Trump Administration’s Under-Handed Arms Sales To Saudia Arabia, Fires Investigator Shining Light On Abuse Of Power

Once again, the autocratic nature of Donald Trump and his administration, the danger that so many have warned about over the past three years, is coming to fruition.

It was reported late today the State Department inspector general, who was fired by Trump late last week, was in the final stages of an investigation into whether the administration had unlawfully declared an “emergency” in 2019 to allow the resumption of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for their air war in Yemen.

In other words, no small, thing, this abuse of power.

Employees from the office of the inspector general, Steve Linick, presented preliminary findings to senior State Department officials in early March.  The investigation into how Pompeo moved to end a congressional hold on arms sales to the Saudis was prompted in part by demands from congress.  

The framers of the Constitution placed checks and balances into the document for a reason.  They knew human nature could well produce someone with low-class tendencies and power-grabbing desires who also had political ambitions.  Though desiring virtuous leaders they could never have anticipated the level of deviousness that would one day sit as president in 2020.  Trump has proven over and over he simply doesn’t want any oversight or questions asked about his motivations or actions in any area of public policy and affairs.   Well, that is not how our government was constituted.

No one comes off looking good from this dismal over-reach by the grifters in the White House.  The Republicans are absolutely to blame for Trump’s autocratic behavior. This abuse of power has occurred in different ways over the years and Republicans just pretend all is fine and normal.  By allowing Trump to continuously act in such a way has placed grave consequences ahead, not only for domestic politics but also in relation to international relations.

Why this matters to us all is the chaos, famine, and diseases in Yemen threatens to ramp up and nurture the terrorist threat.  It is no surprise that jihadists thrive in these environments.  Allowing the savagery in this war zone to continue, and to abet it, gives those we voice our opposition about—al Qaeda and ISIS—a grand opportunity to grow and strengthen.   I understand that Trump does not understand, but surely some Republican Senators must grasp the facts and care enough to slap back on the power-play by Trump and Company.

Curtailing military sales to a headstrong Saudi ruler who is hell-bent on destruction in Yemen was the policy we should have undertaken.   Making him stronger with such sales is not in our best interest.  Which is always how we must view such relationships.

What this all allows for is a deeper dig by international reporters into what can only be termed a ruthless alliance between the Trump Administration and the dark and sinister  Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  I know that American journalists and international reporters are up to the task of shining light on the grifters who now make up the Trump Family and administration.  And make no mistake that when the light shines brightly the one who will squint and squirm the most is Jared Kushner.

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Pure And Shameless Chutzpah

There is no way to make this news up.  It is bizarre.

The Trump administration said it is sending 3,000 troops, as well as fighter jets and missiles, to Saudi Arabia to help bolster the kingdom’s defenses after a September attack on its oil facilities.  The issue for this post is not whether the move of such resources is warranted, or not.

Rather this post is about the news coming on the heels of Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to pull U.S. troops out of northeast Syria.  This is just more evidence of the haphazard and transactional manner in which every action is undertaken in Trump’s world.  

This type of behavior is dangerous for the nation.  Trump must be removed from office.

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Trump’s ‘3 A.M. Wake-Up Call’

International events literally blew up on the world stage while many of us were having late Saturday night dinner.  Our annual broadcasting weekend gathering was eating pizza outside at Paisan’s, watching the Harvest Moon lift up over the horizon on Lake Monona, as oil installations were going up in flames.

This morning some are awaking to learn that Iran forcefully rejected charges by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that it was responsible for drone attacks that caused serious damage to two crucial Saudi Arabian oil installations.  Last night we learned that the Houthis claimed responsibility for the 10 drones which struck and severely damaged Saudi oil interests, perhaps cutting 50% of their output for at least several days–perhaps much longer.  World oil markets will shudder.

What concerns this blogger is the war-like statements that the Trump administration has made for weeks that any attack on American interests from Iran would bring a military response.  In that reckless verbal environment comes obvious questions of whether an attack on the Saudi oil infrastructure would meet the line that Trump has in mind.   That Trump would welcome the use of force to show he too can be a world strongman as the election year nears should simply send the nation into a cold sweat.

