I missed it. I perhaps know the Israeli issue better than I understand any other international conflict. (The reference timeline on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sent after this blog may serve as an indicator.) But I missed it. I was preparing to write my final comments on the Islamicist Terrorist War against us and the rest of the world by initially providing a Timeline on IS Terrorism. I wanted to show (and still may do so) that we forget very easily. We forget how frequent the terrorist attacks had once been. I was sure the media would remind us. Then Trump’s withdrawal of American troops from Syria would be seen as our concern, as undermining our security.
But that has not happened as far as I can see. A number of pundits have referred to the likely increase in world terrorism as a result of the withdrawal of troops from Syria, but that possibility comes as an abstract future rather than as something which touches our guts. The emotional dimensions of the American troop withdrawal touching our deepest fears just does not seem to be present.
Certainly, there is the sense of betrayal of the Kurds and forgetting their sacrifices and hard slogging on behalf of the coalition fight against terrorism in Iraq and Syria by many Americans. Certainly, they were also opposed to Erdoğan’s Turkish regime that has been succoring Islamicist militants in Syria as his protective shield against the rise of Kurdish nationalism that he viewed as perhaps the greatest threat to his autocratic rule. After all, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu, applauded Trump’s decision. Turkey’s Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar, promised to see Kurdish fighters “buried in trenches that they dig.”
It should be clear from reading yesterday’s timeline on the war in Syria that Turkey initially plans to divide the Kurdish forces between Manjib and Kobani in the west and Qamishli and Hasaka in the east connected by Tell Abyad using returning Arab militants as allies against the Kurds. Talk about collusion. Trump made the definitive decision immediately after talking to Erdoğan on the phone. “President Erdoğan of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria…. and he is a man who can do it plus, Turkey is right ‘next door.’ Our troops are coming home!”
But even the prospect of Turkey unleashing holy hell on the Kurds has not seemed to arouse Trump’s base, though it seems to have touched Lindsay Graham, a vocal Trump loyalist. “What Turkey is going to do is unleash holy hell on the Kurds. In the eyes of Turkey, they’re more of a threat than ISIS. So this decision is a disaster.” However, in general, loyalty no longer rings out as a lofty virtue and betrayal as perhaps the worst vice.
The whole effort to keep Iran’s regional ambitions in check may have been undermined. But that does not seem to have moved Trump as Israel’s strong supporter, except insofar as Iran is now a much more prominent threat to Israel. The Promised Land must risk crossing the Russians as it bombs Iranian weapons caches in Syria. One may never prove collusion, but the steps Trump has taken, which point to re-establishing Russia as a super-power now on the borders of Israel, sure looks like it. Russia is clearly gloating as Turkey’s ties to NATO are further weakened. The Russians may have another card up their sleeve. In light of the U.S. desertion of the Kurds, Putin may instigate an initiative to reconcile the Kurds and Assad.
The prospect of ending America’s role as the world’s policeman has not alarmed evangelicals, for the base has a strong isolationist streak. Though how can one imagine, “Making America great again” by diminishing its role in the world is beyond me. I never understood making that effort by shrinking the U.S presence, and, in so doing, creating space for autocratic states and non-state nogoodniks to expand.
In the end, I have concluded that the abandonment of Israel, not the Kurds, has been the one that has touched and perhaps moved the evangelical Christian portion of Donald Trump’s base. That is the largest part of that base. It has seemed to be immoveable in the face of almost every sin in the book that Donald Trump has committed. But I did not attend. And I should have.
For twelve years, I produced and hosted a television show called “Israel Today” on a Christian evangelical station. I got to know the love of Israel by evangelicals close up. And not simply because Israel was the necessary step to a Second Coming as Rabbi Marmur insisted. The love was genuine. Evangelicals and Orthodox Jews kept going to Israel throughout the worst period of terror attacks while liberal Jewish visits declined rapidly. The love was real and I should have recognized that if that relationship was threatened, evangelicals might begin to distance themselves from their support from Donald Trump.
Trump is a braggart. He may be the moron that the ex-Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson depicted, but according to Trump himself, he knows best about military strategy – certainly more than his generals – about what will stop refugees from seeking asylum in the U.S., about law, about virtually anything. “I know better” should be his mantra, not “Make America Great Again.” Yet Jeremiah 9:23 quotes God’s message to humanity: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches.”
