Trump as a Disrupter: Part III Responses to the his Jerusalem Pronouncement
Obviously, if the “deep” international diplomatic strategy outlined in the last blog lay behind the move, the U.S. was signalling that the Israelis were being given the benefit of the doubt rather than the Palestinians. The Palestinians were being considered the more intransigent side with less ability to back up that intransigence with actual force and now with an obvious threat that their situation would deteriorate even further in the future. America was clearly signalling, even if only symbolically at the present, that it had greater confidence in Israel in protecting the accessibility of all three faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – than the Palestinian regime, especially given what had happened when Hamas came to power in Gaza.
The U.S. was, at the same time, signalling to the rest of the world that hypocrisy and the huge gulf between real power on the ground and policy would no longer prevail. The move had global ramifications, even though at this time it was largely symbolic. The Palestinians had been sent a clear message – come to the negotiation table, but without an intractable position that made progress impossible. Come with no preconditions.
Signals will bounce back to indicate whether a disruptive process might succeed where traditional methods failed. Will the demonstrations of the Palestinians stop short of becoming an all-out intifada? Will other countries travel the same path and reinforce the American signal? Though scotched by the Prime Minister, the President of the Czech Republic signalled a willingness to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Philippines may be ready to do so. In fulfillment of the King of Bahrain’s promise restrictions on his subjects traveling to Israel would be lifted, a Bahraini delegation of 25, though not consisting of government officials but representing all faiths, will still be visiting Israel to discuss peace and coexistence as a step in normalizing relations, despite the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Will the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, signal they are willing to take a new course by restricting any protests to rhetorical ones only? The signal had to be one that, while leaving the door wide open to negotiating anything and everything, also sends the message that if there was no movement, America would be prepared to up the ante to the disadvantage of the Palestinians.
If Trump’s pronouncement had been an expression of the ancient art of international diplomacy, it had to conform to certain general rules. Sun Tzu in The Art of War, published about 2,500 years ago in China, offered the first basic rational foundation for an art of international diplomacy and military strategy. The use of the military was to be a last resort. Before the military was deployed, a long period of military preparation was required based on a combination of deceit and diplomacy to forestall war if possible and seek a peaceful resolution of a conflict. Sun Tzu offered the prototype for “balance of power politics” that formed the foundation of international relations for the previous two centuries in our time. The goal: to minimize the disruption, economic and social costs of increasingly bloody wars. The issue was how to subdue an enemy without fighting at all. Using the manipulation of both allies and enemies, rational international policy was viewed as an effort to end the prospect of war, minimize its effects if avoidance was not possible, and create a stronger foundation for peace following a war.
However, as part of the theory of a balance of power, the formula insisted that it was best first to attack strategies, then alliances and finally armies. But what if the very strategy of a balance of power approach to international diplomacy was itself attacked by disruption as a new means of conducting international relations? After all, disruption of communications has always been a hallmark of authoritarian regimes domestically. Such regimes have extended its use to the international sphere. Putin proved its effectiveness in attacking America during the last election. This was complemented by Trump’s tweets used for domestic distraction.
Part of the context for the re-emergence of disruptive versus so-called rational international diplomacy has been the existence of irresolvable paradoxes in other international crisis areas. To cite one such paradox, after our studies of the Rwanda genocide and our attack on the complacency of bystanders, it became clear that the greater the righteousness with which the problem was approached, the greater the number of casualties. The loftier the rhetoric, the less likely there was to be any action. This was true of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). That Canadian initiative was endorsed unanimously by the United Nations, but the initiative only received that unanimity by gutting its central foundation, the limitation of national power and legislating the right to international intervention in cases of genocide. RtoP gained universal support only by requiring national consent for an intervention. The greater the support, the weaker the application of the principle! Hence the tension between humanitarian intervention and sovereignty re the ethnic cleansing in Darfur as it played itself out clearly in favour of the superior status of sovereignty. (Cf. Alan Seelinger (2009 Does the International Community Have a Legal Responsibility to Protect? An Analysis of Norms Regarding Humanitarian Intervention in Africa since 1990)
Further, in traditional diplomacy, negotiations were conducted with the perpetrators of the crimes to mitigate the loss of life. When that door was increasingly closed, slaughters became more wanton in places such as Darfur, the DRC and Kenya. When Jan Egeland could not follow through in his negotiations with Joseph Kony for a deal to mitigate the slaughter; the murders continued. One could almost formulate a principle: the greater the degree that righteousness enters into international diplomacy, the less effective that diplomacy will be and the loftier the moral rhetoric will become, accompanied by reduced action rather than increased military intervention.
Thus, an alternative method of dealing with international diplomacy emerged in the face of the hypocrisy and impotence of traditional so-called rational diplomacy. The policy was one of disruption rather than a rational and systematic use of diplomacy to reduce the threat of war and the misuse of children. The gamble was introducing a controlled wildfire rather than continue the stalemate of a growing cold war between enemies, such as the Israelis and the Palestinians. For that was the source of the real danger, not the fulminations of Iran nor the resort to violence of Hamas.
Hamas was on the verge of being domesticated. The risk had to be taken to bring even Hamas under the auspices of the PA back to the negotiation table without Hamas retaining a veto. Advantage had to be taken of the new willingness of Saudi Arabia to use power and not just financial influence to gain traction in its competition with Iran. Advantage had to be taken of the new security needs of Egypt for Israeli support to stop the extremists in the Sinai. Advantage had to be taken of the declining power of Turkey in the region even as the Turkish voice had grown ever louder and shriller in its denunciations of Israel. Advantage had to be taken of the continuing decline of the status of a PA controlled by the PLO rather than the newly-born extremists.
