Hugh Fitzgerald: That American Embassy Move Is Doing Just Fine, Thank You (Part One)

When, in December 2017, President Trump announced that the American Embassy would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, many people in the foreign policy establishment warned of dire consequences. Richard Haass and Aaron Miller, both of whom have been involved in the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” for decades, tweeted about the potential for mayhem and mass protests by the “Arab street.” So did journalists, such as Susan Glasser of The New Yorker, Anne Barnard of the New York Times, Obama’s speechwriter David Rhodes, and many others.

There have been similar hypertrophied fears about Arab reactions to American policies, expressed on other occasions. Back in 1991, after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Saudi Arabia welcomed American and other Western military forces into the Kingdom to protect it against a possible invasion by Saddam Hussein. Middle Eastern “experts” predicted there would be mass protests, even uprisings throughout the Arab world. How could Infidel armies be allowed to remain in the Arabian peninsula without the Arabs erupting in furious protest? Surely the Arabs everywhere would be enraged. As it turned out, the Western troops remained; Saddam Hussein was as a result dissuaded from any possible move on the Kingdom; and there was hardly a peep of protest from the much-feared “Arab street.”

Exaggerated fears of how the Arabs might react to an American policy thought to favor Israel go all the way back to the  Truman Administration. Both the Secretary of State and former Chief of Staff, George C. Marshall, and the Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, were against recognizing the State of Israel, for fear of the supposed dire consequences to American interests in the Arab world. America’s top diplomat, George Kennan, agreed with Forrestal and Marshall that Israel should not be recognized because of the damage to American interests in the region. Whether they — and others — all really believed this, or whether some may have been driven purely by an anti-Israel animus that was rampant among the “striped pants boys” in the State Department, is unclear. But in any case, President Truman ignored the advice of these “Wise Men,” recognized Israel, and braced for the reaction, but there were no anti-American protests to speak of, no burning of flags, no furious Muslim marchers denouncing Truman in Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, or Riyadh.

Another fear expressed by many in the foreign policy establishment was that Israel, once recognized by Washington, might nonetheless become a Soviet satellite. This made no sense; there was not the slightest evidence of Israel making common cause with the Soviet Union. Yet Secretary of State Marshall warned, on the basis of no facts whatsoever, that “There was a danger that if the Jewish state came into being it would be a front for the Soviets.” This canard has its roots, of course, in older charges about “Jewish Bolshevism.” At the same time, a different worry was expressed, that if Truman recognized Israel, this move would push some of the Arab states, in reaction, to become Soviet allies. Neither of these consequences was realized. Communism did not mix either with Zionism or with Islam.

Which brings us to the warnings issued by so many Middle Eastern “experts” more than a year ago about what would happen if America moved its Embassy to Jerusalem. The Wall Street Journal reported at the time that the State Department had informed US embassies around the world about the plan to make the move and to begin planning for how to deal with the protests that would, it thought, inevitably follow.

The Wall Street Journal’s report included the warning, as its State Department sources wanted it to, that if Trump made good on the pledge to move the Embassy, American diplomats abroad would be in real danger. There were even predictions that “the response of the Arab street will likely be nasty and might rival or even exceed the destruction, violence and even murder that resulted when a Danish newspaper published a few satirical cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed. Egged on by Iran and other radical Islamists, protests will be massive and will carry a hefty price tag.”

Many Middle East “experts” and much of the media were sure that the Embassy move would lead to catastrophe.

Sean Dolan of CAMERA reminds us of their exaggerated fears here:

When the Trump administration announced in December 2017 that it would belatedly implement the bipartisan Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, commentators howled with disapproval, warning that “the Arab street” would explode. NPR, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and USA Today, among others, filed dozens of reports warning about an impending disaster. Arab nations would punish the United States they warned — and if those regimes failed to express adequate disapproval, they risked being overthrown.

The Middle East analyst Noah Pollak highlighted several of the overblown predictions in the Washington Free Beacon. Susan Glasser, then of Politico and now at The New Yorker, breathlessly repeated claims made by an Israeli Arab Ayman Odeh, a leading Arab Israeli member of parliament that“Trump is a pyromaniac who could set the entire region on fire with his madness.” Ben Rhodes, an Obama senior official turned pundit, said that ““In addition to making the goal of peace even less possible, Trump is risking huge blowback against the US and AmericansFor no reason other than a political promise he doesn’t even understand, an international crisis’ was likely to materialize.” “Pray,” said The New York Times’ Anne Barnard. Aaron Miller who had in the past been deeply involved in negotiations with Israel and the Arabs,  tweeted: “Jerusalem is a tinderbox waiting for a match. What’s the compelling US interest in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?” Ned Price, who had been a special assistant to President Obama for security affairs, tweeted that:

In order to cater to his political base, Trump appears willing to:

Put US personnel at great risk;

Risk C-ISIL momentum;

Destabilize a regional ally;

Strain global alliances;

Put Israeli-Palestinian peace farther out of reach

But nothing significant — no setting of the region on fire, no international crisis, no huge blowback against the US — happened.

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