If re-elected, Trump would again dance to the tune of Mideast despots
Donald Trump danced to the tune of Saudi despots in 2017. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, got billions of dollars from Mideast despots after Trump was defeated. The horrific deals the ex-president worked in the Middle East would be out done if he ever got back into the White House. | Evan Vucci/AP

Significant sections of the broad and diverse anti-MAGA, pro-democracy coalition, particularly among labor, African Americans, Arab Americans, Jewish Americans, and youth, strongly oppose the Biden administration’s handling of the Israel-Palestine crisis and continued support for the far-right Israeli government’s genocidal policies in Gaza. They rightly demand that the president back an immediate ceasefire, call for the release of all hostages and prisoners held by both Hamas and Israel, guarantee security for both peoples and increase humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.

Consequently, some voters say they may sit out the 2024 elections or vote for a third party. Without a shift, Biden not only jeopardizes his re-election but also the possibility of electing Democratic congressional majorities and even jeopardizes progressive achievements of the last three years, including historic climate legislation.

These are understandable reactions to the incomprehensible calamity in Gaza and the refusal of the administration, so far, to alter its policy. But given that voters will elect either Biden or Trump, a serial rapist, and insurrectionist who heads a mass fascist movement, serious consideration must be given to how the outcome will impact events and the ability of the anti-MAGA majority coalition to influence either administration.

The most effective strategy remains to defeat the existential threats to democracy and the climate crisis posed by the fascist MAGA movement at the ballot box and continue working to change public opinion, creating the space for the Biden administration to change its foreign policy. Forces calling for a ceasefire have considerable clout on the administration’s domestic policy and are increasing their intervention in foreign policy. The UAW, which has endorsed both a cease-fire in Gaza and Biden, understands this clearly.

A defeat of MAGA would give the peace and democratic forces in Israel who seek Jewish-Arab unity and oppose the Netanyahu far-right regime and the Palestinian national movement more favorable conditions to operate.

The disastrous Trump Middle East Policy

Despite similarities, significant differences exist between Biden and Trump on Middle East policy, the conduct of the war, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel, the desire for a two-state solution, and their respective relationships with the Israeli far-right nationalist governing coalition.

In this respect, it’s helpful to recall just how bad the Trump presidency was and what it augurs for the future.

First, under Trump, the pro-democracy majority will be on the defensive against the destruction of constitutional democracy, the rule of law, fundamental democratic rights, and the weaponization of the government to impose authoritarian and fascist rule.

The mass movements will have no leverage in a Trump administration. Recall that during the Trump presidency, the working class and its allies won no advances and instead were consumed with defending democratic and economic rights. They were able, for example, to keep Obamacare from being destroyed but could not make any gains in the provision of healthcare for all.

Secondly, Trump’s Middle East policy, and foreign policy generally, was reckless, chaotic, and a disaster, beginning with the Muslim Ban and the weaponization of Islamophobia to produce a hateful and divisive atmosphere. Trump overturned decades of policy on a whim, sharpening regional tensions and bolstering extreme right forces in all the countries. A second Trump presidency will be no different.

In fact, by promoting the most reactionary forces in Israel and the region, Trump helped set the stage for the October 7 massacre and the Gaza genocide.

Thirdly, Trump, who led one of the most corrupt presidential administrations in U.S. history, will prioritize exploiting the situation to benefit himself, his family, and his cronies financially, opening policy decisions to the highest bidder.

The terrain of the struggle for Middle East peace, for a democratic Israel, Palestinian self-determination, and a two-state solution would be far worse, and the region and world would become a far more dangerous place.

‘Real men go to Tehran’

During his presidency, Trump had a symbiotic relationship with the corrupt Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, was wholly aligned with Jewish supremacists, religious zealots and fascists, and the extremist messianic West Bank settler movement, and boosted their power at every opportunity.

