Updated. Last night President Trump issued a statement affirming his support for National Security adviser H.R. McMaster in the face of a storm of criticism from rightwing outlets. The statement is a sign that Trump and his new chief of staff are taking the realist side of the debate inside his administration over foreign policy.
So while Trump claims to be doing everything he can to trash the Iran deal, the good news is that his foreign policy team is for it. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson clearly advocated for the deal at a press briefing earlier this week, while suggesting that he could differ with the president on how effective it’s been.
I think there are a lot of alternative means with which we use the agreement to advance our policies and the relationship with Iran.
Tillerson is one of the “adults” who are thought to be able to rein in Trump’s worst tendencies on Iran, as Paul Pillar wrote:
Reportedly the adults, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, last month urged a resistant Trump to recognize reality and certify that Iran was complying with the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action].
Further comfort comes from the fact that three days ago, General McMaster fired Ezra Cohen-Watnick, an enigmatic thirtyish intelligence aide who was vehemently opposed to the Iran deal, leading to calls to get rid of McMaster. Like Tillerson, McMaster is plainly a realist. And he is thought to have job security because his predecessor, General Mike Flynn, lasted barely three weeks and went out with a splash. The Atlantic says McMaster is cleaning house at the NSC; two weeks ago he got rid of an ideologue who spread anti-Muslim conspiracies.
Supporters of Israel are upset by the personnel changes. The Israeli-American hothead Caroline Glick writes at her Facebook page that McMaster is “deeply hostile” to Israel as an occupying power.
The Israel angle on McMaster’s purge of Trump loyalists from the National Security Council is that all of these people are pro-Israel and oppose the Iran nuclear deal, positions that Trump holds.
McMaster in contrast is deeply hostile to Israel and to Trump. According to senior officials aware of his behavior, he constantly refers to Israel as the occupying power and insists falsely and constantly that a country named Palestine existed where Israel is located until 1948 when it was destroyed by the Jews.
McMaster “has chosen to eliminate the pro-Israel voices at the National Security Council,” according to Jordan Schachtel at the Conservative Review, who cited interviews with White House officials who are trying to undermine the general:
McMaster not only shuns Israel, he is also historically challenged on Arab-Israeli affairs, according to the sources.
“McMaster constantly refers to the existence of a Palestinian state before 1947,” a senior West Wing official tells CR (there was never an independent Palestinian state), adding that McMaster describes Israel as an “illegitimate,” “occupying power.”
The NSC chief expressed great reluctance to work with Israel on counterterror efforts, as he shut down a joint U.S.-Israel project to counter the terrorist group Hezbollah’s efforts to expand Iran’s worldwide influence.
One of the main indictments of McMaster by neoconservatives (right-wing Israel supporters who favor regime change) is that he restrained the president on his tour of occupied territories in May (as Allison Deger reported at the time). In this White House briefing, McMaster refused to say that the western wall in occupied East Jerusalem is part of Israel.
Caroline Glick goes further about McMaster’s orchestrations, in her screed calling on Trump to fire McMaster:
Many of you will remember that a few days before Trump’s visit to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his advisers were blindsided when the Americans suddenly told them that no Israeli official was allowed to accompany Trump to the Western Wall.
What hasn’t been reported is that it was McMaster who pressured Trump to agree not to let Netanyahu accompany him to the Western Wall. At the time, I and other reporters were led to believe that this was the decision of rogue anti-Israel officers at the US consulate in Jerusalem. But it wasn’t. It was McMaster…
McMaster disagrees and actively undermines Trump’s agenda on just about every salient issue on his agenda. He fires all of Trump’s loyalists and replaces them with Trump’s opponents, like Kris Bauman, an Israel hater and Hamas supporter who McMaster hired to work on the Israel-Palestinian desk. He allows anti-Israel, pro-Muslim Brotherhood, pro-Iran Obama people like Robert Malley to walk around the NSC and tell people what to do and think.
Glick says that McMaster has left in place analysts loyal to Obamaites Ben Rhodes and Valerie Jarrett. She worries that Trump has gone wobbly on Israel.
If McMaster isn’t fired after all that he has done and all that he will do, we’re all going to have to reconsider Trump’s foreign policy. Because if after everything he has done, and everything that he will certainly do to undermine Trump’s stated foreign policy agenda, it will no longer be possible to believe that exiting the nuclear deal or supporting the US alliance with Israel and standing with US allies against US foes — not to mention draining Washington’s cesspool – are Trump’s policies. How can they be when Trump stands with a man who opposes all of them and proves his opposition by among other things, firing Trump’s advisers who share Trump’s agenda?
Rosie Gray reported in June that Cohen-Watnick was the man McMaster could not fire. So it turns out that is not the case. And what a good sign that people with this sort of thinking are being purged from policy-making positions: Cohen-Watnick “is viewed as an Iran hawk and has been characterized, for instance, as a main proponent of expanding U.S. efforts against Iran-backed militias in Syria.” He was a pro-Iraq-war hawk as an undergraduate, with ties to the Islamophobe David Horowitz.
Cohen-Watnick was involved in an on-campus Terrorism Awareness Week connected to the controversial conservative writer David Horowitz’s “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” events.
“We need people to be passionate about the problem of terrorism,” he’s quoted as saying in a Daily Pennsylvanian article about the event, advocating more courses devoted to the subject.
Thanks to the indefatigable Terry Weber, teacher & cyclist in Palestine.