Robert Satloff, head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me Tuesday that annexation of Palestinian territory “could have a hugely destabilizing effect on Jordan,” where there have been street protests against the government in recent months. He noted that the Jordanians feel “disrespected, underappreciated and taken for granted” by their longtime friends in Israel, the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz warned Monday that if Netanyahu carries out his annexation pledge, it could even endanger the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty. “The peace treaty can go into a deep-freeze mode and therefore it is definitely at risk,” he told CNN. Another senior Jordanian official gave me this assessment of Netanyahu’s stance: “There’s a sense of momentary arrogance, which is unwise.”
What does all this have to do with Trump’s reelection bid? First, the prospect of instability along the border of Israel and Jordan would be bad news for any president in an election year. And, in this case, the annexation push is a direct result of Trump’s peace proposal, which envisions Israeli takeover of settlement blocks and the Jordan Valley as part of an eventual “deal of the century” between Israel and the Palestinians.
Jared Kushner, the architect of the peace plan and Trump’s son-in-law, is said to have insisted last month that Netanyahu wait until after Monday’s election to move forward with annexation because of Arab warnings that the move could trigger a violent reaction in the West Bank and Jordan. What now, Jared?
Jordan isn’t the only country that’s a potential hot spot this election season, in part because of Trump’s gaudy diplomacy. His Afghanistan peace plan was launched Saturday in a formal U.S. agreement with the Taliban. It’s an admirable effort to end the United States’ longest war. But it could also rupture Afghanistan — if the Taliban continues assaulting government forces even as U.S. troops withdraw on the scheduled 14-month timetable.
Trump’s other diplomatic showpiece, the agreement for denuclearization of North Korea, is also problematic as the presidential campaign heats up. North Korea fired two short-range missiles Monday that flew about 150 miles toward Japan. Trump’s North Korea peace initiative, again, is a commendable effort, but it appears to be near a dead end — with the chance of renewed confrontation to boot. Not an ideal campaign bumper sticker.
A sign of Trump’s political vulnerability on these foreign policy issues came in two tweets from John Bolton, his hawkish former national security adviser. Bolton said the deal with the Taliban poses an “unacceptable risk to America’s civilian population,” and that after the North Korean missile launches, the United States should “face the reality” that Kim Jong Un won’t disarm.
The unsettled international situation could also help former vice president Joe Biden, whose campaign touts his decades of foreign policy experience.
Jordan is the wild card in this deck because it isn’t usually on the list of potential trouble spots. Indeed, senior Israeli military officials have long argued that Jordan’s close relationship with Israel is a critical factor in military security.
A retired senior Israeli military official told me Monday that because the two countries cooperate so closely, Israel’s eastern border, in air defense terms, has been the Jordan-Iraq frontier. This retired general said it would be “reckless” to put this at risk by annexing the Jordan Valley and poisoning relations with Amman, since this would reduce Israeli security.
Jordan faces new uncertainties with the leaders of its three traditional partners: Trump in the United States, Netanyahu in Israel and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia. While Jordanian support from the U.S., Israeli and Saudi establishments remains strong, relations with the leaders have become “fragile,” notes Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Foreign policy is rarely a decisive winning issue in politics. While George H.W. Bush may have won the Cold War, he lost the White House. But foreign crises, and the sense that the United States is powerless to stop disorder, can certainly be a loser. Just ask Jimmy Carter.