Israeli troops fire teargas at Palestinian protesters during clashes in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday EPA
Just before the ceremony to mark the move of the United States embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Pastor John Hagee, a leading American evangelical, CEO of a “mega church” in San Antonio, Texas, and big time tele-preacher, predicted that President Trump would, as a result, “historically step into immortality … He will be remembered for thousands of years for his act of courage.”
Nearly right, pastor. For the president is certainly going to be remembered for his decision, and for a long time, but not exactly in the way he had in mind. Indeed for those of a religious disposition, it is quite conceivable to imagine Donald Trump ending up spending thousands of years in an afterlife even warmer and less hospitable than the fires burning today across the occupied territories.
When a single act of arrogant diplomacy can, utterly predictably, contribute to dozens of deaths – including, possibly, that of an eight-month-old infant from teargas poisoning – then, yes, there are special places reserved for such political leaders.
In this context it is worth reminding ourselves of the worldwide wave of revulsion against chemical weapons we have seen in recent weeks. Palestinian victims deserve the same sympathy and protests as anyone else when their children suffer from gassing.
Gazans protest as US embassy moves to Jerusalem – in pictures
It is especially regrettable that the US has vetoed a UN resolution condemning the violence in Gaza and the West Bank. The moral parallels and ironies when recalling their objection to the Russian veto on the Syrian bombing, though that was in a different order of magnitude, remain clear.
In reality, even opinion in the United States is turning against the president, and sometimes in less predictable quarters. There will be those, certainly, in the more thoughtful parts of the Republican Party and the state department who will have been dismayed by the scale of the damage to peace. That much is to be expected, but across the US media there are expressions of outrage at what is happening – acts of violence against protesters, scores of fatalities, the risks being run with regional and world peace, and the safety of US interests and citizens at home and abroad put into fresh jeopardy.
More than any of that, though, is a sense that America is not living up to its highest standards and is abandoning its ambitions as a blessed peacemaker, that it is betraying its values as well as many friends and allies around the world. There is a growing body of opinion at home too that America is quite simply “doing the wrong thing” and, with no provocation and with much planning, quite unnecessarily.
Since Vietnam, foreign policy, even in the Middle East, rarely intrudes too decisively in American politics, but it can still move opinion and votes. It is ironic that both presidents Trump and George W Bush campaigned on a policy of mild isolationism only to find their administrations overwhelmed by global events. If the public senses that the White House has behaved in a way that makes America less safe, or is actually losing a war, whether it is just or not, a president will lose credibility and support.
Israeli drones fire tear gas as clashes erupt at Gaza-Israel border protests
If nothing else, the Jerusalem policy will have cemented even more firmly his existing opposition, and motivated the president’s many critics to campaign ever more vigorously to free America of his influence – in the mid-terms this autumn and in the next general election. Beyond that, many moderate, independent swing voters will be wondering if this is what America should be doing in the world. On a nation so sharply and narrowly divided, alienating that constituency could prove politically costly. Even the apparently hopeful initiative in Korea will not outweigh the moral stain of the Jerusalem policy.
Some decades ago the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan, who Mr Trump yearns so badly to emulate, won successive elections by asking Americans: “are you better off today than you were four years ago?” No doubt Mr Trump will do the same, but many of his fellow Americans will also ask whether they and their world feel
s safer now that Mr Trump has set the Middle East alight, and given the Iranians every incentive and excuse to develop nuclear weapons.
As many American commentators on many sides are now noting, President Trump has killed stone dead any remaining hopes of peace and a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, and given Isis and other Islamist terrorists just the boost they need just as they were being extirpated. For Donald Trump an inglorious kind of immortality beckons.