Category Archives: American Politics

Who Is in Charge of American Foreign Policy, State or the President?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Regarding Qatar and Kurdistan, it is time for America to choose the right side.

Qatar, a small Sunni Gulf state with a long history of Islamist associations, has emerged as the epicenter of the Middle East conflict. On one side are Iran, Turkey, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood aligned with Qatar, and on the other side the Saudis, UAE, Kuwait and Egypt.

For American national security interests, management of this divide is crucial to stabilize the region. Despite Qatar’s anti-American, antisemitic and pro-Iranian views, it hosts an important but not indispensable American air base that targets Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Yet Qatar has been playing a deceitful double game for years, supporting the worst Islamists on the Sunni side while simultaneously acting as ally and banker for the theocratic Iranian regime.
Who said the Middle East is easy to decipher?

So as America tries to navigate the five-dimensional chessboards of conflicting interests in the Middle East, a serious divide in messaging and leadership has emerged between the president and his state and defense departments.

Washington Post headline read: “State Department distances itself from Trump, creating an alternate U.S. foreign policy.”

So who actually is in charge of American foreign policy?

According to Josh Rogin in the Washington Post, the new State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert “fell back on a prepared line, quoting [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson saying that the State Department would just not weigh in on what Trump is saying about U.S. foreign policy… the State Department’s plan is to push forward with its own policies and pretend they don’t contradict Trump.”

Regardless of your political affiliation, any American citizen should be profoundly troubled if our State Department has its own independent foreign policy, as it is an unelected institution unresponsive to the American electorate.

Isn’t the State Department supposed to follow the elected president’s Middle East foreign policy?

This is a recipe for a disastrous US Middle East foreign policy, undermining the interests and trust of American allies, in particular Israel.

This is especially true after the last American administration steered the US away from its traditional allies Israel, Egypt and the Sunni Gulf states toward closer relations with Iran, Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey, while creating vacuums filled by American enemies.

While the president accurately tweeted an accusation that Qatar funds terrorist groups with radical ideologies, Defense Department spokesman Jeff Davis said he was not qualified to answer a question about whether Qatar supported terrorism.

For context on Qatar’s nefarious funding, some of the groups that have benefited from Qatari support include: Islamic State; the Muslim Brotherhood; Hamas; the Khorasan Group; al Nusra Front; al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula; al-Shabaab; the Taliban; and Lashkar-e-Taiba, to name a few.

Qatari-controlled Al Jazeera influences tens of millions of Muslims in the Middle East and Europe with a profoundly anti-American message, undermining US interests at least since 9/11, and often gives voice to known Islamist terrorists.

A fuller picture of Qatar, which portrays itself as a pro-democracy forum supporting the Arab Spring, is Freedom House’s analysis of Qatar as a place where “Women face legal discrimination that pervades every aspect of life.” Sharia law is the source of the Qatari Constitution, with flogging and stoning advocated.

So much for democracy.

The executive branch’s contradictory and confused messaging extends to northern Iraq and the upcoming vote for Kurdish independence. The Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan have announced a referendum on Kurdish independence for September.

The State Department is still married to the discredited idea that Iraq needs to be reconstituted, as if it had existed from time immemorial and was not an artificial nation created by Western powers after World War I.

The Iraqi Kurds have been America’s true friend and ally in the region, while the Shi’ite Iraqi central government is controlled by Iran with an Iranian-controlled Shi’ite army of over 100,000 foot soldiers called the Popular Mobilization Front. Their mission is to create two Iranian corridors from Tehran to the Mediterranean, directly undermining American interests.

During the American presidential campaign President Trump’s Middle East adviser Walid Phares said that a Trump administration would not stand in the way of Kurdish independence.

But now State says the US has more urgent priorities in defeating ISIS, so while it acknowledged the “legitimate aspirations” of the Kurds, it supports a “unified, federal, stable and democratic Iraq.”

So the question to ask is, is this President Trump’s policy on Kurdish independence, or is it the State Department acting on its own?

Will America abandon the Kurdish people, who truly deserve and need a state of their own?

One would think that Secretary of State Tillerson would be more sympathetic to the Kurdish interest as he ignored the Iraqi Shi’ite government in the past, selling Kurdish oil without Iraq’s permission when he was the head of Exxon.

So where do he, the president and the State Department stand on Kurdish independence?

“Iran’s principal position is to support the territorial integrity of Iraq” according to Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi.

When America’s foreign policy aligns with Iran, on Iraq and Kurdistan, nine times out of 10 you are on the wrong side of history.

To advance American interests I suggest the Trump administration follow its most clear-headed diplomat, Ambassador Nicki Haley, to guide American foreign policy. Her words at Yad Vashem should be a guiding principle for American foreign policy in the Middle East and beyond: “Leadership is not about power. Leadership is the acknowledgment and value of human dignity. We must always choose a side.”

