Nov 22nd 2018

Top five ways Trump put America Last with Whitewash of Saudi Prince

by Juan Cole

Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and the director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan. His latest book, Engaging the Muslim World, is just out in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan. He runs the Informed Commentwebsite.

Trump’s statement on his policy toward Saudi Arabia in the wake of the murder in Istanbul of dissident Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi brought a profound shame on the United States that will, as FDR put it, live in infamy. Trump began by saying he was putting America first, but that was the last thing he was doing. He was putting his own personal predilections and policies, and perhaps profit, above the interests of the United States. Here are the ways he put America last:

1. Trump did not wait for the final Central Intelligence Agency report on the Khashoggi killing, elements of which were leaked last Thursday. According to the Washington Post, the CIA has concluded that Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman ordered that Khashoggi be whacked. They have evidence that the prince’s brother, Khalid Bin Salman– the Saudi ambassador in Washington– helped lure Khashoggi to the Istanbul consulate by assuring him it was safe to drop by. By ignoring and putting aside the findings of professional investigators, Trump has weakened US security.

2. Trump admitted that the crown prince may be implicated in the murder: “Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” He went on to say that we will never know what happened at the consulate. But we do know what happened at the consulate, and after the murder one of the thugs said to another, “Let your boss know it is done.” The assassin team leader works for the crown prince. By openly admitting that it is possible that Bin Salman ordered the hit, but declining to take any action, Trump is announcing that the United States government just does not care if its allies use bone saws on US-based journalists working for the Washington Post. The US ought to stand for the first amendment, one of its high values that is admired around the world and which is essential to the functioning of American democracy. Trump has dishonored the Constitution.

3. Trump is unbearably transparent about the financial incentives for him to overlook Khashoggi’s murder. He makes up a completely ridiculous number for new Saudi purchases from or investment in the United States of $450 billion, of which he says $110 billion will “be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors.” First of all, all that money Trump mentioned is vapor, with no reality. The supposed $110 bn in arms purchases are mostly non-binding memoranda of understanding, just expressions of interest. Second of all, arms industry investments produce very few jobs. Saudi money likely produces less than 20K jobs annually. Third of all, filling up the volatile Middle East with sophisticated, high-powered weapons makes the US less secure, not more. The Saudis use that fancy equipment they do buy to destroy countries like Yemen, where the al-Qaeda threat has grown, not receded, because of this chaos.

4. Trump is also clear that he is running interference for the crown prince for the sake of Israel and in order to keep together his coalition against Iran. But Israel would not need to suck up to bone saw murderers if it would make peace with the Palestinians and stop colonizing their land and keeping them stateless. As for Iran, the US had made an epochal settlement with Tehran that mothballed most of its nuclear enrichment program in 2015. Trump trashed that agreement and tried to put Iran behind the eight ball, cheered on by aggressive Saudis willing to fight Iran to the last drop of American soldiers’ blood. Trump created a potential conflict where the was none, and now has to consort with murderers because mafiosi need capos.

5. Trump gave as another reason to wink at Khashoggi’s murder and go on doing business as usual with Mohammed Bin Salman that Saudi Arabia is a key partner in fighting terrorism. The odd assertion frequently met with in Washington, DC, that Iran is the foremost font of terrorism and Saudi Arabia is a useful ally against terrorism is bizarre. Saudi Arabia backed the Bureau of Services in Peshawar in the 1980s, which mounted violence in Afghanistan and evolved into al-Qaeda under the Saudi Usama Bin Laden. (Riyadh and Bin Laden fell out in 1990). Saudi Arabia backed the Army of Islam group in Syria after 2011, which issued bloodthirsty screeds against Shiites and blew stuff up in Damascus and dismissed democracy. Some of the weaponry the CIA passed to the Saudis for Syrian rebels made its way to the al-Qaeda affiliate. Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen has at times showed little concern about al-Qaeda in that country while concentrating on the Houthi rebels, who hail from a moderate Shiite sect. Saudi Arabia kidnapped the prime minister of Lebanon and attempted to force him to resign under duress. And Saudi Arabia murdered a Washington Post columnist with a bone saw in its Istanbul consulate. With allies like this, who needs enemies? As for Iran, it has acted not as a radical or terroristic force in the past couple decades in the Middle East, but as an enforcer of the status quo. Iran helped keep the Bashar al-Assad government in power and helped defeat al-Qaeda and ISIL in Syria. Iran helped defeat ISIL in Iraq and propped up the Baghdad government. Iran has helped assure that the Israelis don’t just steal southern Lebanon, which they tried to do 1982-2000. Iran has been one of the main pillars of counter-terrorism in the Middle East in the past two decades, at a time when the US has rampaged around bringing al-Qaeda into new countries, as in Occupied Iraq, and contributing to the rise of ISIL. Overlooking Bin Salman’s grisly act of murder on the grounds that Riyadh is needed for counter-terrorism and to block Iran is like everything else in Trump’s ‘statement’ an act of insanity.

