Word on the Street: What I Saw in Cleveland

Ben Shnider Image
Ben Shnider
on July 22, 2016

This has been a terrifying week for people who care about the future of our nation and Israel. A man who promotes outrageous and irresponsible policies became the presidential nominee of the Republican Party. His foreign policy platform alarms our allies and should scare anyone who cares about a secure and democratic Israel.

I was in Cleveland with my colleague, J Street Vice President of Government Affairs Dylan Williams, to discuss and encourage the Republicans’ own tradition of a realist Middle East policy rooted in diplomacy. After all, it was President Reagan who recognized the PLO, the first President Bush who convened the Madrid Conference and his son, President George W. Bush, who conceived of the “Roadmap to Peace.”

Sadly, Trump is going in a very different, very dangerous direction.

On our first night in Cleveland, we watched a series of speakers — most notably Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson — trash the Iran deal from Trump’s stage. They ignored the fact that this agreement has blocked Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon without firing a single shot and offered no alternative apart from their wild promises to rip up the deal.

Our second day was even more shocking. Trump turned his back on NATO, the bedrock alliance underpinning the security and prosperity of Europe. He declared he might not honor the treaty’s obligation to come to the aid of its members if attacked. With just one sentence, Trump jettisoned 70 years of successful, bipartisan US foreign policy.

While this is not our issue, it certainly signaled Trump’s utter disdain for US diplomatic leadership, commitments to allies and strong working coalitions. This is exceedingly dangerous. If Trump can’t be trusted to back some of our oldest allies in Europe, why would anyone anywhere in the world trust him?

Worse yet, his supporters are along for the ride. From Senator Tom Cotton’s brazen letter to the Iranian regime that sought to undermine President Obama’s successful Iran diplomacy to the far right’s ongoing torrent of Islamophobia and nativism, this brand of extremism has been bubbling under the surface for some time. Trump has brought it out into the open.

And his convention stage was no exception. Senator Ted Cruz smeared Syrian refugees as “terrorists” and accused President Obama of “importing” them. Following up from his call earlier in the week for Muslims to take a religious test upon arrival to the United States or face deportation, Newt Gingrich used his speech to drum up more fear about Muslims worldwide.

That’s why, sadly, we aren’t surprised to see that the GOP’s current approach to the Middle East has gone so far off the rails. Trump’s campaign has bashed the successful Iran deal at every turn. His top Israel adviser has sanctioned limitless settlement expansion and indicated support for Israel’s annexation of the West Bank.

In American politics there’s been a decades-long bipartisan consensus in favor of the two-state solution, and for good reason: it is the only way to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The United States’ support for it is an important cornerstone of our policy in an increasingly unstable region. Despite protests from veteran Republicans like Marshall Breger of the Reagan and Bush administrations, Trump and his advisers have led the GOP to abandon the two-state solution in its platform in a deeply misguided attempt to pander to American Jews.

The GOP’s new position on Israel suffers from the same defects as Trump’s foreign policy more broadly. It shows a reckless disregard for real American leadership and sympathy for extreme positions and actors.

While some Republicans have refused to come along for Trump’s ride, many of his harshest early critics are now unfortunately beginning to fall in line.

Trump threatens to lead the country off a cliff. But it’s not too late to pull back from the edge. After all, Trump and his friends in down-ballot races may be moving to double down on their reckless foreign policy, but they still have an election ahead of them. This November, we must stand up to their patent disregard for international peace, order and security.

We know that there is another way. We know that effective diplomacy can avert war and make the world safer. We know that the United States can lead by modeling the equality and tolerance we wish to see around the world. What’s more, this worldview offers a path to political victory for the hundreds of candidates around the country who share it.

When the votes are counted come November, we hope Trump and his supporters have good reason to reconsider their abandonment of diplomacy-driven foreign policy. This election should convince them the surest path to increased global stability and winning at the ballot box comes through building on the tremendous diplomatic achievements of the last few years.

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