The US border crisis is one of Donald Trump’s own making

The US president doesn’t want a wall; he wants a never-ending battle for one instead to pose as the saviour of white America

Donald Trump began his political career by railing against foreigners and migrants, denouncing Mexicans as “rapists” and Muslims as “terrorists” and vowing to “fix” the “broken borders” of the US.

But after two years of Mr Trump’s government, with the US facing an unprecedented crisis at its southern border, one might conclude his handling of the issue has been disastrous.

This year the US is on track to receive more than one million migrants, mostly from Central America, a huge number by any standards and far more than the system can cope with. These are largely families with children, surrendering voluntarily to border patrol officers at the earliest opportunity and applying for asylum.

Still, you’d be mistaken to conclude Mr Trump is a complete failure on his signature campaign issue.

To the contrary, his near-singlehanded creation of an undeniably out-of-control predicament isn’t the result of incompetence or idiocy, as his detractors suggest.

While Mr Trump simply does not do policy and governance, he is a proven master at demagogic politics.

The US president is, in fact, the primary beneficiary of this chaos, which is why he has worked so hard to create it.

In the 2016 primaries, he stood out from the large pack of credible, mainstream Republicans, mainly because of his hostility to foreigners in general, and migrants in particular.

He was plainly betting that he could win by stoking the racial anxieties of white Americans, given the demographic and cultural transformation of the US which, according to national census predictions, will mean white people will no longer be a majority in the US by 2045 for the first time in the country’s history.

Mr Trump attacked immigration to exploit such fears and suggest he would preserve and defend the traditional white, Christian, communal power and privilege that many Americans think is under attack.

He was not subtle about this. And he clearly believes such messaging is primarily how he was able to win the White House, despite losing to Hillary Clinton by nearly three million votes.

After the dreadful drubbing the Republicans took in the midterm elections in November last year, any ideas Mr Trump might have had about running on any other issue in 2020 have clearly been jettisoned.

The tax cuts he secured for the wealthy and corporations were not popular. Healthcare is an utter bust for Republicans. Only a fringe of social conservatives is obsessed with appointing right-wing judges.

His key issue was, and still is, immigration as a proxy for white power.

So the last thing Mr Trump wants is any resolution or even improvement of the immigration issue.

Instead, he is counting on endless, bitter fights about immigration that allow him to pose as the indignant champion of white America, against the treasonous liberals who want to hand the country over to the Mexican “rapists” and Muslim “terrorists” pouring over the border to – as he insists – steal jobs and kill people.

That’s why Mr Trump didn’t bother asking Congress to fund his border wall project when his party controlled the legislature for the first two years of his presidency. As soon as Democrats had the power to block it, this funding suddenly became a pressing issue, even prompting Mr Trump to impose a lengthy partial federal government shutdown.

Clearly, he doesn’t care about actually building a wall or he would have done it when it was relatively easier. What he wants is not a wall but an endless fight about a wall. And he’s got it.

The same goes for curtailing immigration. Many of his pronouncements, such as repeatedly threatening to close the border but not actually doing so, or vowing to tighten criteria for granting asylum, inevitably produce surges of people trying to cross into the US as soon as they can. There is a new rush to get into the US each time he makes such a statement and cynically exacerbates the problem.

This immigration crisis is a self-fulfilling prophecy for Mr Trump. He described a border crisis that didn’t exist, enacted measures to ensure one would develop and he is now flailing around with dramatic threats, grand gestures and sound and fury signifying nothing. That is exactly what he wants and why he is carefully avoiding doing anything that might improve the crisis. He has even cut aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, the very countries whose violence and poverty migrants are fleeing in the first place, a move which can only prompt an increase in numbers at the border.

Mr Trump is clearly determined to spend the 18 months before the next election posing as the saviour of white America. The most obvious way he can do that is by stoking fears of migrants, especially given that terrorism in the US is now almost entirely committed by white nationalist extremists.

Expect him to continue exacerbating the immigration crisis while raging against it – and avoiding taking any steps that might ease or resolve it. That’s working for him perfectly.

Saudis Mistake Their Alliance With Trump for an Alliance With the U.S.

In just a few years, the kingdom’s most important constituency could be the U.S. Democratic Party.

Last week my Bloomberg opinion colleague Eli Lake asked whether Democrats want to maintain the alliance with Saudi Arabia. This question should also be posed in reverse: Does Saudi Arabia want to maintain the alliance with the U.S. rather than just Trump administration?

The Saudi government is not doing enough to protect the relationship. It’s drawing bipartisan criticism such as the recent congressional vote to end involvement in the Yemen war. But worse, it’s becoming a partisan issue between Republicans and Democrats.

That’s incredibly dangerous. The U.S.-Saudi relationship has been resilient precisely because it’s indispensable.

The Persian Gulf is still the jugular vein of the oil-reliant global economy and strategically crucial to U.S. global strategy.

Americans could walk away from the Gulf. But that would mean essentially abandoning the project of international leadership altogether.

If the U.S. wants to stay, it needs a main local partner.

One option is Iran, which disagrees with the U.S. on almost everything. The second is Saudi Arabia, which largely wants the same outcomes the U.S. does.

It’s not much of a choice for American leaders.

It’s even less of a conundrum for Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia needs a global patron to secure its interests. Russia and China couldn’t do that even if they wanted to.

For now, only Washington can. So, the Saudis don’t have any real alternative either.

That’s why this alliance has been so durable. It survived the Arab-Israeli wars, the 1973 oil embargo, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The current crisis isn’t happening in a vacuum, but it’s also not being propelled by such momentous developments.

Instead it’s driven by mutual misperceptions in the triangular relationship among Republicans, Democrats and Saudis.

In the Trump era, everything is becoming polarized. There’s even an effort to turn the ultimate foreign policy consensus, the “special relationship” with Israel, into a partisan standoff between Republicans and Democrats.

But the Israelis have a solid bipartisan support base. The Saudis don’t.

