Presidential Logrolling in Real Time

Presidential Logrolling in Real Time


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

As early as the 18th or 19th century–even earlier in England under a different name–politicians traded votes. When one Member agreed to vote for a bill that their colleague wanted, he did so with the understanding that the other Member would vote for his bill when it came up. It was called logrolling in those days and it is what is being called the quid pro quo in statecraft in the Trump era.  Formerly, the bills related to domestic policy issues.  Sometimes they involved political favors, but they never ventured into foreign or national security policy.

The most recent example of wrong logrolling came this week, not by the further exposure of Trump and the Ukraine imbroglio, but with the announcement that the U.S. Government was changing its policy vis-a-vis Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced it was now the view of the U.S. Department of State that Israeli West Bank settlements were not a violation of international law.

This is action by the Administration is only a further example of support for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Israel’s right-wing political faction. More important the timing of this decision is the latest evidence of Trump’s desire to please his single largest financial supporter, Sheldon Adelson. Adelson gave Trump over $25 million in 2016 and donated over $100 million to Republican candidates in 2018. The expectation is that Adelson will be very forthcoming to Trump later in the current campaign season. (What is recognized as well by President Trump, is that Adelson and his wife are also extremely generous supporters on Netanyahu.)

Beyond lip-service and a domestic political agenda, Trump has no genuine interest in resolving the Israel-Palestinians conflict; his so called, yet to be unveiled, peace proposal notwithstanding. Trump is once again playing games with U.S. foreign policy. Trump is seriously jeopardizing the future viability of Israel as a democratic State in order to satisfy one of his largest political donors and his Christian evangelical base in the run-up to the 2020 election.

In December 2017, Trump announced that the U.S. was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel. He moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018 with Adelson in attendance at the ceremony. In March 2019, Trump recognized Israel not Syria’s claim to sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Certainly, recognition of Jerusalem and the reality of the Golan Heights were not inherently wrong, although their timing was suspect. With respect to the West Bank, even Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White Party, also announced his support for Trump’s settlements’ recognition. Unilateral steps taken by Trump, however, do nothing to tackle the political realities that need to be addressed by all of these moves if an eventual peace process is to be forthcoming.

If Israel desires to remain a democratic state, it will need to consider the consequences of these unilateral moves. Israel has demonstrated no interest in including the Palestinians living in the West Bank as citizens within Israel. Similarly, if this move by the U.S. encourages even more Israeli Jewish settlement on the West Bank, it totally will negate any possibility of the creation of an independent sovereign Palestinian State in the future.

Trump playing domestic politics with foreign policy in the Middle East may be good for his electoral campaign. In the long run it is an extremely dangerous example of logrolling.

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