Zionism at Home Amongst the Republicans' Foreign Policy Realists

Will Trump's emerging foreign policy adopt the 'realism' that such anti-Israel agitators as Professors Mearsheimer and Walt have made almost synonymous with anti-Zionism?

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Little Rock, Arkansas February 3, 2016.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Little Rock, Arkansas February 3, 2016. Credit: Reuters
Seth Lipsky
Seth Lipsky

Even while Donald Trump is nursing his second place finish in Iowa, the wires are buzzing with talk of whether there’s more to his foreign policy than has heretofore been appreciated – and that the Trump doctrine, as some are calling it, is not going to please us neoconservatives. There is even talk that his emerging foreign policy might reflect the kind of “realism” that such anti-Israel agitators as Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have made almost synonymous with anti-Zionism.

This came into focus with a column by Josh Rogin of the Bloomberg View. Rogin reported out what Trump’s foreign policy advisers — he found some — say in response to the charge that The Donald has been shooting from the hip. “This whole notion that he is devoid of advisers is wrong. We have a lot of smart guys around us and a lot of smart people helping us,” Rogin quotes Trump’s chief foreign policy adviser, Sam Clovis, as saying.

There are three key elements to the Trump doctrine. “One, we want to take a very clear worldview in our foreign policy, dealing with the national interest, and let that be our organizing principles,” Rogin quotes Clovis a saying. "Two is that we want to make sure that we engage in free markets, but we want those markets to be fairer as well. And three, if we do not have strong economic recovery, we can’t do the other two.” Adds Clovis: “If that’s not a Trump doctrine, I don’t know what is.”

A lot is lurking in Clovis’ outline to unsettle a free market conservative – talk of fair markets is all too often a cover for protectionism, which Trump has been touting since the start of his campaign (his hostility to immigration is a subset of his protectionist impulse). He’s right about the importance of the recovery to the success of his, or any, foreign policy. But the experience of Herbert Hoover suggests that success in business doesn’t necessarily deliver pro-growth policies.

It’s the national interest business that alarms the neoconservatives. Rogin suggests its narrowness fails to include “things like democracy promotion, humanitarian intervention, the responsibility to protect people from atrocities or the advocacy of human rights abroad.” Rogin suggests Trump believes in an economic engagement that sounds, at least to my ear, an awful lot like what President Obama is doing with Iran, though Trump has been plenty critical of the Iran deal.

Clovis is also quoted by Rogin as faulting neoconservatives who “think you can go out there and in three weeks after Iraq collapses you can create a constitutional democracy over there.” He reports that “Trump wants to deal with states and governments, not non-state actors or international organizations.” Writes Rogin: “Trump sees Putin and other dictators as businessmen doing what any CEO would do, fighting for their organization.”

“So,” writes Daniel Drezner in a Washington Post column on Rogin’s reporting, “would, say, respected academic realists such as John Mearsheimer or Stephen Walt or Barry Posen approve of these sentiments?” It’s a good question, leaving aside how “respected” Mearsheimer and Walt may, or may not, be. It’s similar, to my ear, to the concern that erupted after Trump, at a meeting with Jewish Republicans, ducked the Jerusalem question.

At the time the ZOA rushed out a statement of concern, which I shared. But I also was intrigued by Trump statement that he wanted to wait for a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu (whom he once endorsed for premier). Maybe Trump wants to break with Netanyahu on this head and try to accommodate the U.S. State Department. Or maybe Trump merely wants to wait and see where Israel is really at in respect of Jerusalem.

In any event, Drezner thinks Trump “certainly sounds more realist than, say, Marco Rubio or Hillary Clinton,” even while questions swirl about his “foreign policy gravitas.” Drezner reckons this is the “perfect moment for realists to intervene in the marketplace of ideas and publicly endorse Trump.” Trump mightn’t be perfect, writes Drezner, but if “realists really want to have some skin in the American foreign policy game, they will not find a better vessel than Trump.”

Hmmm. For my part, I’m not so sure about that. To me it’s just hard to see realism and Zionism as being in conflict in the first place, whatever hijacking of the word the Mearsheimer-Walt types might attempt. One could argue the opposite. Neither is Zionism in conflict with what Ron and Rand Paul like to call the Liberty Movement. By my lights the most realistic, most pro-liberty figures in the whole Middle East story are Herzl and Jabotinsky and their heirs. The news is that this recognition is shared ever more widely among the Republicans than the Democrats.

Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun. He was a foreign editor of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of The Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000.  

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