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Ed Webb

The Halkbank Case Should Be a Very Big Deal - Lawfare - 0 views

  • If the New York Times’s story about the Justice Department’s handling of the case of  Turkish bank—and President Trump’s interference in that case—had broken any other week, it would be a very big deal. A week before the election, the country inured to the president’s propensity to abuse law enforcement power, it has barely merited a yawn.  The case is worth your time.
  • Berman’s bizarre firing may have been related to a pressure campaign by Barr and the White House to frustrate a high-profile investigation by Berman’s office. The story of Trump and Barr’s efforts to hamstring the investigation into the Turkish bank, Halkbank, says a great deal about Trump’s abuses of law enforcement, his financial entanglements abroad and his susceptibility to foreign influence.
  • an alleged scheme on the part of the state-owned Turkish bank to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran
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  • The investigation was of great interest to Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has sought since 2016 to quash the probe. According to the Times, Erdogan may have come close to succeeding.
  • a meeting between Trump and Erdogan in 2018, during which Trump declared Halkbank to be innocent and told Erdogan he would, in Bolton’s words, “take care of things.” He then asked Bolton to reach out to then-Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker on the matter. Later in 2018, after Trump and Erdogan spoke again, the Times reports that the White House told the southern district that the attorney general, the treasury security and the secretary of state would all become more involved in the case. 
  • Mnuchin had already reached out to the Justice Department seeking to scale down the potential fine paid by Halkbank in any settlement, following direct outreach by Erdogan’s son-in-law
  • Whitaker ordered Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to shut down the Halkbank case—stating, confusingly, that an indictment of the bank could pose risks to U.S. forces in Syria. Department officials opted to simply ignore Whitaker’s request. But after Barr was confirmed as attorney general, he too put pressure on the southern district, pushing prosecutors to allow Halkbank to walk away with only a fine and a limited acknowledgment of wrongdoing—a proposal that Berman reportedly described as “completely wrong.”
  • The first and more nefarious possibility is that the president pressured the Department of Justice to go easy on Halkbank and Erdogan’s cronies in order to protect his own sizable financial interests in Turkey. The second possibility is less horrible, but it’s not exactly reassuring. Perhaps Trump was swayed by Erdogan’s influence to make policy decisions that cut against the prosecutorial interests of his own government
  • no plausible benign explanations for Trump’s conduct here
  • in December 2018, following a call with Erdogan, Trump suddenly reversed course and ordered the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops—a move so unexpected that it ultimately led Secretary of Defense James Mattis and other senior officials to resign in protest. After another intervention by Trump in October 2019, following another call with Erdogan, Turkey was left in control of a broad swathe of Syria’s northern border, including Kurdish areas important to SDF allies of the United States.
  • efforts have continued both through direct engagement between Turkish and American officials and through the hiring of individuals close to the president himself—including, inevitably, his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani
  • Trump certainly appears to have come to value what he sees as a personal relationship with Erdogan, lauding Erdogan as “a hell of a leader” and bragging that he is “the only one [Erdogan] will listen to” among NATO allies
  • Trump even invited Erdogan to a meeting at the White House in November 2019, just weeks after slapping (and then removing) sanctions on Turkey for its offensive into northern Syria
  • Trump has a long record of puzzling policy interventions when it comes to Turkey
  • it was just before Trump’s December 2018 Syria withdrawal order that Whitaker suggested that failing to drop the investigation against Halkbank might result to threats to U.S. forces in Syria—an argument that might have channeled threats that Erdogan’s regime was publicly making at the time.
  • he made a cursory review of Erdogan’s memo offering a thin legal theory about US sanctions and impulsively sided with the authoritarian leader over the prosecutors of the southern district
  • The Trump administration has almost entirely declined to criticize Erdogan’s bad-and-worsening record on human rights, as he and his regime have engaged in politically motivated investigations and prosecutions at home and turned a blind eye to atrocities in those parts of Syria under its control
  • The Trump administration has also refused to impose statutorily-required sanctions on Turkey for its purchase of a prohibited Russian missile system, without explanation and despite congressional pressure to do so. 
  • What exactly Trump has gotten in exchange for these positions is far from clear
  • Erdogan’s consistent ability to come out on top in Trump’s policy deliberations is, to say the least, impressive. And here it’s impossible to ignore Trump’s financial interests in the country: according to the Times’s review of Trump’s tax documents, he received profits of at least $2.6 million from business operations in Turkey between 2015 and 2018. And earlier reporting by the Times on Trump’s taxes describes how the Turkish government and business community “have not hesitated to leverage various Trump enterprises to their advantage,” strategically booking Trump properties to host events in efforts to curry favor with the president. 
  • If the president was motivated, in whole or in part, by a desire to curry favor with Erdogan in order to benefit his personal finances, that would be a grave abuse of office and plainly impeachable conduct
  • Trump has already been impeached for abusing his office for private campaign benefit; abuse of office for personal financial enrichment would be even worse.
  • this is the type of complex policy decision where it is nearly impossible to establish conclusively improper motives
  • The Halkbank situation is exactly why presidents are expected to abide by ethics rules—including divesting from business interests—and why Trump’s refusal to adhere to the norms of good governance presented serious national security implications from the outset
  • Having taken no effort to avoid the conflict, Trump isn’t entitled to the benefit of the doubt. And notably, those privy to Trump’s actual decisionmaking with respect to Turkey aren’t extending that benefit.
  • brazen financial corruption
  • If he wasn’t seeking financial benefit, then Trump has somehow been persuaded by Erdogan to take actions that contravene his own stated policy goals. A president who is so easily outwitted and susceptible to improper influence is a frightening thing
  • Saudi Arabia and its allies have conducted their own charm offensive, engaging lobbyists and cultivating a notoriously close relationship between Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
  • it is concerning for a president to be so willing to dictate major aspects of U.S. foreign policy on the basis of his personal preferences, often without even checking them against the views of his advisors or coordinating them through the broader government bureaucracy
  • Turkish officials hired soon-to-be National Security Advisor Michael Flynn to lobby the incoming administration for the extradition of dissident Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, whose followers Erdogan blames for the 2016 coup attempt against his regime
  • Berman refused to go along with Barr’s proposed settlement, which he considered to be unethical. Months later, Barr fired Berman—and then lied about the circumstances and reasons why
  • Once again, the president is intervening in an investigation and a prosecutorial decision in a fashion that appears self-interested, appears to cut against stated U.S. policy to the benefit of an authoritarian leader and his interests, and appears influenced by the president’s own business concerns.
Ed Webb