 

For Juan Cole's own web publication, please click here.

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 11th 2019
Extract: "I noticed this dynamic firsthand a few years ago in Blagoveshchensk, on the Siberian border, just a half-mile from the Chinese town of Heihe. A century and a half ago, Blagoveshchensk was part of China. Then the Cossacks took control of it, along with many other territories in Chinese Outer Manchuria, on behalf of the Russian czar. Blagoveshchensk’s local history museum presents the development of the town after the Cossack takeover as a civilizing mission. The Russians, it seems, still view themselves as superior Westerners. As for Heihe, it got rich a quarter-century ago, after capitalizing on Russia’s post-Soviet disarray to sell cheap goods to then-starving Russians. Its own history museum presents the Cossacks as “hairy barbarians” (Lao Maozi) and lists the towns of Russia’s far east by their historical Chinese names: Blagoveshchensk is Hailanpao, Vladivostok is Haishenwai, and Sakhalin is Kuye. Local behavior reflects these perspectives. At the ferry port, the Russians sneer at the Chinese traders who bring Russian vodka and chocolate to Heihe, while the Chinese move past the Russians as if they do not exist."
Jun 5th 2019
Extract: "....the Constitution, which established the impeachment process as a check on the president’s behavior between elections, says nothing about using it only when politically convenient. Moreover, given the results in 2018, Democratic Party leaders might well discourage making the disposition of the president the key issue in the next election. Most important, a decision not to initiate an impeachment process against Trump could set a terrible precedent. If Trump isn’t impeached for his numerous criminal acts and abuses of power, would impeachment remain a viable check on the presidency? "
Jun 3rd 2019
Extracts: "Sooner or later, all smaller powers dependent on global markets would have to choose a side, unless they are somehow strong enough to withstand both American and Chinese pressure. With China and the US both demanding clarity, even economic giants like the European Union, India, and Japan would be faced with an intractable economic dilemma."
May 24th 2019
Waging a war against Iran, or even thinking of doing so, is sheer madness. Trump has thus far wisely rejected the warmonger National Security Advisor John Bolton’s outrageous advice. Waging another war in the Mideast, this time against Iran, would have not only disastrous consequences for the US but will also engulf our allies from which they would suffer incalculable human losses and destruction. Bolton was the architect behind the devastating war in Iraq in 2003, which inflicted more than 5,000 US casualties and a cost exceeding two trillion dollars, allowed Iran to entrench itself in Iraq, and gave way to the rise of ISIS.
May 24th 2019
The private Tasnim news agency reports from Iran that in a speech to thousands of university students, Iran’s clerical leader Ali Khamenei made an unusual and extraordinary criticism of president Hassan Rouhani and foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif over their handling of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or deal on limiting Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
May 21st 2019
Extract: "Brexit, after all, is as much a Kremlin project as it is anyone else’s. Putin wants to divide Europeans, and in the UK, Brexit has succeeded in dividing Britons like nothing since the Corn Law debates almost 200 years ago. Putin wants the EU to fragment, and Brexit is causing the biggest crack yet in the bloc’s history. Putin wants to sow doubt about the legitimacy of traditional news sources; pro-Brexit media consistently promote lies as truth and inveigh against reputable papers like the Financial Times as elitist enemies of the people."
May 16th 2019
Iraq’s population when invaded was 26 million. Iran’s population today is 81 million..........Whereas Iraq’s neighbors– Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia in particular– had been mauled by Saddam and so did not strongly oppose Bush’s invasion, Shiite Iraqis, many Syrians, the Hazaras of Afghanistan, and the some 40 million Shiites of Pakistan would support Iran.
May 15th 2019
It’s time that economists, pundits, and politicians start looking holistically at life in our times, and take seriously the long-term structural changes needed to address the multiple crises of health care, despair, inequality, and stress in the US and many other countries. US citizens, in particular, should reflect on the fact that many other countries’ people are happier and less worried, and are living longer. In general, those other countries’ governments are not cutting taxes for the rich and slashing services for the rest. They are attending to the common good, instead of catering to the rich while pointing to illusory economic statistics that hide as much as they reveal.
May 8th 2019