World, get off your butts. The stalemate up to now only promised future disaster. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was indeed a keg waiting to explode. That was all the more reason to light a controlled fire to divert the path of the flames away from such a potential explosion. After an initial controlled fire, after a cooling off period, after secret support and actions now by key Arab countries, after America sent a clear message that the status quo and complacency were no longer tolerable, after the U.S. had once again assumed real leadership on the peace issue and gave up on the illusion that international cooperation was a prerequisite to a breakthrough, the latter stance favouring the Palestinians and disadvantaging the Israelis, and only after the 1947 UN partition resolution decisions had been buried as a reference point, only then could the problem of Jerusalem be settled.
America was indeed signalling that the problem would be resolved in favour of the Israelis even as it reiterated that all parties had to come to the table without preconditions. The context on the ground had changed. Tiny Israel had emerged as a world economic power and as a regional military power. More and more, Israel was being accepted for what it had become. The participation of the IDF in military cooperation in Cyprus was simply an indicator of this change. Traditional diplomatic ambiguity and equivocation, that had always been the order of the day internationally, had to be buried alongside Palestinian dreams that it could and would inherit the Old City. Israeli expansionism had to be stopped, but the international benediction of mythical reversibility had to be buried as well.
Did the Trump initiative offer clarity based on a deep strategy or was it a toss of the dice when rationality has proven to be impotent? In traditional diplomacy, equivocation rather than clarity is highly valued. But equivocation in this situation would mean a clear signal (that the Palestinians could not eventually win the day) could not be sent to the Palestinians, for such a message would likely trigger escalating initiatives in the same direction. However, the gamble also meant that if Palestinian intransigence was deemed counter-productive, this would just reinforce it and thereby create more of a long-term concern for Israel.
Rather than refocusing on the two-state solution, disruption might force the Palestinians, as Saeb Erekat prophesied, to give up on the two-state solution and now push for equal rights for all Palestinians in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. By sending the sham of a peace process and the vision of a two-state solution to the ash heap of history, the one-state solution might gain real traction even if the U.S. finally formally adopted the two-state solution as the preferred outcome. Would the game then be worth it if that was a likely or even possible outcome?
However, if Donald Trump’s mode of acting was aberrant, was intentionally non-rational, was driven by instinct rather than a rational and deliberative approach, was a belief resting on years of experience in defying conventional wisdom, then disruption as a mode of diplomacy could become the order of the day. If the Trump administration has deliberately abandoned cautious regional and international diplomacy, is the above then the rationale for the employment of irrationality?
What I believe has occurred is that James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, Mike Pompeo as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, all openly opposed Trump fulfilling his promise to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. Jared Kushner himself had urged caution. Tillerson, Mattis and Pompeo privately urged Trump to reconsider recognition of Jerusalem’s capital while Kushner and even Jason Greenblatt asked to delay the embassy move.
But no one can stop Donald Trump when he is on a tear. The use of disruptive international diplomacy had the added advantage of serving as a distraction from the Mueller inquiry. Tillerson, the Director of the CIA, Trump’s Defence Secretary and even his son-in-law went to work to massage an irrational initiative and cover it with a patina of rationality. Hence the well-crafted and nuanced policy statement. Hence the reading from the monitors. The principles behind the rational approach to international diplomacy were married to disruptive methods. What an unholy marriage! How could the two methods work together on the operational level when the premises were so disparate?
Rational Diplomacy Disruptive Diplomacy
The Primacy of National Interests Personal Preferences Prevail
Emphasis on Diplomacy Emphasis on Pronouncements from
Foundation in Strategic Analysis Ignorance and Thoughtlessness
Equivocation to Disguise Differences Absolute Clarity
The Importance of Credibility Introduction of the Incredible
Confidence-building Emphasizing the Unexpected
Caution and Indecision High Risk Diplomacy – Recklessness
The new disruptive methodology has not been restricted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The international area offers a plethora of paradoxes that have not been resolved by rational diplomacy. No one knows how Trump will handle the consensus on dealing with other paradoxes in the international sphere: stopping nuclear proliferation while basing ultimate strategies on nuclear deterrence; an emphasis on economic sanctions that may run counter to national interests. The list goes on. The negotiations on Iran’s nuclear capability may have been the last great victory of rational diplomacy even as Trump pronounced it the worst deal in history. As much as I supported it, in one sense it was a weak deal. For it favoured nuclear deterrence, but allowed Iran to grow as a regional power and expand its use of proxies to engage in ideological warfare. Iran became a more dangerous state when denuded of its nuclear capabilities.
If diplomacy is the art and practice of negotiating to maintain peaceful relations between and among states while reducing animosity through the use of confidence-building measures, quiet diplomacy, and engendering goodwill and mutual trust, Trump has thrown all these practices into the fires raging in southern California and, instead of stressing communication between different parties to reach agreement on issues of fundamental disagreement, he has pronounced. He has announced, all the while paying lip service, but only lip service, to negotiations between the parties.
Tomorrow in a subsequent blog I will examine other versions of the disruptive thesis than the unholy alliance between rational and disruptive international diplomacy over the endgame with respect to holy sites.
With the help of Alex Zisman