Donald Trump boasts of all three, and though many have questioned his wisdom in anything other than stirring up a mob, and his might for he never served in the military, allegedly because of heel spurs, and even though many have even questioned how deep his pockets really are, the real problem is not any of those qualities but, for evangelical Christians, that he should not be boasting about them.
This is not just a problem in the Hebrew Torah. Proverbs 27:2 advises: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” It is a problem in the New Testament as well. In Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia (6:14), he instructs: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” However, Trump’s boasting, indeed his false boasts, have not sent his followers fleeing.
Nor has his lying. Trump since he took office has lied or misled the public over 7,000 times at an average of over 11 lies or distortions of the truth per day. Yesterday I pointed out his lie that before he was inaugurated, the war against IS terror in Syria was running amok and only when he was elected did America get on the road to victory. We have become almost inured to his constant lying. Yet, although Christianity Today might advise; “If we’re created in the image of Perfect Truth, then we can’t keep speaking with the forked tongue of the Serpent,” evangelicals have managed to ignore these overt sins.
His boasting did not turn them away. Nor did his lying. Nor did the multitude of other vices he exhibits, such as adultery and the celebration of fornication. Donald Trump seemed to be made of Teflon, for every sin in the book seemed to be washed away, not as Hebrews says (10:10) by prayer, forgiveness and God’s grace, but by his base simply remaining blind to those sins.
Trump abandoning the Kurds does not seem to scare away the faithful. Nor does his boasting and lying and history of fornicating. Nor the threat to Jordan which I have not even discussed. What appears – and admittedly it is far too early to be confident let alone certain – is that Trump’s withdrawal of American troops and the removal of the barrier between Iran and its Hezbollah satraps in Lebanon and Israel, may have done the trick. Donald Trump must have sensed this when he responded and insisted that, “We give Israel $4.5 billion a year, so Israel is going to be good.”
It is not that Israel should have been surprised by the Trump move. The orangutan had signaled his intentions repeatedly. Netanyahu’s Chief of Staff, Gadi Eizenkot, the Mossad, Israeli military intelligence, had all warned the Israeli Prime Minister about the imminent possibility. But perhaps Netanyahu was so super-confident in his own powers of persuasion that he believed that he could dissuade Trump from removing American troops from northeast Syria, especially since virtually every military expert, including the Secretary of Defense, had strongly advised against such a change, quite aside from the logic and strategic arguments against withdrawal.
Jim Mattis in his resignation letter wrote, “My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues.” Mattis was strongly opposed to Trump handing the keys to Syria to Turkey, Iran and Russia. All Bibi could do was utter a feeble response that Israel will have to soldier on in Syria without an American presence.
But whatever Israel’s strengths, withstanding an alliance of Iran, Turkey, Syria and Russia is a clear and present danger. And Trump’s evangelical Christian crowd knows it. Never mind that the American troop withdrawal puts the Kurds in peril. Never mind that it puts the stability of the region in greater peril. Never mind that it may even result in putting ourselves in greater peril as a result of a resurgence of terrorism. Elham Ahmed, the co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF’s), constituted mainly by military units of the Kurdish YPG fighters from the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, said, “Fighting terrorism will be difficult because our forces will be forced to withdraw from the Deir ez-Zor front to take up positions on the border with Turkey to stop an eventual attack.” Betraying the Kurds and our own security in the face of a resurgent terrorism did not suffice. But putting Israel in danger, putting the coming of the Christ in danger, that hits the core beliefs of many if not most evangelicals.
Has Trump’s evangelical base finally begun to turn against Trump? Surrounding himself with fools and felons does not seem to have done it. Offering all kinds of evidence that he was serving as Putin’s puppet does not seem to have done it. Evidence suggesting that he laundered Russian kleptocratic wealth does not seem to have done it. Tax avoidance and lack of transparency certainly did not do it. And Trump’s disrespect for the law and for the judiciary does not seem to have done it. Nor has his heartlessness towards refugee children. But betrayal of Israel!
Who would have thunk it? I should have. It was staring me right in the face. But I did not. For the past week, I have been focused elsewhere. And not because Trump is an expert at distraction as well as destruction, at debasement as well as dereliction of duty, not because he has been the disrupter par excellence – even of Wall Street markets – but because of my own mindblindness. And my assumption that the loyalty of his base was unshakeable. It was my failure to recognize what might shake up part of Donald Trump’s evangelical religious base. After all, Mike Pence is waiting in the wings.
With the help of Alex Zisman