This crisis has its origins in the Obama era, when the Saudis became alarmed at U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran, reaction to the Arab Spring protests, and Obama’s statements about “free riders” and how they should “share the Middle East” with Iran.

When the Trump administration began, both Washington and Riyadh reveled in the supposed “reset” capped off by Trump’s first overseas trip, which was to Saudi Arabia.

Since then, both the administration and the Saudi government have been treating the relationship as a personalized one with the president and his family.

The Saudis are understandably gratified by the withdrawal from the nuclear agreement and the “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.

But, in the meanwhile, the message has been inadvertently communicated to Riyadh that the real partnership is not with the U.S. in general but with the Trump administration or, at best, the Republicans.

That’s incredibly dangerous because Democrats are integral to American decision-making and are already starting to regain government authority.

The biggest danger for the Saudis is that Democrats will come to forget that the alliance began with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and has been supported by almost all of their own leaders for many decades.

Instead they may come to view the alliance with Saudi Arabia as a Republican, Trumpian error that should be corrected.

Having concluded this, they may then look for the alternative Democratic policy and, remembering only Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, conclude that their party stands for outreach to Tehran.

Already there are loud voices on the Democratic left strongly implying a preference for partnering with Tehran over Riyadh.

Unfortunately, some Saudis are acting as if that was a predictable or standard Democratic attitude. It’s not. It’s new and dangerous.

Democrats, and even some Republicans, are correctly horrified by the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last year, are concerned about human rights and the treatment of dissidents and women’s rights activists, and are raising serious concerns about the war in Yemen.

That doesn’t make any of them anti-Saudi. It means there are some serious issues that need to be dealt with on both sides of the equation to fix a fraying friendship.

Saudi Arabia shouldn’t misinterpret legitimate criticisms and concerns as a rejection of the alliance. And it’s especially troubling that some Saudi media in both English and Arabic seem to be falling into this partisan trap by attacking Democrats as such. Arresting American citizens doesn’t help either.

Instead, Saudi Arabia should act swiftly to ensure this entirely avoidable crisis is reversed and the relationship repaired. The best way to do that is to engage with Republicans and Democrats, and take criticisms seriously, not personally.

Otherwise, Riyadh may find that its alliance with Washington is supported by only one party or faction that may not be in power much longer.

Israel-Gulf Arab Rapprochement Hangs on Palestinian Peace

Israelis are relying on closer ties with Gulf states. The election next week will help determine how tight they can become.

About two years ago, an opportunity emerged to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by bringing Israel and Gulf Arab countries closer together. It didn’t happen, and the last chance may depend on next week’s election in Israel.

The opportunity for a new strategic partnership was based on mutual antipathy to Iran. Shared Israeli and Arab opposition to the Iran nuclear agreement and Iran’s use of terrorist groups like Hezbollah to destabilize the region started to overcome decades of hostility.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump was quick to recognize the opportunity and pitched it as a way of reviving Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which haven’t resulted in any agreements since 2005 and collapsed completely after President Barack Obama failed to secure a settlement freeze from Israel in 2011.

The idea was that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their allies could provide new incentives for Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians, and more inducements and Arab political cover to the Palestinians to make concessions of their own.

It hasn’t gone well.

While there has been diplomatic activity, most recently a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Oman and his meeting with Gulf leaders at a Warsaw strategy conference in February, Israel and the Gulf Arab countries aren’t actually forming an open alliance against Iran. There’s been some clandestine intelligence-sharing and commerce with Israeli cyber-security firms, but that’s about all.

Contrary to Israeli and American hopes (and Palestinian fears), Gulf Arab countries are insisting on movement toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Gulf Arab governments consider the Israeli occupation of the West Bank a threat to their security and stability.

The Trump administration apparently didn’t understand this, and has repeatedly blocked the path to the kind of progress the Gulf governments want to see.

First, the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without distinguishing between West Jerusalem and the city’s occupied East, which fed the deepest suspicions of Arabs and Muslims. It also wrecked the peace framework reached in 1993 that set Jerusalem and four other subjects aside as key “final status” issues to be determined only by agreement and after other key issues were resolved.

Then, the U.S. cut off most ties and funding to Palestinians, undercutting any efforts by Gulf countries to prod the Palestinians back into U.S.-brokered talks.

Finally, by endorsing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights last month, the White House handed Israel another victory at Arab expense and in defiance of international law.

Since the Jerusalem announcement, Saudi King Salman has seized hold of the Palestinian issue personally and repeatedly clarified that Saudi Arabia would not alter its commitment to creating a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem.

Hopes of bringing Israel and Gulf countries together are fading but not extinguished, as recent statements by the U.A.E. minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, demonstrate.

In a March interview, Gargash lamented the Arab history of ignoring and boycotting Israel, which he called “very, very wrong.” But he also insisted that Gulf countries need “progress on the peace front” to facilitate “the strategic shift” to a rapprochement with Israel, which he evidently favors.

It’s been clear for a couple of years that several key Gulf countries were open to mutually reciprocal small steps: Arab moves toward diplomatic recognition of Israel in exchange for Israeli steps toward easing the plight of the Palestinians and facilitating renewed negotiations.

Gulf Arab openness to creating this virtuous circle with Israel has been met with effusive Israeli enthusiasm about a new relationship, but frostiness on concrete steps toward lessening tensions with Palestinians, except for failed Egyptian-led efforts to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The current ultra-right Israeli governing coalition, in which Netanyahu is among the most liberal members, is not likely to change the dynamic.

Hope depends on Israel’s April 9 election to deliver either a new government or a different Netanyahu-led coalition that’s open to engaging Palestinians as a response to Gulf overtures.

The Blue and White Party that’s challenging Netanyahu is led by several former generals and has adopted a tough negotiating stance towards the Palestinians. But it’s also criticized Netanyahu for avoiding talks and has pledged to resume peace efforts. Its leaders say they understand Israel’s security needs better than he does; if so, they will not let an opportunity pass.

