A friend recently observed about President Donald Trump: "Ignore what he says, but watch what he does."  In general, this is a useful guide to the rollercoaster ride that is the Trump Presidency.  But on some occasions, it is useful to note what he says–especially when he is speaking off the cuff in discussions with world leaders.

In September, when he was in New York City to address the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump told UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was "the bigger problem" in making progress towards an Israel-Palestine peace deal.  The account of the discussion was provided by a Western diplomat and was reported in both the Israeli daily Haaretz and in The Hill, which circulates widely in the U.S. Congress.

A White House official responded to the Haaretz account but never denied that the President made those comments about Netanyahu:  "This was a short but productive meeting that primarily focused on U.N. reforms and the great job Ambassador Haley has been doing.  After discussing the United States' defense of Israel at the U.N., the participants quickly addressed the ongoing peace conversations… We are focusing on our productive conversations and not on the noise created by spoilers."

Given the President's bellicose UNGA speech and his more recent withdrawal of the United States from UNESCO over its alleged anti-Israel biases, the comments to Guterres were clearly not the stuff from which one can divine any kind of breakthrough on the Israel-Palestine impasse.  But it does suggest that, on a certain level, the President knows the score and that any breakthrough on a settlement will have to come either from a big shift from Netanyahu or his replacement as prime minister.

In a recent episode of Fox TV's interview show Objectified, the host traveled to Israel to interview Netanyahu.  While the Israeli PM said nothing of substance and it was more of a personality profile than a geopolitical dialogue, I was struck by Netanyahu's arrogance and narcissism–even as he was trying to come across as an average Joe.

Sooner or later, I see a blowup coming between Trump and Netanyahu, and the U.S. President's brief moment of candor with the UN Secretary General should be lodged in the back of your mind, as it is in mine. 


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  1. LeaNder says:

    Well, yes, no doubt Trump will come out of this office with more wisdom/experience then the one that got him in. I am not completely sure about his ability to connect his main memory to his mental hard disk in a more efficient way. But I have to assume mentally this would–within my very limited mental universe no doubt–lead me/us back somewhat to what (on superficial glance) can be summed up as macro versus micro targeting as practiced by the opposite campaigns. One shoe fits all versus many micro-shoes fit all of us.
    But pleased to see your name up there, Harper.

  2. outthere says:

    Robert Parry explains how Trump + USA media are puppets of Israel/Netanyahu, lots of serious facts.
    Re: Iran terrorism:
    In his Friday speech, Trump also touted one of the earliest canards about Iranian “terrorism,” the attack by Lebanese Shiite militants on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 killing 241 Americans.
    When that attack happened, I was working at The Associated Press as an investigative reporter specializing in national security issues. While the precise Iranian role was not clear, what should have been obvious was that the attack was not “terrorism,” which is classically defined as violence toward civilians to achieve a political goal.
    Not only were the Marines not civilians but the Reagan administration had made them belligerents in the Lebanese war by the decision to order the USS New Jersey to shell Muslim villages. Reagan’s National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, who often represented Israel’s interests inside the administration, was the spark plug for this mission creep, which killed Lebanese civilians and convinced Shiite militants that the United States had joined the war against them.
    Shiite militants struck back, sending a suicide truck bomber through U.S. security positions, demolishing the high-rise Marine barracks in Beirut. Reagan soon repositioned the surviving U.S. forces offshore. At the AP, I unsuccessfully argued against calling the Beirut attack “terrorism,” a word that other news organizations also sloppily applied. But even senior Reagan officials recognized the truth.
    “When the shells started falling on the Shiites, they assumed the American ‘referee’ had taken sides,” Gen. Colin Powell wrote in his memoir, My American Journey. In other words, Powell, who was then military adviser to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, recognized that the actions of the U.S. military had altered the status of the Marines in the eyes of the Shiites.
    (Although this “terrorism” is always blamed on Hezbollah, the group did not officially come into existence until 1985 as a resistance movement against the Israeli occupation of Lebanon which did not end until 2000.)

  3. I say watch what he does and not what he says. In foreign policy what he has DONE is ramp down the war in Syria (he does not however have complete control). On N Korea he has DONE nothing, on Iran he has kicked the issue to Congress. He SAYS lots. I entertain the possibility that he is fighting the Deep State coup by saying things they like but doing nothing. What I learned from The Art of the Deal is that he sees opportunities where others don’t and he is patient. I have not yet lost hope. (Another possibility I consider — don’t believe, but watch for — is that he is pissing off US allies in order to get the USA out of the world. After all he does understand — or at least he said so — that to MAGMA means to cut down the World Policemen stuff.) I do not agree with NYT et all that he is an idiot.

