Bold or divisive? Lawmakers weigh Trump's Middle East strategy

    Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks to WEAR from Capitol Hill on May 16, 2018. (WEAR)

    In the last ten days, President Donald Trump has made two massive changes in Middle East policy that administration officials say will make the U.S. and the world safer, but Democrats believe the results will be exactly the opposite.

    Last week, Trump announced he is withdrawing the U.S. from the agreement the Obama administration reached with other world powers to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Throughout his campaign and the first year of his presidency, Trump regularly derided the Iran deal as one of the worst ever negotiated.

    European allies urged Trump to remain in the agreement, but the administration argued the deal did not do enough to curtail Iran’s other destabilizing activities, its inspections regime was insufficient, and it did not permanently guarantee Iran would not resume nuclear activities after its provisions sunset.

    “We obviously want to do everything possible to be sure Iran never gets nuclear weapons, but we have to make sure we’re working with our allies in the region to bring peace,” said Rep. Ruben Kihuen, R-Nev., who called withdrawing from the deal “a big mistake.”

    However, Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, said the original agreement was “flawed” and Iran’s past behavior proves it cannot be trusted.

    “Feeling good about having a deal just to have a deal is not how we deal with the Iranians,” he said.

    Despite Democratic concerns about angering allies, Hurd said withdrawing from the agreement provides a new opening to negotiate a better deal.

    “This is an opportunity now for us to engage our long term allies in the U.K., France, and Germany, and talk about how do we put an international coalition together to stop Iran from having a weapon, period, end of story, and stop them from being a nuclear threat and supporting terrorism,” he said.

    Earlier this week, Trump fulfilled another campaign promise by officially moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A dedication ceremony was held Monday at the former consular facility that will now house the embassy in the Arnona neighborhood of the city.

    While Trump hailed the day as a great one for Israel, violent protests in Gaza in response to the ceremony resulted in dozens of Palestinians being killed and thousands more injured by Israel Defense Forces. Trump administration officials have blamed Hamas for instigating the protests.

    “These are not protests in the Gaza Strip,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. “These are riots The real challenge here is you’ve got Hamas and the Palestinian Authority engaged in incitement of their own citizens.”

    Congress passed legislation authorizing the relocation of the embassy in 1995, and other votes have since reaffirmed that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

    “Ultimately, the president enforced something this body, the House and the Senate, voted on in a bipartisan way for decades,” Hurd said.

    However, the last three presidents before Trump repeatedly waived the physical move. Democrats say there was a good reason for that.

    “Let me say first off we always recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” said Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., “but prior presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, have often thought to move the embassy to Jerusalem would only heighten tensions, would only lead to more violence in the area, and would also make it much more difficult to find a long-term, lasting peaceful solution to create two states in that region of the world.”

    Peters pointed to the Gaza protests as evidence of the increased violence he and others predicted would result from the provocative embassy move.

    “What has always been a very complex and very dangerous environment, as a result of the president’s actions, has become more complex and more dangerous,” he said.

    Kihuen said he is encouraged by the level of support for Israel coming from the U.S., but he is concerned by the recent violence and unsure if Trump has a plan to respond to it.

    “I believe President Trump has to eloquently show us a strategy on how to bring peace to the region because right now there’s a lot of turmoil in that area,” he said. “More people are going to continue to die if we don’t see a firm strategy by the president.”

    According to Republicans, Trump is displaying leadership and pursuing peace through strength.

    “President Trump understands the world is a safer place when the United States is the strongest country in the world and when we lead with moral conviction, clarity, and boldness,” Gaetz said.

    According to Democrats, his recent policy actions will only further divide and enflame an already-volatile region of the world.

    “The president should be a uniter, not a divider,” Kihuen said. “What we’re seeing right now is the president has been dividing not only our country but the rest of the world.”

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