Elephants in the Room

The Israel-UAE Deal Is Trump’s First Unambiguous Diplomatic Success

It’s a historic achievement that eluded other presidents. Trump will try to make the most of it.

Headlines of the UAE-based The National and Gulf News newspapers reflect the agreement between the UAE and Israel to normalize relations, in Dubai on Aug. 14.
Headlines of the UAE-based The National and Gulf News newspapers reflect the agreement between the UAE and Israel to normalize relations, in Dubai on Aug. 14. GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images

It’s a major win for U.S. President Donald Trump—arguably his administration’s first unqualified diplomatic success. Trump has previously claimed many foreign policy achievements, but most of these claims have been met with substantial critiques. Yes, the North American Free Trade Agreement was renegotiated, but the result was much less than meets the eye. A few tweaks, some necessary updating, and slapping a new name on it. But hardly the unprecedented triumph for U.S. trade policy that Trump heralded. Ditto for something like increased burden-sharing by NATO members. Sure, Trump’s threats and public taunts led several countries to increase their military spending, but at what cost to relations with the United States’ most important democratic allies and the credibility of the U.S. commitment to Europe’s common defense? What about Trump’s love affair with Kim Jung Un? The freeze on North Korea’s testing of nukes and intercontinental missiles has been great. The significant expansion of Kim’s arsenal of nuclear weapons? Not so much.
The Israel-UAE deal is different—it’s a genuine historic accomplishment that’s unambiguously good for the United States and will contribute to peace and stability in the Middle East.

The Israel-UAE deal is different. It’s a genuine historic accomplishment that’s unambiguously good for the United States. It will bolster Israel’s security and wellbeing, a longstanding vital interest of the United States. It will contribute to peace and stability in the broader Middle East, not only by indefinitely forestalling a potentially destabilizing unilateral assertion of Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank, but by giving the UAE and other modernizing Gulf states full access to the region’s dominant military and intelligence power, and to its most technologically advanced economy. It will worry, isolate, and enhance deterrence against Iran, the United States’ most dangerous regional adversary. And it reaffirms Washington’s still-unrivaled ability to serve as a force for good in alleviating some of the world’s most intractable conflicts. Neither China nor Russia, nor Europe nor the United Nations, could have played the same role of peacemaker.

The agreement will rightly garner virtually unanimous support across the U.S. political spectrum. As Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, indicated in his response to the announcement, the effort to advance peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors has been a top priority for administrations of both parties going back decades.

It was unfortunate that in his statement praising the deal, Biden couldn’t bring himself to congratulate Trump and his peace team for their role. Maybe that’s too much to expect in today’s intensely polarized environment, especially in an election year. There’s no doubt that the agreement will redound completely to Trump’s political advantage at a time when he’s badly in need of wins. And it will likely continue to pay major dividends to his reelection effort when one or more other Gulf states join the normalization process, and he plays host to a White House signing ceremony after the technical details of the deal are finalized—probably as close to Election Day as possible. But while Trump’s success might be bad for the Democrats’ narrow political interests, it’s an unadulterated good for U.S. national interests. Biden knows that and it would have been gracious and fitting for him, even healing in a way, to rise above today’s destructive partisanship, if only for a moment, to acknowledge the victory for the United States and to thank Trump for getting it done.

In the same way, it would be a nice touch if Trump were to invite Biden as well as all living former presidents to attend a signing ceremony when it finally happens and to recognize his predecessors’ role in pressing the cause of Middle East peace over the years. It would be a chance to send a powerful signal to the world that even in the middle of a bitterly fought election campaign, the leaders of the United States are still able to unite on behalf of the common good.

It would take a miracle, you say, for that kind of display of bipartisan statesmanship. Perhaps. But isn’t that what people used to say about peace between Israel and the Arabs? Hope indeed springs eternal.

John Hannah is a senior counselor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney.

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