The entire GOP, dominated by MAGA fascists, white supremacists, Christian nationalist Evangelicals, and virulently anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and rightwing Jewish religious nationalist bloc, is in sync with the worst of the Israeli nationalist far right.

“Many Trump-aligned populists and white supremacists in the U.S., like the far-Right populists of Europe, attempt to whitewash their antisemitism through support for Israel. Their partners in the Republican Party, evangelical Christians, have supported Israel as a means to accelerate Armageddon, a process which they believe will culminate in the return of Jesus and the wiping out of the Jews (those who don’t convert, at least),” wrote Nadav Tamir of J Street.

On March 3, 2015, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress. GOP House and Senate leadership organized the appearance without notifying President Obama, a major breach of diplomatic protocol. Obama’s relationship with Netanyahu, who rejected his calls to freeze settlement expansion on the West Bank, was already deeply strained.

Netanyahu and the GOP aimed to block the administration from reaching a nuclear arms agreement with Iran, which never recognized Israel’s legitimate existence. They hoped the issue would propel Trump to the presidency.

Israel is the region’s only nuclear power, but it’s “Iran’s competitive regional status and rising power that concerns (Netanyahu) the most, not the fantasy of an existential threat. It is the regional balance of power, not the bomb. Even dismantling Iran’s civilian (nuclear) program entirely does not satisfy Netanyahu’s appetite; it is the Iranian “policies,” “behavior,” and “state” that he wants eliminated,” according to Jonathan Cook.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s second-largest oil producer, opposed the agreement. The Saudi Royal family sought to block Iran, their chief regional rival, from expanding oil output for the global market and competing for regional economic, military, and political dominance.

Despite opposition, the Obama administration, the U.N., the international community, and the moderate government of Iran agreed on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) restricting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting crippling sanctions.

When Trump took office in 2017, he immediately began upending decades of U.S. policy, sharpening tensions, promoting Israel’s far right, and deepening hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. The Trump policies also strengthened extreme right and autocratic regimes across the Middle East, deepened regional rivalries, and anti-American sentiment.

Hostility towards Iran is a central piece of GOP extreme right politics, including in the Trump administration. National Security Agency advisor Michael Flynn, CIA Director (and later Secretary of State) Mike Pompeo, an Evangelical Christian nationalist, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and John Bolton, a Bush Administration Neo-con, frequently advocated for regime change in Iran.

Pushed to attack Iran

During the Iraq War, the Neo-cons urged expanding the war to Iran. Their motto was, “Boys go to Baghdad, but real men go to Tehran.”

Trump vowed to cancel JCPOA during the 2016 campaign and unilaterally canceled the agreement on May 8, 2018, without any evidence of violations by Iran. Netanyahu and GOP Congressional leadership, who opposed all negotiations with Iran, hailed the action. Regime change was the only alternative to stopping Iran’s nuclear program, they claimed.

Subsequently, Trump restored sanctions on Iran and imposed harsher measures targeting 80% of the economy to force a regime change.

The cancellation of JPCOA caused a political backlash in Iran against the governing coalition attempting to move the country in a more secular and moderate direction. In the 2021 elections, a far-right religious nationalist coalition headed by Ebrahim Raisi was declared the winner in a disputed contest. The Raisi government subsequently carried out brutal repression against protests that exploded around women’s rights and religious freedom in 2022.

In 2020, Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian general Qassim Soleimani, further exacerbating tensions.

The cancellation of JPCOA inflamed tensions across the Middle East, including the regional rivalry between a Saudi Arabia-led coalition and Iran. The barbaric Saudi-led war against Yemeni Houthis was an expression of this.

Predictably, the Iranian government is now developing nuclear capability, undermining the global non-proliferation treaty, fomenting instability, building military alliances with autocratic regimes, and supporting Hamas and other far-right religious fundamentalist movements.

Saudi Arabia is also pursuing its nuclear program. The Trump administration granted two authorizations to U.S. companies to transfer sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, which previous administrations opposed.

