Aaron David Miller has spent years advising both Republicans and Democrats on foreign policy, and this has led to him have little patience for partisan egotism.
“Neither of our political parties have an answer, let alone a monopoly, on … a solution to what ails the nation at home or abroad,” he said during a conference call last week with 250 reporters and Jewish community members.
“The line for a smart American foreign policy should not be between right and left, liberal and conservative or Democrat and Republican,” he said. “It should be between dumb on one hand and smart on the other.
Miller, who is vice president for new initiatives and a distinguished fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, discussed a host of issues and policy decisions President-elect Donald Trump faces in the Middle East, a region Miller called “broken, angry [and] dysfunctional.”
Of all the problems facing the Middle East, none has a comprehensive solution, he said.
The call was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. Here are Miller’s five top points:
David Friedman was an unexpected pick for ambassador, and that was the point.
One of President-elect Donald Trump’s highly publicized picks for his administration was his long-time legal counsel, David Friedman, as ambassador to Israel.
The pick took many by surprise and that, Miller said, was Trump’s goal.
He suspects that choosing Friedman “was a clear decision to reflect a sharp break with the previous administration.”
Miller noted the unprecedented nature of making such an influential and sensitive pick so quickly. The past three American ambassadors to Israel were not nominated until the acting president had been in office for several years.
Will the Senate reject Friedman, given his lack of diplomatic experience? Probably not.
Miller cited only two examples in the past 50 years when the Senate rejected a presidential Cabinet selection. Barring an extraordinary, unforeseeable event or the Israeli government voicing concern, he said, Friedman will likely be confirmed by the Senate.
Trump might make peace between the White House and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but not the Israelis and Palestinians.
Miller does not think resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a priority for Trump’s administration, never mind his skepticism of Trump’s ability to do so.
But if nothing else, Trump will likely create a better relationship between the White House and Israel’s prime minister.
Miller said the relationship between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama was the “most dysfunctional relationship between an Israeli prime minister and an American president.”
“The personal relationship between Obama and Netanyahu will be replaced by a more functional [and] perhaps warmer relationship between the president-elect and the current prime minster,” he said.
Israel is one of three countries with rising influence in the Middle East.
The sectarian, ethnic and regional divides of countries such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen have “fundamentally challenged the basis of Arab state authority” in the Middle East, Miller said.
He argued the most consequential countries in the Middle East are Turkey, Israel and Iran, which he noted, are all non-Arab states.
He said that all three are domestically stable, have economic potential, competent militaries and two of them — Israel and Turkey — have close relations with the United States.
Iran’s relations with the United States are frayed, and Miller predicts relations will continue to fray.
Trump cannot change the Iran nuclear deal.
Although Trump has repeatedly expressed desire to renegotiate or pull the United States out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran deal, Miller is skeptical anything will change.
Trump often refers to himself as a “dealmaker,” but Miller said it is unlikely any of the parties involved are going to return to the table voluntarily.
Miller’s position echoes that of Dennis Ross, a former ambassador and Middle East peace envoy, who last month also said Trump’s potential to impact the deal is slim.
Trump should not move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
Miller’s advice about moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is simple: Do not do it.
“There has never been a compelling American national interest that would justify the possible risks and downsides of such a move,” he said.
His position remains unchanged. But Miller leaves the Trump administration with a question to consider when making any foreign policy decision.
He said: “What American national interest does it serve to undertake a shift in policy?”