But that is what we are needing to contemplate as the nation heads off to church or local festivals on this mid-September morning.

Looking backward is not easy for many Americans.  But this is the time to ponder how we got to the place in which we now awake as a nation.  Pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal was the wrong tactic to play by Trump.  It was of similar absurdity as pulling away from the TPP, which was a perfect tool to combat China’s trade violations.  The results of one glaring mistake is a trade war that has cost the world economic growth, and the other colossal mistake might lead to military madness in the tinderbox of the world.

The other issue that demands redress is the far too cozy and unequal relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

I view the attacks in Saudi Arabia less of a case of Iranian offensive aggression than of blowback against Saudi Arabia for its unnecessary, destructive, failed intervention in Yemen. The Saudis have acted without mercy in Yemen and the international community has used too few levers to demand an end to the bloodshed.  While this is a full-scale proxy war with Iran it has devastated Yemen.

Know that Saudi Arabia is causing famine in Yemen, meddling in multiple countries across the region, and brutally murdered a Washington Post journalist in Turkey. They’re not exactly interested in peace either if one is to point fingers at Iran.  The Saudis have many sordid tales to tell.

Many twists and turns are to take place as this story jells, but the reckless moves that have been made by the White House, without long-term planning and cohesive policy goals has produced, in large part, the place in which we find ourselves this morning.

And so it goes.

Jamal Khashoggi Never Had A Chance To Survive

Staggering reporting by David Ignatius of the Washington Post.

This is the must read newspaper reporting of the day.

When Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, he didn’t know he was walking into a killing zone. He had become the prime target in a 21st-century information war — one that involved hacking, kidnapping and ultimately murder — waged by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his courtiers against dissenters.

How did a battle of ideas, triggered by Khashoggi’s outspoken journalism for The Post, become so deadly? That’s the riddle at the center of the columnist’s death. The answer in part is that the United States, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and other countries that supported Saudi counter-extremism policies helped sharpen the double-edged tools of cyberespionage that drove the conflict toward its catastrophic conclusion in Istanbul.

MBS, as the crown prince is known, promised change, but he delivered instability. The digital arsenal he assembled became an instrument of his own authoritarian rule. MBS came to the information space armed, figuratively speaking, with a bone saw.

Prediction: 2018 Time Person Of The Year

There are always several top contenders around the world to earn the title of Time magazine’s Person of the Year.  But it would appear from any objective view of the international arena this year one name, more than any other, deserves such a ranking.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Long before the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, there was every reason to place the Crown Prince on the magazine cover for the final year’s edition.  The always-intriguing turf battles within the ruling Saudi family, the struggle for the heart and soul of Islam, the geo-political fight with Iran, the proxy wars and alliances through-out the region has long placed Salman at the center of the news world.

The Crown Prince had allowed many–including this blogger–to see hopeful signs that modernity could take place over time within Saudi Arabia.  With that view also came the real possibility of modernity of the harsh brand of Islam which dominates the kingdom.  Wahhabism has been a most detrimental force in the region, and its export has made for terrorism around the globe.  The towering figure of Salman might have brought many changes over decades of his ruling.  Much of that is now in doubt.

What happens following the heinous murder of Khashoggi makes for another chapter yet to be written in the kingdom. The central role that Saudi Arabia plays in international relations creates many hurdles, as nations based on law and order must now seek a path forward that does not undermine their basic concepts, while at the same time grasping the need for realpolitik.

Which all leads to the most important, exasperating, mysterious, and newsworthy person of the year.

Time magazine’s Person of the Year.

 

 

Jamal Khashoggi’s Final Column

Jamal Khashoggi’s final column is a must read today.

This column was received by the Washington Post around the time of his disappearance more than two weeks ago, but held by the opinion editor in hopes she and he would be able to edit it together. It is about freedom of the press in the Arab world, and the Post printed it today.

Powerful.  Adds to the continued conversation about why modernity in the Arab world is a must.

Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate. There was a time when journalists believed the Internet would liberate information from the censorship and control associated with print media. But these governments, whose very existence relies on the control of information, have aggressively blocked the Internet. They have also arrested local reporters and pressured advertisers to harm the revenue of specific publications.