In recent years, Israeli officials have often boasted about “our Sunni Arab allies” in the struggle to contain Iran. As things stand, that’s hyperbole.

The strategic alliance that Israel wants is possible. But it depends on a recognition by Israeli leaders that the Gulf Arab governments must be able to point to progress toward advancing Palestinian rights.

If the Mueller report proves anything, it’s that US democracy is badly broken

Its handling so far also prompts the vital question of who guards the guardians of America’s political system

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 300-page report on Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election has been filed with the Justice Department, but no one else has seen a single sentence of it.

Congress and the public have only a four-page letter from Attorney General William Barr, supposedly summarising its findings.

Mr Mueller was apparently unable to prove a conspiracy by the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence, but unyielding Republican resolve to suppress the report suggests that it, nonetheless, contains highly damaging information.

Mr Trump’s victory celebration is at best premature.

He claims complete vindication and exoneration, but the report categorically declines to exonerate him of obstruction of justice.

While Mr Barr and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, argue that Mr Trump did not obstruct justice in his response to the investigation – including the firing of former FBI director James Comey – Mr Mueller’s report obviously also provides grounds for a very different conclusion.

Democrats and much of the public may strongly differ with Mr Barr, once they see the full report – which Mr Mueller says doesn’t exonerate the president and which Republicans seem keen to conceal.

The Democrats’ de facto leader, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is correct that since the Republican Senate majority is united behind Mr Trump, it’s pointless for the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to impeach him.

Besides, Democrats think there’s an excellent case for defeating Mr Trump in 2020, and many prefer a public repudiation of him and his white-nationalist politics to a parliamentary battle.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump continues to face ominous investigations by New York prosecutors into his businesses, foundation and campaign.

Although the impact on Mr Trump’s long-term viability remains to be seen, two major effects of the Mueller investigation are immediately evident.

First, the criminal convictions of Mr Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his deputy, Robert Gates, announce a new era for prosecuting violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which was traditionally barely enforced.

These convictions, and others, signal that international lobbyists in Washington, and even the governments who hire them, must now be very careful about scrupulously adhering to this law.

Second, the reaction of Mr Barr and Mr Rosenstein to the Mueller report highlights one of several serious constitutional malfunctions in the American political system that are only getting worse.

In many ways, US democracy is badly broken. Some of its core structures are either no longer working as designed more than 200 years ago, or have become obsolete and thus dysfunctional.

For example, the federal election system, the electoral college, and several other aspects of the Connecticut Compromise on congressional representation between large and small states, all crafted when the Constitution was adopted at the end of the 18th century, have become, in a drastically changed nation, intolerably distorting.

They are resulting in minority rule by a conservative, rural electorate with far more power per individual voter than the larger, liberal and urban constituencies that mainly power the nation’s culture and economy, but are increasingly politically shortchanged. All this is exacerbated by dark money, gerrymandering, voter suppression and so on.

The Mueller investigation has brought a related conundrum bedeviling US governance into sharp focus: who guards the guardians?

Last year, Mr Barr virtually auditioned for his Attorney General job by writing a public memo denouncing the Mueller investigation and suggesting no president can commit obstruction of justice while conducting the duties of leading the executive branch.

Mr Barr does allow that if a president ordered the destruction of evidence or instructed staffers to commit perjury, that would constitute obstruction. But, he argues, if the president, acting as the government’s chief executive, instructs subordinates like the head of the FBI not to investigate someone or something, that is a judgment that he alone is constitutionally authorised to make and that cannot be second guessed.

Thus far, the handling of the Mueller report is reinforcing this troubling, quasi-monarchical, standard.

It places few constraints on any president inclined to subvert the law-enforcement process to benefit himself and his friends.

In theory, US presidents are checked by Congress, not the police. But political parties did not exist when the Constitution was drafted. It was assumed that Congress would invariably defend legislative prerogatives against an out-of-control executive. In practice, though, legislators defer almost totally to any president of their own party, and reflexively attack one from the other side, preferring organisational loyalty over institutional imperatives. So, the legislative check is generally either insufficient or excessive.

Past efforts to solve this problem, such as the genuinely independent special prosecutors created by the 1978 Ethics in Government Act, proved unsustainable, given that both parties win presidential power.

Republicans, angered by the Iran-Contra investigation, and Democrats, enraged by the Whitewater investigation that led to the impeachment of Bill Clinton, both quietly let the law expire in 1999.

That effectively produced the present scandalous situation, in which presidents apparently possess vast and virtually unfettered authority over federal police investigations, even into themselves, their administrations or their associates.

The US needs a viable process to constrain executive overreach and ensure real independence for investigators scrutinising presidents and their cronies. It’s hardly impossible.

Any well-functioning democracy would move expeditiously to craft one. So, don’t hold your breath.

U.S. Subverts Peace and Israel by Affirming Land Grabs

Recognizing annexation of the Golan Heights weakens alliances with Arab powers and strengthens Israeli annexationists and Palestinian rejectionists.

President Donald Trump’s proclamation on Monday recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights sends Israel a clear and dangerous message: If you want land, annex it, and eventually it shall be yours.

That departure from U.S. and international norms will weaken both Israeli and Arab incentives to seek peace.

By rebooting American expectations, the Trump administration is revising Israeli calculations. For Israeli annexationists, the sky is now the limit.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is surrounded by people in his own Likud party and among his coalition partners who favor annexing parts of the West Bank, notably the areas on the western side of a separation wall built since 2002 along with major settlement blocs and the Jordan River valley.

Last year, Likud endorsed the de facto annexation of many Israeli settlements. So did the Knesset before being restrained by cooler heads, including Netanyahu himself.

Whoever wins the upcoming Israeli election, the drive towards annexation in the West Bank is likely to pick up speed. What argument is left against it?

Until now, that argument was decisively made by history and international law.