  4. LondonBob says:

    I seem to remember a month or two ago Mr Parry saying Trump knew the neocons were the ones causing his troubles and he would plot his own path.
    Reality is we don’t really know, Trump has done some good and some bad so far. Indeed despite the sound and fury he has done really nothing much at all so far, which is really a big improvement on his predecessors. Add in that maybe given the political circumstances he is boxing clever and waiting until he is in a stronger position to act, really we can construct any number of hypotheses.

  5. johnf says:

    I read somewhere a long time ago that the suicide bomber was a Christian woman school teacher. Is this true?

  6. I think every President dislikes Bibi. Bibi is not a guy that can be liked well.
    Hasn’t stopped the same every President from totally supporting Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. So I read absolutely nothing into Trump’s off-the-cuff remark.

  7. Harper says:

    Yes, there are many hypotheses that can all be credibly spun out explaining Trump’s behavior and forecasting what is to come in the future. But you are right, this is hardly reliable. Donald Trump is the most unpredictable President we have had in memory. This is why the Liberal Establishment and the MSM are so hysterical against him. They don’t control him. Nobody does. He is a circuit breaker on decades of failed policies and it is yet to be seen whether he can learn enough about how to govern to effect positive changes. Whether we pray for the worst or hope for the best, it is unsettled.

  8. Decameron says:

    Trump’s fractured fairy tales on Iran were truly incredible–as you mentioned, Hezbollah didn’t officially exist at the time of the Marine barracks bombing. Disturbing is the same kind of cherry-picking of intelligence which brought us to the Iraq invasion in 2003. Can one speak of Lebanon in 1983, without taking into account Lebanon in 1982 and the scene of the massacre of women and children by Israeli clients at the Sabra-Shatila camps?
    Fake intelligence is no accident IMO–John Bolton’s memo to Trump, endorsed by dozens of retired “National Security” persons, presaged what Trump’s message and speech would be. Bolton was a cheerleader for the Iraq invasion and the false intelligence that went into it.
    For a good memory check, read Col Lang’s “Drinking the Kool-Aid,” the story of the drumbeat for the Iraq war, published in Middle East Policy Journal in May, 2004.

  9. Harper says:

    Part of the waters that Trump must navigate are the Republican Party, where a large part of the party apparatus is in the “anyone but Trump” camp, including the House and Senate leaders, Ryan and McConnell. Trump is conducting a “look ma, no hands” campaign to unseat as many of the anti-Trump Republicans as he can in the midterm elections. The neocons, as usual, have deployed into both the Trump and the anti-Trump camps, with John Bolton and Frank Gaffney playing two key insider roles. Some of the rhetoric in the TV address on Friday the 13th was right out of neocon fractured fairy tales, including the claim that the Iranian regime was on the verge of being overthrown when the JCPOA deal was signed. But, as you noted, the US remains in the JCPOA and Congress is now under pressure to rewrite the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Act, to end the 90 day certification requirement and replace it with an automatic restoration of sanctions if Iran comes within one year of having a nuclear bomb (which they cannot do as long as the JCPOA is in force and the IAEA inspectors do their job).

  10. Bandolero says:

    “A friend recently observed about President Donald Trump: “Ignore what he says, but watch what he does.” In general, this is a useful guide to the rollercoaster ride that is the Trump Presidency”
    I completely agree with that. And because of what I see him doing with regard to Syria and Iraq, I’m quite optimistic. Commander in chief Trump just killing ISIS in Syria seems quite reasonable to me, just as his deal with Putin regarding the ceasefire in south-western Syria, which Bibi didn’t like at all, and the US not supporting Barzani’s referendum, despite Bibi did support it.
    For other actions of Trump the problem seems to me more of the kind of evaluating what will be the result of Trump’s doings, especially regarding UN security council resolution 2231. What is that about? Is it Trump trying to undo UN security council resolution 2231? Or is it Trump trying to lead Bibi into a political battle with a coalition, with Bannon and Salmon against most of the rest of the world, designed to lose?
    Unlike Bibi, Richard Nathan Haass seems not happy with Trump’s decertification of UN security council resolution 2231. Quote begin Richard Nathan Haass:
    “The US Cannot Go It Alone On Iran
    … The agreement was the result of a collective effort. American unilateralism now could make forging a common front against Iran much more difficult in the future. …”
    Quote end. Source: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-decertification-iran-nuclear-deal-by-richard-n–haass-2017-10
    While CFR president Haass puts out a lot of nonsense in his opinion piece – he does not even seem to be able to name all the signatories of the JCPOA correctly – regarding the key point I quoted here I agree. Trumps “decertification” of UN security council resolution 2231 could end up making it much more difficult in the future to forge “a common front against Iran.”
    I could well imagine that this is a major thing what Trump is trying to achieve with his decertification of the JCPOA: disrupt the efforts of the lobby to forge “a common front against Iran.” If that would happen I think that would be quite good, but we’ll see how that story develops in the next month.
    As a sign for that I see that Trump even failed to lobby Theresa May to come out against the JCPOA – and that happened while Theresa May hardly has any closer friend than Trump. So her support should have been a low hanging fruit if Trump really wants to sabotage the JCPOA, but Trump nevertheless failed to get her support.

