnerships, or his general air of condescension and hubris, Trump reaffirmed his intention to move the United States deeper into a belligerent isolation from most of the world. Read more at LobeLog
Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump wanted to change US policy toward both Israel-Palestine and Iran. When Obama arrived in the Oval Office, he brought an ambitious foreign policy plan with him. He wanted to diminish the heavy U.S. footprint in the Middle East, “pivot toward Asia,” and rebuild the confidence in the United States as a sober actor on the world stage that George W. Bush had undermined with his calamitous invasion of Iraq.
At the beginning of his first term—after he made his initial speech indicating a willingness to improve relations with Iran—Obama devoted his efforts and political capital to trying to bring a Palestinian state into being. He knew there would be political costs, and although he underestimated them, he understood that it would take all the political capital he had to have any chance at productive talks.
By 2012, Obama recognized that he was not going to get the grand bargain between Israel and the Palestinians that he had hoped for. So he turned his attention toward Iran. Working with U.S. allies in Europe and through the United Nations, he pushed for sanctions to bring Iran to the table. The pressure paved the way for the nuclear talks that would eventually lead, in 2015, to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal.
Obama recognized that Israeli-Palestinian peace and the Iran nuclear deal were each very expensive in terms of political capital. He couldn’t afford to pursue both. It’s a lesson Donald Trump still doesn’t understand. Read more at LobeLog
Like many other US citizens, I get very nervous every time Donald Trump goes to meet with foreign leaders. Whether they are friend, foe, competitor, or ally, it seems almost inevitable that Trump will find a creative way to come up with a negative result from the meeting.
His current trip hasn’t disappointed. He started by berating NATO allies and has now moved on to stirring an already boiling pot of political turmoil in the United Kingdom. It seems a good moment to review the trip before the really scary part—the meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin—commences. Read more at LobeLog
So Brett Kavanaugh is almost certainly going to be the next associate justice on the Supreme Court. Are we helpless in the face of this?
No, we are not.
I have little faith that Susan Collins (R-ME), much less Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) or any other Republican senator will vote against Kavanaugh. Even if two of them do bolt, there’s no guarantee that Democrats like Joe Manchin (D-WV), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), or Joe Donnelly (D-IN) won’t vote to confirm him, as they all did for Neil Gorsuch. Those of us not in those states really can’t do much about their votes in any case.
But there is something we can do.
We can, all of us, in ways great and small, make sure that the story of Brett Kavanaugh focuses not on him, but on the circumstances of his appointment. The reality is that, as loathsome as I find Kavanaugh’s opinions, they are mostly within the spectrum of US political discourse. Yes, he’s been correctly cast as a partisan judge, but so was Antonin Scalia, and, really, what other kind of judge is Donald Trump likely to appoint? Being opposed to Roe v Wade, Obamacare, and just about every environmental regulation he can find does not disqualify him from the Court. Continue reading
The regional tour of Donald Trump’s primary Middle East envoys—his lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner—has concluded. So, it’s an appropriate time to take stock of the peace plan the Trump team seems to be formulating.
Only the Trump team seems particularly eager to see this plan come about, which is telling. It is hard to be optimistic about the deal, given that the Kushner & Greenblatt Traveling Road Show met with everyone involved except the Palestinians. No matter what Jason and Jared may have heard, none of their Arab interlocutors is in a position to move forward on a deal that the Palestinians have summarily rejected.
Trump approaches the entire question of Palestine transactionally, in line with his approach to most issues. This view was reflected in an interview Kushner gave to the Palestinian newspaper, al-Quds. He told reporter Walid Abu-Zalaf, “At the end of the day, I believe that Palestinian people are less invested in the politicians’ talking points than they are in seeing how a deal will give them and their future generations new opportunities, more and better paying jobs and prospects for a better life.”
If Kushner believes that a slight uptick in average household income will obscure Palestinian concerns about settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, and the very nature of their national existence, he is gravely mistaken. But the entire interview seems to reflect just such a view. Referring to Palestinian spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh’s statement that the US efforts were doomed, Kushner remarked that the “Palestinian leadership is saying those things because they are scared we will release our peace plan and the Palestinian people will actually like it because it will lead to new opportunities for them to have a much better life.”
These statements make it clear that Kushner has not only misunderstood the Palestinian leadership, but Palestinians in general. US negotiators have routinely, and justifiably, been accused of being deaf to the pulse of the Palestinian people, but Kushner seems even more hard of hearing than usual. And there is virtually no chance that Greenblatt, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, or certainly Trump himself know any more about Palestinian sentiments than Kushner does. Continue reading at Lobelog