"........Meanwhile, Trump is leaving the door open for Russia to come to his aid again in 2020. The White House and congressional Republican leaders have been blocking a bill to secure US elections against foreign attacks. And administration officials have been instructed not to raise the issue of Russian interference with the president, lest it cast a shadow on his legitimacy.  The next phase in this affair is already coming into focus. Barr, with the help of Trump’s golfing buddy Lindsey Graham, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is now enlisted in peddling the president’s fantasy that the Mueller investigation was a “witch hunt” orchestrated by “deep-state” supporters of Hillary Clinton. Once again, current and former FBI agents will be targeted, either because they expressed criticism of Trump or because they opened a national security investigation into a hostile power’s meddling in the US presidential election (which continued in the 2018 midterms). FBI director Christopher Wray, commenting on the Mueller report, said that the Russians are “upping their game” for 2020. "
May 7th 2019
We are witnessing the loss of biodiversity at rates never before seen in human history. Nearly a million species face extinction if we do not fundamentally change our relationship with the natural world, according to the world’s largest assessment of biodiversity.
May 4th 2019
Accusing Iran of being a rogue country bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, supporting extremist groups and terrorism, persistently threatening Israel, and destabilizing the region in its relentless effort to become the dominant power may well all be justified. The question is, what would it take to stop Iran from its destabilizing activities and help make it a constructive member of the international community, and avoid military confrontation with either the US or Israel or both?
Apr 29th 2019
Some of the most famous scientific discoveries happened by accident. From Teflon and the microwave oven to penicillin, scientists trying to solve a problem sometimes find unexpected things. This is exactly how we created phosphorene nanoribbons – a material made from one of the universe’s basic building blocks, but that has the potential to revolutionise a wide range of technologies.
Apr 28th 2019
Easter visitors to London have found some streets and buildings occupied by “Extinction Rebellion” activists, warning of climate catastrophe and rejecting “a failed capitalist system.” Followers of central bank thinking have seen the governors of the Bank of England and Banque de France warning that climate-related risks threaten company profits and financial stability. Both interventions highlight the severity of the climate challenge that the world faces. But warnings alone won’t fix the problem unless governments set ambitious but realistic targets to eliminate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions, backed by policies to ensure the targets are achieved. Zero net CO2 emissions by 2050 at the latest should be the legally defined objective in all developed economies.
Apr 25th 2019
LONDON – Russian efforts to influence European elections have received plenty of media attention. But the same cannot be said of interference by conservative Christian groups based in the United States, some with links to President Donald Trump’s administration and his former adviser, Stephen Bannon.
Apr 24th 2019
.............the version of the report released is only the start of wide-ranging and intensive House investigations.
Apr 17th 2019
On the night of April 15, 2019, in Paris, the emotions were raw. “Notre Dame is burning, the whole of France is crying, the whole world is crying,” said Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris. “It’s terrible, frightening, painful, a tragedy, a nightmare.” “This place leaves no one untouched. When you enter this cathedral, it inhabits you,” said Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, in front of the burning monument. “We will rebuild,” said the Rector of Notre Dame, “we will rebuild.”
Apr 15th 2019
High-level political purges are gathering pace in Russia. The latest evidence came in late March, with the arrests of Mikhail Abyzov, a former minister for open government affairs, and – two days later – Viktor Ishayev, a former Far East minister and ex-governor of Russia’s Khabarovsk region. Unsurprisingly, the arrests of such senior figures is having a chilling effect among the country’s elites. The authorities have now arrested or imprisoned three former federal government ministers and a supporting cast of regional officials
Apr 8th 2019
The reaction to this type of paternalism, sensible and well-meant as it usually was, came in the form of petulant populism. Like a child who refuses to eat his spinach, just because his mother claims it is good for him, supporters of Trump, Brexiteers, or Baudet want to give the finger to the politics of virtue. That is why Nigel Farage, the chief promoter of Brexit, likes to be photographed with a glass full of beer and a smoldering cigarette: if the virtuous elite want us to drink less and quit smoking, let’s have another and light up.
Apr 8th 2019
Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to be on a roll. He has sent a rocket to the dark side of the moon, built artificial islands on contested reefs in the South China Sea, and recently enticed Italy to break ranks with its European partners and sign on to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s unilateralist posture has reduced America’s soft power and influence. China’s economic performance over the past four decades has been truly impressive. It is now the main trading partner for more than a hundred countries compared to about half that number for the United States. Its economic growth has slowed, but its official 6% annual rate is more than twice the American rate. Conventional wisdom projects that China’s economy will surpass that of the US in size in the coming decade. Perhaps. But it is also possible that Xi has feet of clay.