June 20th, 2019


Lest we forget, old alliances need maintaining

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published May 11,2018

Lest we forget, old alliances need maintaining

While this all too distractible administration has been busy forging new ties between this country and both Koreas, it may have overlooked the need to reinforce old understandings in the Middle East.

There the Israelis and Saudis, whatever their own differences, have developed a working relationship with the United States. It's all part of a complex and contradictory pattern, but that's the Middle East -- and those who would hold it together need to tread softly and carry a mighty big stick.

While they're at it, remember that there is nothing like a common threat to inspire a common front. At this point Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and this country's new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could be singing from the same hymnal.

Indeed, they could be reciting interchangeable lines as they call for the world to take action against the region's prime troublemaker: Iran.

"We remain deeply concerned about Iran's dangerous escalation of threats to Israel and the region," said Secretary Pompeo after meeting a couple of hours with the Israel premier. "The United States is with Israel in this fight." And it's more than just a verbal confrontation. For the mullahs in Tehran have bankrolled anti-Israeli terrorists and developed long-range missiles. The West's current deal with Iran hasn't kept its regime from meddling in the current civil war in Syria either, where it may be planning to establish a permanent military base.

"Iran must be stopped," vowed Prime Minister Netanyahu, "its quest for a nuclear bomb must be stopped, its aggression must be stopped and we're committed to stopping it together," he said of the Israeli-American alliance.

In response, Secretary Pompeo said of this country's current deal with Iran that "if we can't fix it," President Trump is determined to abandon it. While he was at it, Prime Minister Netanyahu praised the American president's decision finally to move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in time to celebrate modern Israel's 70th birthday.

As for the Saudis, they echoed Israel's and America's objections to the present pact with the powers in Tehran. The foreign minister of the Saudi kingdom, Adel al-Jubeir, said his country "supports the policy of the Trump administration against Iran and to improve the terms of the nuclear agreement with Iran."

As well the Saudis should, it being clear that the nuclear agreement with Iran now serves only the Iranians' interests rather than that of peace in the region or the world.

The policy being pursued by the Iranians, according to Secretary Pompeo, destabilizes the region. For it amounts only to throwing more tinder on the pile of resentments that could erupt into the next war in the Mideast.

John Bolton, who's been around long enough to spy trouble when it's coming, doubts that America's president is likely to stick with the current nuclear pact with Iran. Much like Secretary Pompeo, Mr. Bolton is a hard-liner when it comes to dealing with Tehran, but he sounds open to striking a compromise in the name of Realpolitik and keeping the Western alliance on a common course. Or as the national security adviser said about his new boss:

"He certainly said very negative things about the deal (with Iran), which implied that . . . other steps wouldn't really address that concern, but, look, it's possible in discussions with our European allies that we'll be able to see some possibility there."

Power brings responsibility with it, and that sage if outspoken adviser to the president isn't rushing to break ranks with our European friends in a fit of pique. He can be temperate when the diplomatic odds call for a show of moderation. Which may be an important distinction between him and Donald Trump.

Let's not allow the mullahs to set us and our European friends against each other. For united we stand and divided we may only fall into another mutually disastrous war.

Peace, as precarious as it is, is worth preserving. For once the dogs of war are loosed, there is no counting on the results. So the best course for now, even with all its risks, is still unsteady as she goes.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.