President Trump’s Three Steps to the Abraham Accords

President Trump announced the Abraham Accords earlier this week, marking the beginning of an historic and lasting peace to the Middle East. This was a result of years of effort on his part, planning a comprehensive strategy and carefully putting it into effect. To that end, he was able to use three tactics to bring about his desired result.

Play the Energy Card

In the Middle East, he who controls the energy makes the rules. Not so long ago, it was Arabic countries of the Middle East, mainly in the Persian Gulf (including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain) that controlled the world’s crude oil. Then came an American, one George P. Mitchell, who back in the 1980s spent 10 years and $6 million of his own money to improve the technology of hydraulic fracturing -- known today as fracking -- to unlock the vast oil reserves beneath the U.S. President Trump has been a proponent of increased energy production, including fracking, from day one of his administration. Today, the U.S. is the number one producer of crude oil in the world, with 19% of the world’s total production, and thanks to fracking it is growing by 9% every year. So even though the U.S. is the number one consumer of oil, we are virtually energy independent. It was telling that President Trump has mentioned that he is aiming for Saudi Arabia -- the number two producer of crude in the world -- to be next in signing on to the Abraham Accords. Rule #1 in negotiation: if you want to strengthen your hand in negotiations with someone, make sure that you don’t depend on them for anything. Apparently, Trump knows this rule well.

Neutralize Foggy Bottom

After his inauguration,  President Trump saw the largest obstacle to implementing his foreign policy to be resistance at the State Department. So, he devised the following strategy: Hire Rex Tillerson to head State Department (Feb 2017). Watch him cut the departmental budget by 31% in 2017 and follow up with a 29% cut in 2018 (Tillerson was previously CEO for Exxon Mobil; he knows how to streamline an operation). Watch the resultant mass exodus of senior staff (nearly all of them holdovers from previous, and unsuccessful, administrations). Monitor him for any major policy disagreement (Tillerson wanted the U.S. to abide by Obama’s Iran Nuclear Deal.  Trump did not) and if such a policy disagreement was serious enough, act accordingly -- Tillerson was dismissed in Mar 2019 and replaced by Mike Pompeo. Some might say that Tillerson was among  President Trump’s most regrettable cabinet hires, but if a large obstacle to what would turn out to be the Abraham Accords -- resistance from the  State Department – was in the way, then hiring Tillerson makes sense. And after his job (neutralizing the State Department) was done, remove him and give this task to someone from outside Foggy Bottom whose views align more closely with those of  President Trump -- Special Advisor to the President Jared Kushner. And Pompeo? He met with a Taliban delegation in Qatar just last weekend for the Afghanistan peace negotiations to ultimately enable U.S. troops to safely leave the country --  Pompeo, top of his class at West Point, ex-Army officer, former director of the CIA is well suited for this task. Notice how Rex Tillerson, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton (the three most recent predecessors to Sec. Pompeo) were nowhere to be seen or heard last week?

Focus on the Most Important Player in the Room

Another important rule in negotiations: Know the most important player in the room -- the one on whom you want to focus. Trump’s six predecessors felt that the most important player in the room for peace in the Middle East was the Palestinians. They looked upon the Palestinians as absolutely essential to any peace agreement.  Trump felt such importance being bestowed upon them was not warranted. He saw the Palestinians as an obstacle. Some presidents ( President Clinton) tried to negotiate with the Palestinians directly, to no avail. Other presidents tried to negotiate with their patron (Iran), also to no avail. Once Trump moved the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he let these other countries in the Middle East know that he was shifting his focus from the Palestinians to them. Also,  Trump recognized that the Palestinians’ benefactor, Iran, was increasingly seen as a threat by many countries -- UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia among them -- in the Middle East. This undoubtably helped in negotiations.  Trump felt the most important player in the room was this group on the Persian Gulf -- UAE, Bahrain, and possibly Saudi Arabia to follow. Would it really be a surprise to see others like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, and perhaps Iraq, sign on to the Abraham Accords in the near future?

Trump is a gifted showman. Tuesday’s ceremony at the White House showed that. But we should realize there was a lot of work that made that moment possible. Strategy, tactics, execution -- they are all important. President Trump showed he can bring those together to achieve extraordinary results.

Image: US State Dept. {{PD-USGov}}

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