In the early 1980s, Israel effectively annexed first East Jerusalem and then the Golan Heights, which it had seized from Syria in the 1967 war. The administration of President Ronald Reagan pushed back, joining the rest of the international community in rejecting those claims and upholding the principal enshrined in the United Nations charter of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.

Every subsequent administration has done the same. Until now.

For Palestinians, there can now be no doubt that the U.S. government has signed on to the expansionist ambitions of Greater Israel advocates on the Israeli right.

That’s in conflict with the principle that the U.S. has upheld since the 1993 Oslo agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, which stipulated that any territorial adjustments to the 1949 armistice lines had to be mutually agreed.

With the Oslo framework discarded, Palestinians have no reason to hope they can win their independence through negotiations with Israel.

Violent factions like Hamas will be strengthened despite the bitter Palestinian history of military defeats.

Also emboldened will be the “one-state” movement that seeks to unite Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into a single nation where Palestinians would enjoy demographic dominance (the combined population of those regions is already more than half Palestinian). The goal would be to discredit and eventually eliminate the Jewish state as an example of minority rule comparable to the apartheid system once used in South Africa.

Annexationist Israelis seem comfortable with the same trajectory. Both sides are convinced they can win a demographic battle that will more likely yield a bitter stalemate.

U.S. recognition of Israeli expansion is also likely to backfire against Israel itself by straining its emerging partnership with Arab countries, especially U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Israel is relying on cooperation with those countries against Iran and, increasingly, Turkey, as a basis for new approaches to Palestinian peace.

I was in Riyadh in May 2018, when the U.S. moved its embassy to Jerusalem, and the consternation of Saudi officials was unmistakable.

Now, the Arab world, including the Gulf states, Jordan and Egypt, is united in rejecting Monday’s Golan proclamation. Arab leaders consider the U.S. move to be a gift to Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah and other radical groups in the region.

Saudi Arabia’s bitter statement went far beyond what would be required to satisfy Arab political correctness on this matter.

Trump justified his Golan declaration on the grounds of Israel’s security. The Saudi statement flings that logic back at him and raises the stakes. “The declaration,” the Saudi statement correctly notes, “will risk the security and stability of the region.”

Israel and Its Adversaries Tiptoe Toward War

All sides are spoiling for a little bit of conflict. Nobody wants too much, but combat can be hard to control.

As President Donald Trump followed through on Monday on his pledge to recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, the Middle East is bracing for war.

For the third time in two weeks, a long-range rocket has been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel, slamming into a house Monday morning and injuring seven civilians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Washington. Israel mobilized its military. And leaders of Hamas, the militant Palestinian faction that controls Gaza, have reportedly gone into hiding.

Just two weeks before the next Israeli election, the indicators pointing toward armed conflict have moved into the red zone.

Almost all the involved parties have reasons to welcome a limited escalation. They also have reasons to prevent hostilites from going too far. But fighting can be hard to stop.

The latest crisis began on March 16, when two Hamas rockets landed in the Tel Aviv area. No one was hurt. Hamas said it was a mistake. Israel and Egypt chalked the attack up to “incompetence.” Israel made a limited response that injured two Palestinians. Hamas avoided any retaliation and called off a scheduled protest at the border.

All sides plainly preferred to avoid another conflict.

But that kind of quick de-escalation is now unlikely, particularly for Netanyahu, who cannot afford to look weak.

On the other side, it’s easy to see why someone in Gaza decided to instigate a military crisis.

Hamas is in political trouble. It’s been facing angry demonstrations by Gazans under the banner, “We want to live,” protesting Hamas mismanagement, brutality and authoritarianism. Hamas has responded with more repression.

The protests are the latest manifestation of a growing humanitarian and governance crisis facing Hamas, which has not found a way to bring international humanitarian aid and reconstruction to the overcrowded, impoverished and quarantined territory it rules.

Hamas leaders may not all want a new war. The group says the rocket attacks have been mistakes, implausibly blaming the latest one on “bad weather.”

On March 16, Netanyahu had every reason to avoid another major conflict with Hamas to distract from the Israeli election. This time he has little choice. Adding to the chance of armed confrontation, Egypt signaled Hamas that it would face the consequences of continued attacks on Israel unaided.

Moreover, a limited but robust military exchange could help Netanyahu push back against a strong electoral threat posed by the Blue-White Coalition, led by three noted generals.

And Israel’s other major antagonists, the Lebanon-based Hezbollah paramilitary force and its Iranian patrons, seem to be itching for a fight. Iran has been hobbled by intensifying U.S. economic sanctions and other pressure, and is looking for chances to flex regional muscles.

Trump’s announcement on Golan has generated new opportunities for Arab and Islamic forces looking to assert leadership credentials in the struggle against Israel.

Trump’s blessing of Israel’s annexation of Golan and Jerusalem could prove especially useful for Iran and its Shiite proxies. Distrusted by many Arabs, they can now pose as champions of Arab and Muslim interests against Israeli expansion and U.S. imperialism.

They’ll also see a chance to prevent Hamas from being credited for leading the confrontation in the name of Sunni Islamists, benefiting newly assertive Turkey and its Muslim Brotherhood allies rather than Iran.

But all sides also have reason to be careful. Hamas knows it would lose any sustained military conflict with Israel. Even the political benefits it seeks depend on escaping without so much damage to Gaza that it would provoke further public wrath.

Netanyahu could benefit politically from a brief exchange, but not if Israel gets dragged into a protracted war in Gaza, loses soldiers or sustains damaging rocket attacks on its population centers, or comes under withering international criticism.

And Hezbollah and Iran don’t want Israel to launch an all-out air offensive against Hezbollah’s new assets and capabilities in Syria, and even in Lebanon, degrading and reversing many of their gains from the Syrian war.

A brief Middle East conflict now seems likely, with all sides seeing potential benefits. But once a fight gets started, pulling back is easier said than done.

