NORMALIZATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST
President Trump moved the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and proposed a peace plan that substituted economic development for immediate Palestinian statehood. Traditional experts feared that Trump’s policies would ignite regional conflict. Instead, if anything, the region has calmed. First the United Arab Emirates, then Bahrain and Sudan, and most recently Morocco have opened diplomatic relations with Israel. It’s now possible to fly direct from Tel Aviv to Dubai, overflying Saudi Arabia.
Trump also brought long-delayed justice to Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani, author of so many acts of terrorism. Again, experts feared that the killing of Soleimani would trigger the direst consequences. Instead, the Iranian regime itself halted the cycle of retaliation after its own reckless mistake brought down a civilian airliner over Tehran airport, killing all 176 passengers and crew. Iranian authorities first lied about their responsibility; when the truth could be concealed no longer, outrage among the Iranian people shook the mullah regime.
Trump broke every rule in the diplomatic book. He accepted payments to himself and his family from the same parties he was negotiating with—not only single millions at his hotels, but the multiple millions in financing that his son-in-law’s family received from the Qataris to retrieve a bad investment in a New York City office building. Trump showed blatant favoritism to the Israelis over other negotiating parties. He repeatedly surprised all involved with abrupt changes in U.S. policy: supporting the Kurds, betraying the Kurds; appeasing Turkey, sanctioning Turkey; provoking Iran, sanctioning Iran; withdrawing U.S. forces from the region, recommitting U.S. forces to the region. And this one time, his seemingly aimless and herky-jerky approach worked, at least in the immediate term. Maybe Trump’s vagaries frightened Israelis and Gulf Arabs into getting along better. Maybe normalization would have happened even without him—it started before him, after all. Whatever the cause, he leaves office with this particular conflict closer to resolution than when he entered office.