As a result, Arabs living in these countries are either uninformed or misinformed. They are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives. A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative. Sadly, this situation is unlikely to change.

The Arab world was ripe with hope during the spring of 2011. Journalists, academics and the general population were brimming with expectations of a bright and free Arab society within their respective countries. They expected to be emancipated from the hegemony of their governments and the consistent interventions and censorship of information. These expectations were quickly shattered; these societies either fell back to the old status quo or faced even harsher conditions than before.

The Arab world needs a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events. More important, we need to provide a platform for Arab voices. We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education. Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments….

Hopes Dashed By Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Love the history of Saudi Arabia and its line of leaders.  Have long wanted to take a vacation and experience the Bedouin time in the desert.

As noted on this blog over the past year I had very high hopes for Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. It was not just here at CP, either, where hope was raised.

When the crown prince visited the United States earlier this year, he was fêted in Hollywood and Silicon Valley, on Wall Street, and, of course, by the Trump White House, as a messiah—in the mold of Gorbachev or Gandhi. “Historic night it was,’’ Dwayne (the Rock) Johnson, the actor, wrote, on Instagram, of a dinner with M.B.S. hosted by Rupert Murdoch at his vineyard in Bel Air. In apparently ordering the grisly killing of a Washington Post columnist, M.B.S. wagered that the world would not miss another murdered journalist. So far, he has been spectacularly wrong, and the slow drip of information during the past two weeks—from the Turkish government and American officials—has rendered the denials of M.B.S. and other Saudis preposterous.

“Davos in the Desert” Matters, World Community Should Attend

I recall the weekend in 1989 when the tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square.  That Saturday I was playing golf with a friend and as we sat down for a burger and fries in the clubhouse our eyes were glued to the large TV where a most serious international crime was taking place.  (I also recall that was the first time I ever had goat cheese—the strange things one recalls decades later.)

I was stunned and angered by the sight of the tanks, knowing that lives were in danger.  Lives of students and young people who had dared to take a stand for openness and a different way to view government were in mortal danger..  There were many words of condemnation from around the world and demands from a vocal segment of this nation wishing for our government to take a powerful punch at China.

But there were also others, who while feeling deep anger over the disgusting actions of the Chinese government, knew that making a move which would create a deep and perhaps irreparable chasm in our relations would be a most dreadful outcome to an already truly bad situation.  International players have ideals on how the world should operate but all to often need to reside in the reality that a nation must work with the cards that have been dealt.

Which leads me to the very nauseating story that is unfolding in Saudi Arabia.   Readers to this blog know I hold a very special place for news reporters and journalists.  That regard, obviously, extends to those who are columnists, too.

To say one has deep hurt and outrage over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia goes without saying.  To have anyone treated in this manner in a consulate is just not acceptable.  To have a journalist killed for his work in this fashion is nothing short of jarring. But there also must be–and this is mighty hard to do–an acceptance that to shun and work to undermine Saudi Arabia, a country too important to walk away from, would be most short-sighted.

I have long felt that more than anything else large portions of the Middle East need modernity.  The moves towards that large and seemingly never ending goal is through interaction with others on the world stage.  The much talked about “Davos in the Desert” global conference is one such example where not attending works to the advantage of those who seek to have the darker side of religious zealots and tribal instincts triumph.

There must be an international response to the murder of  Khashoggi.  And I suspect there will be one that meets the needs of making a statement about killing a journalist by a government.  But I strongly feel that he would–based on his writings–want the world to work doubly hard at this time to make sure the investments and cultural changes that can occur, and can arch over the large themes of a troubled history in that country, take place so to effect change.

International stagecraft is not for purists–but there must always be a human rights mentality at the center of those who seek change while having the luxury of living in a democratic society.  Lord knows our gut response would have been to send a message to China during Tiananmen Square, or to Saudi Arabia now, that would not be in any way confusing.  But then reason and long-term goals reassert themselves and we know the path forward must be gradual and limited.

In a world that we can not control that is the only viable path forward.  And it does, over time, produce what is best for people around the world.