Turkey’s Rise Nixes Any Resurgence of the Old “Axis of Resistance”

The Syrian war effectively eradicated the once-widespread myth that there was an “axis of resistance” in the Middle East, uniting Sunni Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood with pro-Iranian sectarian Shia forces. The false narrative suggested that, by threatening the regional order, the culture of “resistance” was battling a supposed “culture of accommodation” by Arab states, which, in seeking to maintain stability, were supposedly serving the interests of the West and Israel.

But with the Syrian war now over, efforts to resuscitate this myth are being thwarted by the rise of Turkey, which has drawn Sunni Islamists into a unified camp of its own.

After rebel-held parts of Aleppo fell to pro-regime forces in December 2016, Turkey shifted its strategy away from a concerted confrontation with Iran and its proxies and began a determined bid for broader regional, ideological and political hegemony.

In the decade before the Syrian war began in 2011, both Sunni and Shia Islamist, as well as pan-Arab nationalist, populist rhetoric, depicted the region as divided into two camps: an “axis of resistance” confronting an “axis of accommodation”.

This mythology created the illusion of a “resistance” alliance, which, with rare exceptions, never really existed, and a supposed consensus, which never existed at all, between two largely incompatible groupings.

The pro-Iranian camp in the Middle East – including the Syrian regime, Hezbollah and other Lebanese factions, Iraqi Shia militias and others directly aligned with Tehran – trumpeted the mythology of resistance, with Hezbollah as the implicit vanguard of the movement.

The Sunni Islamist camp – passionately supported by culturally influential but politically insignificant left-wing pan-Arab nationalists, among them prominent voices on Al Jazeera TV – repeated virtually the same mythology but with Hamas at the forefront.

Although they had fundamentally differing agendas, their regional discourse was generally, but not entirely, indistinguishable, and certainly complementary and mutually reinforcing.

While it was never fully fleshed out, this resistance was assumed to be wholeheartedly against Israel, largely against the US and generally against the status quo and most existing Arab regimes.

However, this putative alliance did not survive the war in Syria.

The stark division the Syrian war appeared to force on most regional actors appeared to neatly divide them into relatively homogenous pro and anti-Iranian camps. Turkey, for example, was understood to be in the anti-Iranian grouping.

It was also primarily responsible for the illusion that regional dynamics were primarily driven by a sectarian Sunni-Shia divide, which some commentators even asserted was an age-old phenomenon.

The best example of the kind of dislocating rupture caused by the demolition of the axis of resistance myth is Hamas, which was no longer able to remain both a core member of the Muslim Brotherhood movement and a key ally of Iran.

The Syrian war forced Hamas to choose between its Sunni Islamist identity and its alliance with Syria and Iran. Its leadership fled Damascus for Doha, abandoning their headquarters and many assets.

Now the Syrian war is effectively over, there are obvious efforts to resurrect the false idea of an alliance between Sunni and Shia Islamists, plus left-wing cheerleaders, under the banner of “resistance”. Hence, Hamas is cautiously reaching out to Iran again. Media outlets are dropping some old hostilities and softening tones. Attitudes are shifting and many self-styled activists are no doubt hoping to resurrect the idea of resistance versus accommodation.

But that’s not going to happen. Shia and Sunni Islamists, and even their pan-Arab nationalist fan clubs, aren’t going to be able to resurrect the fictional and virtual axis they believed defined the region 15 years ago.

The factor that makes this impossible is the rise of Turkey as a fully fledged would-be regional hegemon with a fully defined Sunni Islamist ideological orientation and a set of reliable allies and proxies, most notably Qatar and Muslim Brotherhood groups.

Fifteen years ago, Iran wasn’t competing with a major anti-status quo rival. Now it is.

Even if these formerly aligned groups once again use similar language, there are two distinctly different agendas and contending foreign policies reflecting powerful, competing regional states at work.

The Middle East is no longer a binary landscape, divided between resistance versus accommodation (or radical versus moderate, if you prefer), or even pro and anti-Iran blocs.

Writ large, it is now a ternary reality: a pro-Iranian bloc with a largely Shia Islamist orientation; a pro-Turkish and essentially Sunni Islamist one; and the camp favouring stability and the regional status quo largely aligned with Washington.

Turkey and Iran now are frenemies – rivals that will cautiously confront when necessary, co-operate when possible and compete always, while being careful to continue hundreds of years of care to avoid any direct conflict.

But it has become obvious that, just as Tehran’s foreign policy was, ultimately, the guiding light behind the pro-Iranian and sectarian Shia wing of the axis of resistance, what used to be its Sunni Islamist components are now operating just as firmly under the direction and for the interests of Ankara and its agenda.

The outbreak of the Syrian war might have put paid to the myth of the axis of resistance. But the end of that conflict isn’t going to allow for its resurrection.

New Congress Sounds Alarms for U.S.-Gulf Arab Partnership

Yemen, Khashoggi, detainees, and nuclear technology are driving a deep-seated congressional backlash against Riyadh.

As anticipated, the new U.S. Congress is proving to be an inhospitable environment for Saudi Arabia and some of its Gulf Arab allies, including the United Arab Emirates. Despite a slow start for the 116th session due to a prolonged U.S. government shutdown, a number of issues have already been tackled by both the House of Representatives, with a Democratic majority, and the Senate, with a slimmer Republican majority. They have arisen through the full range of available legislative prerogatives: hearings, formal letters, press statements, and communications to the executive branch or media. And both Democrats seeking to critique the administration on a partisan basis and Republican internationalists seeking to push it in a more traditionally hawkish direction have been attracted to Gulf-related issues, especially regarding Saudi Arabia. Predictably, the close association between the Saudi government and the administration of President Donald J. Trump – and his family – is leaving Riyadh an exposed and relatively defenseless political target for administration critics on a range of issues. These issues reflect a growing divide between Saudi Arabia and Congress, and have great relevance for several other Gulf Arab countries as well.