Regarding Qatar and Kurdistan, it is time for America to choose the right side.

The author is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East. He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.

Thank You Senator Mark Kirk

A great debt of gratitude is owed this fine man and his talented staff. Thank you Mark, for your six years in the Senate, which truly made a difference.

With all the tumult surrounding the American presidential election, virtually unnoticed was the departure of one of Israel’s best friends in the Senate. The mainstream pro-Israel community lost a great champion of the US-Israel relationship: Senator Mark Kirk.

Senator Kirk fought tirelessly to strengthen America’s support of Israel, insisting that Israel is America’s indispensable partner in region. He was passionate about fighting the boycott movement, recognizing its goal as the destruction of the State of Israel, not a two-state solution. But his chief claim to fame was his relentless campaign to denounce the Iranian regime as a threat to American national security interests.

Mark Kirk is owed a great debt of gratitude for repeatedly taking the lead to bring together members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to fight against the ill-conceived Iran deal. He exposed the administration’s obsessive desire to create a new US-Islamic Republic of Iran relationship to reorient the Middle East, while criticizing the “daylight” President Barack Obama sought between the US and Israel. Mark presented overwhelming evidence that Iran’s détente with America was for the Islamic Republic only a route to secure hundreds of billions in sanctions relief and economic reengagement with the world community, while never being required to rein in its hegemonic ambitions or support of terrorism.

When the Obama administration aggressively lobbied Congress against imposing Iran sanctions in the president’s first term, or when President Obama waived many congressional sanctions provisions, weakening their effect, Kirk spoke out often and loudly.

When the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) guaranteed Iran the ability to develop nuclear weapons in 10-15 years with international approval, or when the administration downplayed and ignored Iranian transgressions, Kirk worked to rally support to demand American consequences for Iran’s behavior.

Mark continually reminded the American people that Iran was and still is the greatest threat to American national security interests in the Middle East.

His prescient analysis looks all the more compelling in hindsight.

He was one of a handful of Senate leaders continually warning the American public that the Iran deal ignored Iran’s hegemonic ambitions, support of terrorism, and human rights abuses. He complained that the hundreds of billions of dollars injected into the Iranian economy directly funded the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a designated terrorist organization.

We live in a time when we only complain, and rarely thank people for their service. An elected official that loses an election is easily forgotten.

Senator Kirk deserves to be remembered and most importantly thanked for his service to our country, for standing up for America’s most important ally, Israel. Mark had three very special foreign policy legislative aides who remained behind the scenes, but were invaluable to his six-year-long efforts.

Thank you Bobby Zarate, Richard Goldberg and Igor Khrestin.

An American patriot, Kirk served as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve from 1989 until 2013, in the House of Representatives from 2000- 2010, and was elected Senator from Illinois in 2010, in the seat President Obama briefly held.

Tragedy stuck in early 2012 as Senator Kirk suffered a devastating stroke, undergoing many surgeries to relieve swelling in his brain. With the same perseverance with which he confronted the menace of Iran, after a year of intense rehabilitation, Mark returned to the Senate and immediately restarted his quest to highlight how Iran endangers American security interests. His body was weak but his mind remained sharp; he remained focused on challenging the emerging Iran deal, working across the aisle to protect American national security interests.

A partial list of his accomplishments: 1. Menendez-Kirk Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran, the most powerful economic sanctions ever imposed on Iran 2. Co-authored the Iran Freedom and Counter- Proliferation Act with Senator Menendez (D-New Jersey) 3. Authored the amendment forcing the EU to disconnect designated Iranian banks from the SWIFT financial system 4. Co-Authored the Iran Human Rights and Democracy Promotion Act with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) 5. Co-authored the Iran Transparency and Accountability Act with Senator Gillibrand 6. Convinced the US government to transfer the X-Band Radar to Israel After the Iran deal, with mounting evidence of Iranian nuclear and missile violations, Kirk and many fellow member of Congress continued to condemn the administration’s negligence in enforcing the deal. He complained that Iran had tested nuclear- capable ballistic missiles in defiance of international law, boosted its support for Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists, illegally imprisoned American citizens and continued efforts to illicitly buy nuclear and missile technology. Iran still is the most destabilizing nation in the Middle East, emboldened by a one-sided deal that was fought tooth and nail by the Senator from Illinois.

In October Mark said, “We must learn the lessons from the 1930s… take the threats of Israel’s enemies seriously, and understand that appeasement only emboldens them… It is the moral test of our generation to stand up and do what we can to protect this special nation.”

A great debt of gratitude is owed this fine man and his talented staff. Thank you Mark, for your six years in the Senate, which truly made a difference.

Your friends will miss you and your leadership.

The author is the director of MEPIN™. He regularly briefs members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.