  11. Castellio says:

    Yes, at the expense of the Palestinians, but not only. At the expense of the Syrians, the Iraqis, the Iranians, and yes, at the expense of the Americans.

  12. dog ear says:

    wishful thinking by harper.not even fake news but just a light drizzle

  13. JamesT says:

    When the only person criticizing Harper refuses to provide any evidence or logic – that just makes me respect Harper and what he wrote even more.

  14. different clue says:

    If this view of Trump is correct, then Trump in fact is playing at least some of the time the Elevendy-Mentional Brainwar Chess which Obama’s worshipful accolytes constantly claimed that Obama was playing.
    I hope this view proves to be correct. I hope it is not just a case of Trump having believed it when he said it and then believing something else 5 minutes later and then forgetting that he had believed anything at all about it 5 more minutes after that.

  15. dog ear says:

    all got to do with the pendulum.when it swings away ,hard to tell but on the way back the future becomes more certain. the pendulum in this case is McMasters right testicle.the to and fro you know.let’s say Taiwan and Korea both north and south unified and Japan push back with Chinese backing.the fallback will be Australia and new Zealand.that’s the pacific.that leaves the middle east bases.in order to secure those the scales will have to brought out and the testicles weighed.now the usa has to decide ,which countries would suit its long term strategic goals israel or the gulf states.going on the pacific example us and western interest’s will have to look for fallback positions.
    my guess is that once Korea unifies an incident will arise in say Qatar and the push back will begin.Jordan as a fallback will require a Palestinian deal.
    Israel as a fallback would be a better option under a different political system.
    hence trumps take on netanyahu.the military strategy needs the political deal.
    in my opinion the best solution would be a gradual build up in Afghanistan and a delay of 3 years in regards israel.I believe there is a 70% chanceof a fossil fuel alternative by 2020.
    let the pendulum swing general

  16. Kutte says:

    Harper, May I suggest the following:
    Trump uses the following concept: When dealing with a maniac, go along with him. A maniac is a self-destructive person, so go along with him and allow him to self-destruct or self-damage. I got this piece of wisdom from wife, who, according to her, was married to a maniac before she had the good fortune to marry me (Irony alert). Trump will go along with “Bibi”, who will self-destruct and be replaced, then there will be some melodramatic “saving” Israel and the new government from non-existant threats,and then Trump will explain to the new government who is dog and who is tail and who wags who. But, of course, I might be wrong.

  17. LeaNder says:

    he does not even seem to be able to name all the signatories of the JCPOA correctly
    I think the European Union only acted as coordinator, but isn’t a signatory.
    i find this more interesting:
    Despite these considerations, it would also be a mistake to focus just on the US announcement and not also on Iranian behavior. In the short run, the world needs to contend with an Iran that is an imperial power, one that seeks to remake large swaths of the Middle East in its image. What is needed is a policy of containment of Iran across the region – including support for the Kurds in northern Iraq and Syria, as well as of other groups and countries that are pushing back against Iran.
    In the longer run, the challenge is to deal with the JCPOA’s flaws, above all with its sunset provisions. The agreement “parked” the nuclear problem, rather than resolving it. Important provisions of the accord will expire in either eight or 13 years. At that time, inspections will not prevent Iran from putting in place many of the prerequisites of a nuclear weapons program that could be made operational with little warning.

    Besides–did you know?–by now Joschka Fischer seems to be considered one of the “world’s great minds”, check the “about” section:

  18. DH says:

    I predict his ‘doing nothing’ will include looking the other way when Russia steps in as the guarantor of Iran’s progress toward peaceful nuclear power.

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