Everything, as always with Donald Trump, is about what’s good for the President.
In a fresh example of this core truth defining the current administration, Israel caved Thursday to his demands to ban two Muslim US lawmakers who Trump is ostracizing as part of his 2020 reelection strategy.
There is no sign that Trump considered whether his latest targeting of Reps. Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib conflicts with US foreign policy goals, reflects American values, benefits Israel in the long-term or is in keeping with the principles of two rigorous democracies that pride themselves on debate among ideological foes.
The latest manifestation of the Trump first foreign policy was instead another sign that national interest is often subordinate to this President’s immediate political requirements. In a characteristic but still shocking shattering of norms, the President of the United States actively lobbied a foreign government to refuse admission to two of his compatriots.
Trump’s celebration of his success underscored how he plans to ignore any presidential guardrail in waging the cultural warfare on which he is relying to secure a second White House term.
“What they’ve said about Israel and Jewish people is a horrible thing, and they’ve become the face of the Democrat Party,” Trump said, hours after Israel announced its decision.
Trump habitually shows few qualms in using the powers of the presidency, which are especially broad in foreign policy, for his own personal ends. His denial of Russian election meddling and crush on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for example both arguably promote his image and ego over orthodox US global strategies.
But his power play against Israel was unapologetically partisan, even for Trump.
Amid a raging political controversy in Washington and Israel, authorities later granted permission for Tlaib to enter the country on humanitarian grounds to visit her family in the West Bank.
“Congresswoman Tlaib has sent tonight a letter to Minister Deri in which she committed to accept all the demands of Israel to respect the restrictions imposed on her in the visit, and she also promised not to advance boycotts against Israel during her visit,” Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said in a statement.
AIPAC breaks with Trump
Many in Washington find the views of Omar and Tlaib toward Israel abhorrent. Omar was forced to apologize earlier this year after she suggested that support for the Jewish state in Congress was motivated by campaign contributions in remarks widely decried as anti-Semitic.
But there is widespread bipartisan concern about how the new travel ban could impact Israel’s political standing in the Congress where support for the Jewish state has been sweeping and bipartisan.
Even the pro-Israel US lobby group AIPAC, usually in lockstep with Trump and which has criticized the two lawmakers over their rhetoric, expressed disquiet, despite making clear it disagreed with the views of Omar and Tlaib.
“We … believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand,” AIPAC tweeted.
The President’s tweets also put Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a tough spot. Trump’s public pressure on the Prime Minister risked leaving a leader, not usually seen as weak looking, put upon at a perilous moment – with a new election approaching that could end his long stranglehold on power in Israel.
None of that is likely to matter for Trump, since he pocketed a shrewdly engineered political win that helped distract from growing talk of a possible recession that could cast a cloud over his reelection hopes.
The President can now savor his success in returning Tlaib and Omar, who he wants to elevate as the extreme, anti-Semitic face of the Democratic Party back to the 2020 political spotlight.
He got to burnish pro-Israel credentials popular with his base – especially evangelical voters who were earlier delighted with his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. And it all happened hours before his latest reelection rally in New Hampshire.
Perhaps most pleasing for the President was the chance to jam Democratic leaders, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, into defending key members of the so-called “squad” as when he stirred a racial furor by telling the four American lawmakers to “go back” to where they came from.
“The President’s statements about the congresswomen are a sign of ignorance and disrespect, and beneath the dignity of the Office of the President,” Pelosi said in a statement.
The fact that Trump’s hardball tactics sparked outrage among the diplomatic establishment and condemnation to the media was a clear added bonus from a day’s work on Twitter for Trump.