John Roche, who served as an aide to President Johnson, once described Johnson’s reaction when a Democratic Senator on the Foreign Relations Committee (Roche withheld the name, and I won’t speculate) broke with LBJ on the war in Vietnam. According to Roche, Johnson said something close to this:
It’s my own fault. Some years ago, the good people of ______, in their wisdom, elected the village idiot to the Senate. [As Senate Majority Leader] I had to find a spot for him.
I couldn’t put him on a committee that deals with things that make a difference in peoples lives. But he liked to talk about foreign countries. So I put him on the Foreign Relations Committee where he could make lots of fancy speeches without doing any harm.
It’s my own fault.
I don’t know whether President Trump is as shrewd as LBJ, but I have wondered whether similar thinking caused him to put Jared Kushner in charge of the Middle East “peace process.” Kushner is married to Trump’s daughter and he put in loyal service during the presidential campaign. So Trump had to give him an important sounding portfolio. Why not the peace process, that hardy perennial of futility.
(Trump also assigned Kushner to head the the White House Office of American Innovation which is supposed to fix the government. To me, that’s the domestic equivalent of bringing peace to the Middle East.)
Kushner’s cluelessness about the Middle East was on display yesterday at the Brookings Institution. He said: “If we’re going to try to create more stability in the region as a whole, you have to solve this issue [between Israel and the Palestinians].”
At Power Line, we’ve been combating this bit of conventional wisdom for 15 years. We may finally be at the point that Kushner’s utterance is too shopworn to constitute conventional wisdom. I was hoping only John Kerry still believes it.
What are the main barriers to stability in the Middle East? One, surely, is the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. Another, related to the first, is Iranian aggression and ambition.
Neither barrier has anything to do with the dispute between Palestinians and Israelis. Can Kushner possibly believe that the creation of a Palestinian state would heal sectarian strife among Muslims or cause Iran to give up its imperial design or its quest for nuclear weapons?
Apparently so. He told the Brookings audience that these issues can best be addressed after the distraction of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is resolved. This is either snake oil salesmanship or naivety in the extreme.
The Israeli-Palestinian dispute isn’t distracting many other than Kushner and think tank denizens. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and every other player in the Middle East are focused exclusively on their national interests, not those of the Palestinians.
Moreover, as Joel Pollak points out at Breitbart, Kushner’s claim that we have to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue before the U.S. can improve regional stability is at odds with President Trump’s approach (seemingly successful so far) of forging alliances among regional states and helping Israel forge better relationships with them, outside of any framework for addressing the Palestinian question.
As Lyndon Johnson would say, the disconnect is Trump’s own fault.
Economics and demographics no doubt contribute to instability in the Middle East. Creating a Palestinian state won’t alter the economics or demographics of the region as a whole.
The existence of horrible regimes in Middle Eastern states is a big contributor to instability. Creating a Palestinian state won’t cause regime change. In all likelihood, it will just bring into existence another state with a horrible regime — this one on Israel’s doorstep.
Why did Kushner articulate his shallow thoughts on the Middle East at the Brookings Institution? Maybe because this is one of the few remaining outposts that subscribes to them. Maybe because he desires approval from left.
Approval was limited. According to the Washington Post, Haim Saban who runs the forum Kushner addressed, mocked him and his team, to the delight of the assembled leftists:
[Your] team has in it an entrepreneurial real estate lawyer, a bankruptcy lawyer — I don’t know how you’ve lasted eight months in this lineup. . . . It’s impressive that it’s still going. There’s not a Mideast ‘macher’ [big shot] in this group.
How do you operate with, with all due respect, a bunch of Orthodox Jews who have no idea about anything?
What are you guys doing? Seriously, I don’t understand this.
I don’t understand either, but for different reasons.
Saban is, if anything, even more clueless than Kushner. He seems to think the problem with Kushner’s effort is the absence of a “Mideast macher” from the team. But the machers have been at this for decades. They have accomplished next to nothing.
It isn’t the absence of Dennis Ross that makes Kushner’s mission an exercise in futility. But Dennis Ross might be very comfortable with Kushner’s dated thinking. John Kerry too.