And now the global community confronts the possibility of three nuclear-armed extreme right nationalist theocratic regimes in a region already bursting with tensions and rivalries: Israel, which has refused to sign the non-proliferation treaty, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

Since taking office, the Biden administration has been unable to revive the JCPOA agreement. However, in June, The Hill reported, “While President Biden’s top aides are keeping quiet on any progress with Tehran, reports that U.S. and Iranian officials are looking to carry out deescalating actions as part of an informal agreement are infuriating GOP members.” Republicans harshly criticized Biden’s efforts, and since October 7, any potential agreement has been off the table.

Bolstering the Israeli far-right

In 2018, the Trump administration provocatively announced the U.S. embassy in Israel would move from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem, the Israeli government location, which is disputed under international law because Palestinians also claim the city as their capital. The move was hailed by Netanyahu’s far-right coalition and the Evangelical community, upending decades of U.S. policy.

After the announcement, the Palestinian national movement refused further contact with the Trump administration. At the time, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the Trump administration’s decision was the latest of “unceasing attempts to replace international law with the ‘law of the jungle.’”

Evangelical pastors Robert Jeffress and John Hagee prayed at the new embassy’s opening. “In an attempt to justify Jewish settlement in Palestine, Hagee, founder of the Zionist organization Christians United for Israel, had used the Bible to rationalize the Holocaust, claiming ‘God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun, and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter,’” wrote Denijal Jegić

In 2019, Trump closed the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem relating to Palestinian affairs, operating for 25 years, and rolled its work into the U.S. Embassy, making it nearly impossible for Palestinians to access. The Biden administration reversed this policy and plans to reopen the consulate but has not reversed the decision to move the embassy.

In 2018, the Trump administration eliminated $200 million in economic development and humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The Biden administration restored the funding, but $150 million was suspended because of the current allegations against UNRWA.

To boost his extreme rightwing governing coalition, including with Messianic settler parties, ahead of the April 2019 legislative elections, Netanyahu called for annexing the West Bank settlements. Trump supported Netanyahu, reversing decades of U.S. policy and disregarding the U.N. and global community, which declared the settlements violated international law.

Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition in that election, necessitating snap elections in September. Trump again boosted Netanyahu and the far-right coalition by officially recognizing Israel’s authority over the Golan Heights, a disputed territory belonging to Syria occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. The U.N. and previous U.S. administrations had refused to recognize Israel’s authority over the territory.

On January 28, 2020, Trump and Netanyahu announced the Israel-Palestine Peace Agreement.  The “Trump-Netanyahu” plan was geared to boost Netanyahu’s far-right coalition and Trump’s campaign in tough election fights in 2020. Palestinians had no input and immediately rejected it.

Under the plan:

  • 1) Israel keeps most of Jerusalem as its sovereign capital and a Palestinian capital would be moved to the outskirts;
  • 2) Palestinians get no right of return;
  • 3) Israel annexes about 30% of the West Bank where settlements exist;
  • 4) Palestine is barred from creating a military to defend itself; and
  • 5) ethnic cleansing of Palestinian citizens in Israel begins.

In September, UAE and Bahrain signed U.S.-brokered normalization agreements with Israel, known as the Abraham Accords. Trump timed the signing ceremony at the White House for the U.S. election to show he had brokered a Middle East peace. However, the agreements completely ignored Palestinian self-determination, angering Palestinians and many people in their own countries.

These were significant blows to Palestinian self-determination and a two-state solution and deepened divisions between Israelis and Palestinians, anger, and anti-American sentiment across the region.

Trump family corruption

The corrupt relations Trump has with the Saudi Royal family and other critical Middle Eastern governments add to the danger and chaos. These relations benefit one person – Trump.

Financial deals with Middle Eastern governments and individuals violate the Emoluments Clause, which Trump contemptuously thumbed his nose at. In December, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee released a report, “White House For Sale: How Princes, Prime Ministers, and Premiers Paid off President Trump,” documenting $8 million in payments by foreign entities to Trump properties during just the first two years of Trump’s term in office. According to Democrats, this is a fraction of what Trump raked in.