The Yemen War

The biggest issue roiling U.S.-Gulf Arab relations is the Yemen war, which continues to be used by both the administration’s Democratic opponents and internationalist Republicans to pressure the executive branch. In mid-March, the Republican-controlled Senate broke with Trump on two issues: mandating the withdrawal of U.S. forces from most aspects of the Yemen war and reversing the national emergency declaration to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Resistance to U.S. participation in Yemen has therefore dovetailed with a growing sense by members of Congress from both parties that there has been a usurpation of the legislature’s constitutional war-declaring and war-making powers, producing a historic vote.

The March 13 Senate resolution sets up what is likely to be the first time that a majority of both houses of Congress have used the War Powers Resolution of 1973 since its original passage in efforts to order the withdrawal of U.S. forces from a conflict. If the House and Senate can agree on the same language and pass that in coming days, which is likely given the existing votes in the two chambers, it would be the first major effort by the legislature to push back against the executive’s increasing monopolization of war-making powers, which the Constitution specifically grants to Congress and not the White House.

However, the practical impact on U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemen conflict is likely to be very small, if any at all. The final language will include exemptions for missions to combat extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which are a major part of the U.S. participation in the UAE-led counterinsurgency in southern Yemen. More importantly, any such measure will almost certainly be vetoed by Trump, and there is no indication of supermajorities in either chamber to overturn that and make this law. So, the impact on the separation of powers and the U.S. engagement in Yemen will be largely symbolic.

The rejection of the Yemen war marks a serious breach of the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia, at least on the part of Congress, with many members linking their votes to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and other concerns regarding the kingdom’s leadership. The votes were the culmination of two years of pending legislation in both the House and Senate that finally came together mid-March.

The Gulf countries principally involved in this conflict, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, should recognize the stakes reflected in this unusual pushback against the White House by Congress, including seven senators from his own party. In the long run, it suggests that almost any administration succeeding Trump’s will reflect a similar disapproval of and determination not to be involved in this conflict, should it persist beyond the current administration. Weapons sales to the UAE are also threatened by reports that U.S. weapons supplied to the Emiratis were discovered in the hands of al-Qaeda-affiliated militia groups in southern Yemen. In short, on Yemen, Congress is no longer a Saudi or even a UAE ally.

Jamal Khashoggi Murder

The continuing controversy over the murder of Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 also remains a major source of tension between the United States and Saudi Arabia and between Congress and the White House. The president, secretary of state, and other senior officials have repeatedly cast doubt on the ability of the United States to determine the degree of culpability of senior Saudi officials, particularly Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Pressure built to the point where, in early February, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir publicly asked Congress to withhold judgment and let the Saudi judicial and investigative process run its course before reaching any conclusion and, especially, not to impose additional sanctions on Saudi Arabia or its government officials, as some lawmakers are proposing.

But an act of Congress in late 2018 mandated a finding by the White House under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act to determine if a foreign person, specifically the Saudi crown prince, was responsible for this action. The Trump administration did not report a clear finding by the February 7 deadline to Congress, which both Republicans and Democrats identified as a failure to abide by the law. The CIA has issued an intelligence assessment suggesting the crown prince was likely responsible, but that assessment has not been embraced by the president. It’s likely, therefore, that the Khashoggi issue will continue to be a major irritant between Washington and Riyadh and, probably, between Congress and the White House.

Women and Other Detainees in Saudi Arabia and Other Gulf Countries

A closely related source of tension between Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, and the new Congress is human rights concerns, and particularly the arrest and treatment of certain detainees, above all women’s rights activists, several of whom have reportedly been tortured while in custody. For much of 2018 the issue grew in prominence in Washington but did not receive a great deal of attention from Congress. However, 2019 promises to be different. On February 13, a bipartisan group of lawmakers called on Saudi Arabia to “immediately and unconditionally” release these detainees, including Hatoon al-Fassi, Aziza al-Yousef, and Loujain al-Hathloul. The resolution also strongly condemns the arrest and treatment of these women’s rights activists. On March 1, two members of Congress formally asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to personally intervene in the case of Aziza al-Yousef. Many observers, including prominent media outlets, have noted a connection between this intensified concern and the Khashoggi murder. Given that at least some of the arrested women are now being tried on extremely serious charges, attention to this issue is likely to increase.

Similar concerns have been expressed in Congress regarding a dual U.S.-Saudi citizen, Dr. Walid Fitaihi, who has reportedly been detained without charges. Fitaihi’s son alleged the doctor is being tortured when he spoke at a Capitol Hill press conference hosted by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy. At a March 6 hearing for the approval of new ambassadors to Saudi Arabia and Iraq, senators from both parties expressed serious concerns about detainees, including Fitaihi, the Yemen war, and a number of other Saudi actions. Indeed, the prominent Republican Senator Marco Rubio described Mohammed bin Salman as having “gone full gangster,” and called him “reckless” and “ruthless.”

A related issue being raised in Congress, including at the March 6 confirmation hearing, are persistent charges, which Saudi Arabia denies, that its diplomatic officials have been helping Saudi citizens flee pending prosecutions for serious crimes in the United States. The issue has been formally raised with the State Department by several lawmakers, including Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. If this issue is not satisfactorily resolved, and more cases come to light, it could dovetail with the human rights considerations to compound the growing bill of particulars in Congress against Riyadh.

Nuclear Technology Sales to Saudi Arabia

A further issue dividing the new Congress from both Saudi Arabia and the White House is proposals by the Trump administration to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia for the development of a Saudi nuclear energy program based on the need to preserve hydrocarbons for export and tapping into the country’s extensive uranium reserves for domestic energy consumption. A 2010 agreement with the UAE follows the traditional “123” protocol that prohibits purchasers of reactors from enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium to prevent any risk of nuclear weapons proliferation. However, Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries with extensive uranium reserves it can mine that also wants to make extensive use of reactors to generate its own electricity. Critics note that the kingdom could purchase enriched uranium more cheaply than creating its own enrichment process, but Saudi Arabia counters that the right to enrich was recognized in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or nuclear deal, with Iran, as well as the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and Riyadh will not accept more restrictions than what were asked of Tehran. Moreover, as the Trump administration frequently notes, Saudi Arabia could purchase reactors from a wide range of other potential suppliers, including South Korea. However, Saudi Arabia has repeatedly suggested it would prefer to make the United States its main partner in developing its own domestic nuclear energy industry.

