It would be supremely naive to suggest that contemporary American politics is anything other than cut-throat, Machiavellian and a place where the ends always justify the means. Because of this, if Donald Trump (who is not only imperfect but is often blindly wrong) seeks to silence his opponents by forcing them on the defensive, he ought to invoke one of the sacred cows of American politics in his criticism of his opponents: the security of Israel.
Accuse your opponents of an indefensible political “crime” with a basis in truth
Shortly after coming to power as Iraq’s President in 1979, Saddam Hussein engaged in the most public political purge of the modern era. Prior to becoming President, his politically moderate and generally successful predecessor Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr had engaged in intense discussions with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad about setting aside the 1966 Ba’ath party schism which put the two neighbouring Arab republics at odds and merging the two nations along the Arab Nationalist ideal which is central to the Ba’athist ideology.
Because the elderly al-Bakr would likely be eclipsed by the younger al-Assad, Saddam who was at the time al-Bakr’s deputy moved to force al-Bakr’s early resignation in order to take power and quash the deal with Syria that may have sidelined Saddam for years. Upon becoming President of Iraq, Saddam conducted a videotaped purge of high level Ba’ath party officials who stood accused of conspiring with Hafez al-Assad to undermine Saddam’s authority. In reality, these were mostly the men who worked under al-Bakr to secure a would-be merger of the two states., while some had nothing at all to do with the al-Bakr/al-Assad negotiations.
Rather than simply tell the officials that the plans had changed now that al-Bakr was gone, Saddam used the “Syria conspiracy” to name, shame and later try and execute at least 22 Ba’ath party officials who stood accused of conspiring with Saddam’s Syrian rival.
Defining Trump’s “Hafez moment”
According to the ethos of the Ba’ath Party schism that under Saddam became very much re-invigorated, collaborating with, speaking kind words about or working to favour Syria was considered high treason against Iraq. Therefore, by accusing those Saddam wanted purged in any case of conspiring with a rival Arab republic, the “crime” itself became indefensible except for vainly protesting that “it wasn’t me”.
While public attitudes are indeed slowly shifting among the public, among the US political elite in Congress, both major parties and the collective so-called deep state, supporting Israel in a virtually unconditional manner is required. Crucially, none of Donald Trump’s most vocal critics would define themselves as anything but Israel supporters.
Therefore it would behove Trump in these Machiavellian times to publicly accuse those who have openly criticised his Helsinki Summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin of advocating policies that would harm Israel’s security or to put it in the Israeli lexicon “threaten Israel’s right to exist”. Such an accusation is political kryptonite among the US elite.
An accusation that is actually true
While Israel’s illegal nuclear deterrent arguably makes it safe irrespective of recent agreements, according to Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu himself, the recent agreement between Israel and Russia whereby Russia would help to oversee and effectively guarantee the withdrawal of Iranian and Hezbollah troops from south-western Syria, was vital for Israel’s security. Netanyahu was so happy with the result of the Helsinki summit that he produced a video thanking both the Russian and US President for the result. In the video Netanyahu stated,
“I praise the things I heard in the press conference with President Trump and President Putin. First, I greatly appreciate the deep commitment to the security of Israel that Trump expressed at the press conference, and I can say that the alliance between Israel and the US has never been stronger. Second, I greatly appreciate the things that President Putin said about the need to honour the 1974 separation agreements between Syria and Israel, just as I appreciate the security cooperation between the militaries of Russia and Israel, and I must say that on all of these issues I spoke in great detail with President Trump and President Putin in recent days. These are very important matters to the security of our state”.
By agreeing in Helsinki to work with Putin to make sure this agreement reaches its logical conclusion, Donald Trump has set forth a narrative based by actual facts (according to the official statements of interested parties) that he and his Russian counterpart are working with their mutual friend Benjamin Netanyahu in order to secure Israel’s safety against a perceived Iranian threat as defined both by the establishment in Tel Aviv and in Washington.
Therefore, while not supporting the Netanyahu-Putin-Trump agreement does not at all automatically make someone a member of Hezbollah, one’s undermining of the agreement does put someone in league with Hezbollah which of course is substantial political kryptonite for a mainstream US politician or bureaucrat.
Separating facts from perception
While Israel’s complaints about being threatened by Iran are largely rhetorical rather than factual, for the purposes of domestic politicking in the United States this is hardly relevant, as the US mainstream media fully accept the Israeli version of the anti-Iranian narrative. Furthermore, while Russia has supported Tel Aviv and Washington in respect of promoting a withdrawal of Iranian and Hezbollah forces from south-western Syria, Russia has done so for very different reasons, all of which have been adumbrated in a recent article in Eurasia Future by geopolitical expert Andrew Korybko. That element of the story however is of little consequences to the likes of Trump’s anti-Russian opponents.
Therefore, all that matters in terms of perception management for Trump is that according to himself and more importantly according to the Israeli leader, the agreement reached in Helsinki for Russia and the US to act in concert over the Iranian/Hezbollah withdrawal from south-western Syria was not only good for, but essential to Israel’s security.
Therefore, one can frame the logical argument that those who continue to object to the Helsinki Summit can be and from the perspective of Donald Trump’s domestic political manoeuvring, should be accused of undermining Israel’s safety.
During his remarks at the press conference in Helsinki, Putin hinted at the fact that intelligence agencies, including the one which he used to work for, exist not only to collect information from a rival or adversarial state but to disseminate misinformation in order to manipulate the wider public perception of events. The key implication in Putin’s statement is that the US intelligence agencies have fabricated the “Russiagate” story just as the Soviet KGB once used similar tactics in order to sow discord.
In Trump’s case there is a strong element of truth to accusing his opponents of undermining Israel’s security. For the record, the previous sentence is not my view, but much more importantly it is the view of the leader of Israel. If Trump wants to turn the tables on his opponents, he can simply issue this accusation the next time he is on Twitter. The best part is unlike Saddam’s purge, nobody needs to get hurt in the slightest.