At least as significant as the UN vote on Jerusalem was the Trump administration's response to it. For it shows the president is ready to play to his domestic base even on the international stage, says Michael Knigge.
Let's get two things straight at the outset.
It is President Donald Trump's prerogative to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital even if this reverses decades of bipartisan US policy and even if this goes against the expressed warnings of Washington's European and Arab allies not to do so.
It is also the prerogative of UN member states to express their discontent with Trump's decision by voting on a resolution that — without naming the US and the president directly — criticized his move and reiterated that Jerusalem's final status is to be determined through negotiations in line with relevant UN resolutions on the matter. In that context it is important to note that the resolution is non-binding, meaning that it has no legal power and is therefore largely symbolic.
Even though this resolution has no practical consequences, the Trump administration predictably botched its handling of the issue. How it did provides a small, but exemplary showcase of a misguided foreign policy writ large.
It should not have come as a surprise to anybody who has even passively observed the Middle East conflict over the past decades that a highly charged move such as Trump's unilateral decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital would trigger an effort by Arab and other countries to sanction this decision at the UN.
Knowing this, and being unable to prevent what after all only amounts to a symbolic show of censure and disapproval for a highly controversial move, the Trump administration could have issued a statement criticizing the vote coupled with a vow that Washington stands by its decision.
As expected, the Trump administration chose not to. Instead it went into full confrontation mode. While the novelty of a sitting US president trashing whoever dares to oppose, criticize or make fun of him via Twitter has subsided to some extent, observing his UN ambassador take what could be called the Trump approach to Turtle Bay this week still takes getting used to. It is also fundamentally misguided.
Having the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, tweet out a threat to countries who consider supporting the resolution that the US "will be taking names" simply rings wrong. It has the sound of an autocratic ruler who browbeats his underlings into submission — not of the representative of the country that traditionally considers itself to be a beacon of democracy.
Equally, or even more disturbing, which can be difficult to judge these days, was the threat that the US would cut aid to countries supporting the resolution and a warning letter sent out to UN members in advance of the vote by Haley.
The former would not only hurt the impacted countries, but also the US, since the aid also provides Washington with leverage over those states.
The latter culminated in the sentence, "The President will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those who voted against us," which sounds like an elementary school teacher threatening unruly students that the school principal is on their case.
This may sound funny, but it isn't. First, because it shows that the Trump administration's attitude and approach to international diplomacy can be summed up as "my way or the highway," a carbon copy of the domestic strategy that got Donald Trump elected in the first place. Second, it shows a naivete on the part of the Trump administration to believe that threatening sovereign nations into submission can actually be a prudent strategy, a fact that is underscored by the result of the vote. And third, it shows a willingness on the part of the Trump administration to further undermine what is left of Washington's goodwill with many key international allies for sake of playing to its domestic base.