In the context of the Yemen war and other concerns, however, this prospect has been greeted with considerable alarm in Congress and much of the mainstream U.S. media. On February 19, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform issued the report “Multiple Whistleblowers Raise Grave Concerns with White House Efforts to Transfer Sensitive U.S. Nuclear Technology to Saudi Arabia.” The report raises serious concerns about the process through which the proposed sales are being advanced and about undue influence, cronyism, and corruption on the part of current and former administration officials involved in the conversations, including former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. The report also outlines previously confidential proposals by six major U.S. energy corporations and the consortium IP3 International to the Saudi government for a joint nuclear energy plan for the country – the “Iron Bridge Program.” This has come under considerable criticism as well. Democrats say they have begun a full-scale House inquiry into the plans and other proposals to sell U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia with or without a 123 agreement.

Bipartisan initiatives have been introduced in both the House and Senate that would require any nuclear technology sales to Saudi Arabia to conform to a 123 agreement approved by Congress. Interestingly, however, on March 3 the Pentagon confirmed that Lockheed Martin would be receiving its first payment from Saudi Arabia for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile-defense system. The $15 billion sale, which also involves Boeing and Raytheon, does not appear to be presently at jeopardy in Congress despite the growing concerns regarding U.S.-Saudi relations and other weapon sales. The size of the contract combined with the defensive nature of the THAAD system and the existence of alternatives such as the Russian S-400 anti-missile system may protect the viability of the sale despite growing congressional exasperation with Saudi policies and conduct.

Alarm Bells are Ringing

All of this is bad news for Riyadh and its Gulf Arab allies, notably the UAE. It’s a clear barometer of how damaged the long-standing but often fraught U.S.-Saudi alliance has become outside of the bubble at the center of the Trump administration. The pushback is close to unanimous among Democrats and often involves key Republicans, many of them traditionally proponents of close U.S.-Saudi relations. The pending Yemen War Powers Resolution bill will almost certainly be vetoed and not become law, but it’s the strongest indication that a historic rupture is brewing that, in some ways, is going far beyond earlier crises such as the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and the September 11, 2001 attacks. Riyadh and its Gulf partners are on notice that on the range of issues cited, and several pending ones that could develop during this congressional session, they have lost the sympathy of many members of Congress from both parties.

That’s plainly not irreversible. But Gulf Arab countries will have to pay close attention to their relationship with the Democrats, who remain a powerful part of the U.S. government, once again in control of the House of Representatives and well-positioned to regain the Senate in 2020. Despite Gulf states’ disappointment with the second term of the administration of Barack Obama and strong relations with the Trump administration thus far, it’s vital to keep uppermost in mind that their alliance is with the United States, not with the executive branch and certainly not with the Trump administration, let alone Donald Trump and his family. The U.S. government as a whole, as well as the broader society, should be the target audience for positive re-engagement.

Any effective U.S. ally has to have good relations with both Democrats and Republicans or risk becoming a partisan issue and therefore going through wildly fluctuating fortunes as the incessant pendulum swings in U.S. domestic politics. The health of the U.S.-Gulf Arab partnership can only be maintained by taking each other’s sensitivities seriously, respecting each other’s interests and values, and placing a strong spotlight on the shared goals for the future of the Middle East that haven’t changed. Otherwise, the warning signs are signaling a historic shift away from bipartisan support for this partnership to a much more partisan and damaging division on the U.S.-Gulf Arab alliance.

U.S. Shouldn’t Endorse Israel’s Annexation of Golan

There’s no justification for a move that encourages military land grabs.

President Donald Trump’s White House apparently has yet another terrible idea about the Middle East: recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, seized from Syria on the last day of the 1967 war.

The administration signaled that it is at least thinking in these terms when a State Department human rights report this month described the Golan as “Israeli controlled” instead of the traditional U.S. designation, “Israeli occupied.” The idea is being openly championed by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the few outsiders who appears to have foreign policy sway with Trump.

Don’t do it, Mr. President.

The argument made by Israeli officials is that recognizing Israeli control of the Golan, like recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, simply acknowledges reality. Israel effectively annexed the Golan Heights in 1981 and isn’t about to hand it over to the hostile Syrian dictator General Bashar al-Assad.

But there are other realities, too.

Israel doesn’t regard its annexation as irreversible, and not long ago treated the territory as a bargaining chip. As recently as the late 1990s, Israel almost returned most of the territory to Syria.

Negotiations failed because Israel was unwilling to withdraw to exactly the 1949 armistice lines, which would have restored Syrian access to the waters of Lake Tiberias. Israel insisted on keeping a strip of land that would deny Syria access to the lake, also known as the Sea of Galilee.

But few Israelis view Golan as sacred territory. Israel extended the 1967 war to grab it, partly because it was strategic high ground, but more for its rich farmland.

The U.S. drafted and voted for numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions designating the Golan Heights occupied territory and rejecting Israel’s annexation, though the administration has been recently inching away from that decades-long legacy.

No one denies that the Golan was Syrian or that Israel acquired it during a war.

So, if the U.S. endorses Israel’s annexation, the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war — the most important principle of the UN charter — will be gone.

Confirming Israel’s seizure of this territory would render any territory in the world subject to conquest and annexation. There’d be no legal basis to insist, for example, that Russia must return Crimea to Ukraine. Indeed, Russia would be virtually invited to start gobbling up any parts of the former Soviet Union it regrets having let go of at the end of the Cold War. And that’s just Russia.

If Graham and White House officials think Israeli annexation would enhance Israeli security, they are mistaken. Certainly, Assad’s brutality, and the war and chaos he provoked, have given Israel plenty of good reasons to keep him at arm’s length. His alliance with Iran is not the least of them.

