President Donald Trump, by claiming great success in using dollars and cents as carrots and sticks, has redefined the phrase “American values.” He shows little interest in promoting human rights or democracy, and the lifelong businessman instead puts his faith in money as the sole solution and the way to measure success.
The most recent example is Trump’s abrupt threat-by-Twitter on May 30 to impose tariffs on all goods from Mexico, unless it would stop Central American migrants from reaching the United States. The agreement that emerged eight days later was cloaked in typical Trump imprecision, but he boasted that he scored a triumph by threatening to harm a generally friendly neighbor’s economy.
To make his risky and aggressive gambit sound profitable, he claimed on Twitter that Mexico “will begin purchasing Farm & Agricultural products at very high levels, starting immediately.” Mexican officials said they could not explain how he got that impression.
Meantime, Trump continues to threaten to slap even more punitive tariffs onto imports from China. When he heard from politicians in Midwestern states vital to his reelection drive that they might suffer from Chinese retaliation, Trump declared that he would distribute $16 billion in cash to farmers there. He claimed that the money came from China, meaning the U.S. government’s income from tariffs. Trump refuses to concede that tariffs are a tax that American importers and consumers pay.
A major test of his “In Cash We Trust” mentality will come next week in Bahrain, the Persian Gulf kingdom that is doing the Trump administration a huge favor by playing host to an unusual form of Middle East peace conference. The brainchild of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the June 25-26 “Peace to Prosperity Workshop” is a brazen — admirers might say gutsy — attempt to offer Palestinians the chance to make affluence their top priority.
Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Arab countries are being asked to pledge more than $60 billion in investments in the West Bank and Gaza, though apparently only if the region becomes peaceful. Chief executives of large American corporations are expected in Bahrain, to make similarly conditional promises.
But will the Palestinians get their most fervent hope — a nation of their own? Kushner and his partners in the secretive genesis of what Trump called “the deal of a century” — longtime Trump attorneys Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman — refuse to say whether they favor creation of an independent Arab state of Palestine. Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, recently stoked controversy when he said that Israel would have the right to annex parts of the West Bank, which it captured from Jordan in 1967.
The Kushner team gives the impression that prosperity can be a substitute for sovereignty. Yet Palestinian leaders, who are boycotting the Bahrain workshop, say they have no desire to make “Israeli occupation” more cushy for anyone. They also insist they are getting along without the hundreds of millions of dollars in American aid that Trump ended.
The average Israeli, meantime, enjoys a comfortable standing of living and wishes that Palestinians also could develop a stronger economy — if only because then, they would have something to lose and might disavow armed conflict. Doubts are growing, however, that a two-state solution will ever emerge.
No one seems to believe that next week’s Bahrain mirage will lead to a welcome breakthrough. At the root of the likely failure is a set of misplaced, unshared values.
Dan Raviv, senior Washington correspondent of i24News, is author of “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.”