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McMaster’s Misunderstanding of the Middle East
By A.Z. Mohamed
Originally Published by the Gatestone Institute.
In his address to the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum in Washington on June 4, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, pointed to a “reassessment of regional relationships, most notably between Israel and a number of our Arab partners — all friends of America, but too often adversaries of each other.”
McMaster was referring to the counter-terrorism initiative that President Donald Trump launched two weeks earlier in Saudi Arabia. McMaster called the move “an opportunity.”
Judging by his previous statements — for example, during a speech in honor of Israel Independence Day at the Israeli Embassy in Washington in May — McMaster considers one aspect of this opportunity to be a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This is where his approach is misguided, if not totally counter-productive.
In the first place, the Arab states have never been America’s allies in the way that Israel has been. Israel and the U.S. not only share a Western value system, but the Jewish state is a technological, economic and military democratic power in an unstable Middle East ruled by dictatorships. Speaking about them in the same breath not only indicates a lack of understanding of the region, but necessarily hinders any attempt on the part of the U.S. administration to revive long-stalled negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, let alone achieve a peace deal. As Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes explains, peace is achieved through victory over one’s enemies, not by appeasement or dangerous compromises.
If McMaster were merely exhibiting a misunderstanding of how things work in the Middle East, it would be bad enough. Yet this is not the greatest problem with his attitude towards Israel and the Palestinians. More serious is his anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian bias, as an article in the Conservative Report, based on comments by senior West Wing and defense officials, reveals.
According to the piece, “McMaster has emerged as a man fiercely opposed to strengthening the U.S. alliance with the Jewish state” — one who “constantly refers to the [historically false] existence of a Palestinian state before 1947,” and “who describes Israel as an ‘illegitimate,’ ‘occupying power.'”
More recently, as a source told the Conservative Report, after the terrorist attack on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on July 14, 2017 — committed by three Arab Israelis against two Druze Israeli Border Police officers — McMaster called Israel’s placement of metal detectors at the site “just another excuse by the Israelis to repress the Arabs.”
This is in keeping with McMaster’s ideology in general. During his first “all hands” staff meeting on February 23, 2017, he called terrorism “un-Islamic” and the term “radical Islamic terrorism” not helpful.
Prior to the meeting, retired U.S. Army Col. Peter Mansoor told Fox News that McMaster, with whom he served in Iraq during the 2007 surge of American troops, “absolutely does not view Islam as the enemy… and will present a degree of pushback against the theories being propounded in the White House that this is a clash of civilizations and needs to be treated as such.”
In response to mounting criticism against the national security adviser in conservative circles, Trump said in a statement emailed to the New York Times, “General McMaster and I are working very well together. He is a good man and very pro-Israel. I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country.”
This may be an attempt on Trump’s part to mitigate the damage done by the manpower upheaval in the White House, and allay fears of further turmoil. However, if McMaster continues to view Israel and its Arab neighbors as comparable U.S. allies, and to consider the Jewish state to blame for a lack of peace with the Palestinians, the president would do well to re-examine whether his national security adviser is serving either his interests or those of the United States.
A.Z. Mohamed is a Muslim born and raised in the Middle East.