But that doesn’t make the case for Israel’s annexation.

If Israel and Syria had secured a Golan deal in the 1990s, the entire underlying reality would have changed. Syria could well have become a U.S. ally and altered its regional profile, much as Egypt did in preparation for Israel to give back the Sinai Peninsula in 1982.

Moreover, the Golan does not belong to Assad; it belongs to the Syrian people. Punishing Assad for his brutality against his own people by denying them their own land is doubling their victimization.

Israel’s effective control of the territory isn’t in question, and endorsing its annexation wouldn’t make the Golan Heights more or less secure. As with the Jerusalem recognition, it doesn’t change anything in reality. It wouldn’t weaken any Israeli enemy: Assad, Iran, Hezbollah or Islamic State.

But it would aggravate anger against the U.S., undermine the dwindling chances of a Palestinian peace deal and damage core principles of international law.

Given the chaos in Syria, no one would ask Israel to make a territorial concession on the Golan Heights now. But that’s hardly a justification for a decades-old land grab. Like recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, confirming Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights is a solution in search of a problem. It would come at a steep cost and achieve nothing.

Peddlers of hate must bear responsibility for the Christchurch attacks

It is impossible to separate the language of prejudice and division from real-life acts of violence, such as those witnessed in New Zealand

Words matter. Actions are motivated by thought. So, those who deliberately spread dangerous ideas via reckless statements which, taken to their logical conclusion, will inevitably provoke violence, are responsible for the results.

The western world, including the United States, is in the throes of a major resurgence of white-supremacist rhetoric that is inspiring a wave of terrorism.

The latest instance was the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which at least 49 Muslim worshipers were killed by a white supremacist gunman.

The suspect’s manifesto, titled “The Great Replacement”, demonstrates that he was convinced that white Christians are being systematically invaded and will eventually be replaced by non-white people. He saw himself fighting in a racial war, the main weapon of which is immigration.

This paranoid delusion is overtly promoted by fringe right-wing voices in the West to endorse discrimination, exclusion and even expulsion of non-whites.

But a slightly attenuated version, encoded in unmistakable dogwhistles, has gained vast traction in “mainstream” conservative discourse, not least in the United States.

President Donald Trump deploys precisely these tropes to denounce immigration, describe Mexicans as “rapists,” impose a ban on entry for citizens of several Muslim-majority countries, and propose building a wall along the US-Mexican border.

Immigration is supposedly his signature issue, but he’s really talking about race.

When he thunders about an “invasion” and “onslaught” of migrants trying to “infest” majority-white nations, his words draw directly on and give a global platform to this “replacement theory”. Referring to the alleged dangers faced by both US and European countries gives these ideas an added ability to travel globally.

Naturally, the Christchurch terrorist praised him as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose”. Mr Trump has worked hard to foster precisely that impression, stoking apocalyptic, existential fears that easily translate into violence.

In American replacement mythology, Jews are typically cast as the funders and masterminds of a plot to destroy white societies, abetted by chaos-sowing Muslim terrorists and hordes of Central and South American migrants to perform the actual replacement. Hysteria about the recent migrant caravan conveyed exactly that narrative.

This is also what the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville – praised by Mr Trump as “very fine people”, meant by their notorious chant – “Jews will not replace us.”

It’s a contemporary update of Adolf Hitler’s deadly delusion that Jews and “Aryans” were in a life-and-death struggle that not only justified but necessitated genocide.

The western world, including the United States, is in the throes of a major resurgence of white-supremacist rhetoric

This ideology has variously inspired massacres of worshippers at an African-American church in Virginia, Jews at a synagogue in Pennsylvania and now Muslims at a mosque in New Zealand.

The mainstreaming of this hate-filled ideology has been so devastating that the Anti-Defamation League reports that right-wing extremists committed 70 per cent of American domestic terrorism in the past 10 years and a full 100 per cent in 2018.

Words obviously have consequences.

That’s why members of the Trump-supporting wing of the American right are suddenly so defensive and alarmed. They’re terrified that the non-racist majority will finally put two and two together and realise that their rhetoric was bound to result in carnage, and that they cannot, therefore, continue to evade all responsibility for that.

As the full horror of the Christchurch attacks sunk in, almost the entire American ideological far-right suddenly started singing a most unusual song: don’t pay any real attention to this crime.

“Terrorists crave attention and publicity,” they said. “Don’t give them any! Don’t examine, analyse or reprint his manifesto. Don’t discuss his hateful opinions. Don’t view his videos. Don’t even say his name.”

Doing anything else, they sermonised with extraordinary unanimity, would merely feed the beast and reward terrorism.

But these were precisely the same voices who, since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, have been angrily demanding that the term “Islamic” always be applied to any terrorist violence carried out by Muslims. Anything else, they insist, is craven political correctness and denial.

Mr Trump and his key political and media supporters harped on this incessantly, viciously condemning Barack Obama, who argued that it was unwise to cede the title “Islamic” to terrorists who distort and demean the faith.

Today, the Trumpian right seems to realise how dangerous any close examination of this pattern of racist attacks could be for it.

Mr Trump denounced the New Zealand massacre, but was careful not to acknowledge its inescapably Islamophobic character, let alone the white-supremacist ideology behind it.

When directly asked, he dismissed white supremacists as merely “a small group of people”, downplaying to the point of denial the growing threat they pose.

But it’s indisputable that white supremacy is a major cause of violent extremism globally, and is currently the main inspiration of domestic terrorism in the United States.

It’s also obvious that hateful rhetoric and policies aimed at Latinos, Muslims and other minorities – tragically standard fare in Mr Trump’s Republican Party – normalise and promote this ideology of hate and the violence it inspires.

Their only hope is to dodge the whole issue by dismissing white supremacy as a tiny, irrelevant, fringe and insisting that the only responsible course is to completely ignore everything that motivated the Christchurch killer.

Otherwise, many more people might connect their words with the inevitable consequences, see the blood on their hands and act accordingly.