If elected, Trump says he will not divest from his business interests and continue soliciting bribes.

Trump-Saudi connection

The Trump family’s relationship with the Saudi Royal family is of particular concern. While running for president in 2016, Trump said, “Saudi Arabia – and I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

Throughout his presidency, Trump showed deference to Saudi Arabia. Trump made his first foreign visit as president there.

In 2017, he overrode Congress on a $110 billion deal to supply military weapons to Saudi Arabia. Then again, in 2019, Trump vetoed a measure to block military aid to Saudi Arabia and the EAU because of the assault on Yemen.

Trump also downplayed allegations that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the gruesome murder of Washington Post journalist and Saudi regime critic Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, transferring the nuclear technology just 16 days after his murder.

Trump appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as the administration’s main Middle East point person, even though Kushner had no diplomatic experience. Kushner sat in National Security meetings and enjoyed access to Trump’s daily classified briefings.

Kushner in his pocket

MBS bragged that “Kushner was in his pocket.” In October 2018, Kushner flew to Riyadh to meet with MBS, then engaged in a power struggle within the Royal Family. According to sources, Kushner shared classified intelligence with MBS, exposing Royals who opposed his power grab.

Shortly after Kushner’s trip, scores of government officials and Saudi Royal family members were arrested, including U.S. intelligence sources, one of whom Saudis tortured to death. MBS shook down Saudi royals for billions of dollars. Subsequently, the NSA denied Kushner security clearance.

In the final months of the Trump administration, Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin launched the Abraham Fund, a U.S. government-sponsored program to develop investment projects in the Middle East. They spent $290,000 on U.S. military aircraft flights to ostensibly discuss the project with Saudi and other regional leaders.

After Trump left office, the Abraham Fund vanished. However, within three months, Kushner signed a deal with the Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund to invest $2 billion in his newly created private equity firm, Affinity Partners (AP). The Saudi fund trustees opposed the deal, but MBS, who chairs the fund, overrode them. Mnuchin signed a separate agreement for $1 billion.

AP investments total $3.1 billion, including $200 million each from Qatar and UAE, an extraordinary amount according to analysts, with only $30 million coming from U.S. investors. Kushner receives $25 million a year to administer these funds, not bad for someone who has never managed a portfolio.

Additionally, the Saudi Royal family is funneling millions of dollars to Trump through its Saudi-backed LIV Golf tournaments. Trump’s Doral Golf Course will host a LIV Tournament in April. Trump Organization secured Saudi real estate investments to build a $4 billion hotel and resort complex in Oman.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md, called the Trump presidency a “money-making enterprise.” The Saudi investments are “straight payoffs” and a down payment for additional favors if Trump wins in November.

Trump and Kushner are vulnerable to bribery, given their enormous debts. Kushner suffered staggering losses from purchasing the 666 Fifth Avenue property in Manhattan. Kushner sought a cash influx, but no U.S. banks would touch it, so he desperately searched elsewhere.

Saudi Arabia, UAE, and other Middle East countries were also in rivalry with Qatar, especially for its close ties to Iran and support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Once Trump took office, they saw an opportunity to punish Qatar without retribution. In 2017, they organized an economic blockade of Qatar. Kushner and Trump, undermining their own State Department, backed the blockade a month after Qatar’s Ministry of Finance rebuffed an attempted shakedown by Kushner’s real estate firm to extract financing for 666 Fifth Avenue.

There are enormous stakes in the 2024 elections – the existential threat to democracy and ending MAGA’s ongoing constitutional coup, urgently addressing the climate crisis, and changing U.S. foreign policy.

The complicated political terrain is fraught with danger and demands the anti-MAGA coalition to think and act strategically, keeping the big picture in mind. If the anti-MAGA majority remains united and is victorious, more favorable circumstances can be created to carry on the struggle post-November.

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John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.