WASHINGTON — The past few days have provided a head-swiveling study in cognitive dissonance and dueling realities.
Monday started the week with a jolt in Jerusalem, where the U.S. and Israel celebrated the American embassy move from Tel Aviv. Television spectators around the world watched as the two nations’ officials gathered inside a large, white tent — a metaphorical bubble that seemed to protect them from the tragedy unfolding 50 miles away in Gaza.
There, Israeli soldiers opened fire on Palestinian protesters, killing more than five dozen and wounding thousands more.
In stark contrast to the carnage, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was almost giddy as he cited historical justifications for the embassy’s relocation — from Abraham and King Solomon to Zechariah, who 2,500 years ago declared Jerusalem “the city of truth.” Netanyahu was effusive in his praise of Trump for “having the courage to keep his promises,” which just happened to be the opening line in the White House’s talking points afterward.
Even as one might have enjoyed Netanyahu’s understandable elation and Jared Kushner’s touching speech about truth, Western idealism and the pursuit of peace, there was something oddly Baghdad Bob-ish about the whole production.
You remember him. He was the so-nicknamed Iraqi government spokesperson during the U.S.-led invasion who insisted to television cameras that everything was just fine in Baghdad, as American tanks rolled into the city. One wonders if future Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, then a student at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, caught Bob on TV and thought to herself: Why, yes, he’s right. It all looks good to me.
Kushner, whose task as adviser is to secure Middle East peace, noted in his remarks that the Palestinian protesters were “part of the problem,” an analysis seconded by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley the next day. During a Security Council meeting, Haley dismissed the protests as having been caused by Hamas and said they had nothing to do with the relocation of the embassy.
One could say that.
One could say that the moon is cheesy and good with grits. Or that the person who invited Dallas pastor and Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress to Jerusalem to lead a prayer was a genius. (Jeffress has said that Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and the Catholic Church are all essentially satanic cults.)
One could further say that there was no one better to lead a second prayer than the Rev. John Hagee, who, you’ll recall, blamed gays for Hurricane Katrina. He also has said that Hitler was a “hunter” for God and that Jews will be saved during the Second Coming of Christ, which is expected to occur in, guess where — Jerusalem.
The surprise isn’t that Palestinians protested but that Israelis didn’t.
Since Trump and cohorts are so suddenly enamored of the truth, let’s stick to it. The relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv has everything to do with the Palestinian protests. Blaming Hamas for organizing the protests is like blaming Republicans for electing Trump. Did anyone really think there would be no protests against a move that essentially ends the bilateral peace process?
Moving the embassy may have been the right thing to do — and maybe no time would be right — but we shouldn’t delude ourselves. The embassy was moved because it served Trump. How do we know this? Because everything Trump does is for Trump.
It burnished his tough-guy brand by demonstrating that he keeps his word and by putting Iran on further notice that he means business. He consolidated the support of conservative U.S. Jews and evangelicals, stabilizing his base and increasing the likelihood of his re-election. Most important, perhaps, it distinguished him from his predecessor, Barack Obama, who, though retired from government, continues to get under this president’s skin.
If Trump had hoped to also further enhance his chances for a Nobel Peace Prize, which Obama received for merely talking eloquently about peace, then the Israeli clampdown in Gaza was surely unhelpful. Then again, the “collateral damages” weren’t Trump’s doing, he’d likely tell himself. Why, he wasn’t even there.
It would be no surprise if Trump, in a bout of cognitive dissonance, were to believe that the Palestinians will quiet down in a few days and peace will settle over the valley, which sounds a lot like the flowers and candy American forces were told to expect from liberated Iraqis in the aftermath of “shock and awe.” Remind me how that worked out.