Adviser says Trump won't rip up Iran deal, signals he may not move embassy | The Times ... - 1 views

  • adviser to President-elect Donald Trump said the new US leader will “review” the Iran nuclear agreement, but will stop short of ripping up the landmark international pact.
  • signaled that Trump might not move the US Embassy to Jerusalem immediately and indicated he would make negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal a priority right off the bat.
  • “He will take the agreement, review it, send it to Congress, demand from the Iranians to restore a few issues or change a few issues, and there will be a discussion,” Phares added. “It could be a tense discussion but the agreement as is right now — $750 billion to the Iranian regime without receiving much in return and increasing intervention in four countries — that is not going to be accepted by the Trump administration.”
    • Ed Webb
       
      Note that it is a multilateral deal, so five other powers would also have to agree, as well as Iran itself.
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  • appeared to represent a break with some comments made by other Trump advisers and the president-elect himself, and highlighted persisting confusion over what the contours of a Trump administration’s foreign policy may look like
  • Phares also told the BBC that while Trump was committed to moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as other presidential candidates have vowed, he would not do so unilaterally. “Many presidents of the United States have committed to do that, and he said as well that he will do that, but he will do it under consensus,”
  • Toner said if Trump pulls out of the agreement, it could fall apart and lead to Iran restarting work toward a bomb
  • State Department spokesman Mark Toner warned that nothing was stopping Trump from tearing up the agreement, rebuffing comments from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that the pact was enshrined by the United Nations Security Council and could therefore not be canceled by one party
  • Phares did not elaborate on what consensus would be sought for such a move, which would break with decades of precedent and put Washington at odds with nearly all United Nations member states.
  • Earlier Thursday, Trump Israel adviser Jason Dov Greenblatt told Israel’s Army Radio that the president-elect would make good on his promise. “I think if he said it, he’s going to do it,” Greenblatt said. “He is different for Israel than any recent president there has been, and I think he’s a man who keeps his word.
  • Phares also indicated efforts for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would be a top agenda item for Trump, casting doubt on a claim by Greenblatt that Trump would not necessarily prioritize trying to push the Israelis and Palestinians into peace negotiations.
  • “He will make it a priority if the Israelis and Palestinians want to make it a priority,” Greenblatt said. “He’s not going to force peace upon them, it will have to come from them.”
  • The gap in signals coming out of Trump’s camp is consistent with frustration some have pointed to in trying to demystify what Trump’s foreign policy will be.
  • Tzachi Hanegbi, a minister-without-portfolio who is a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Thursday that the Iran nuclear deal and construction over the Green Line — the two most contentious topics between the Obama administration and Netanyahu — will no longer be a source of tension between Israel and the United States under a Trump presidency.
Ed Webb

Graham and Fox News expert showed Trump a map to change his mind about Syria withdrawal - 0 views

  • Retired Gen. Jack Keane, a Fox News analyst, first walked the president through a map showing Syria, Turkey and Iraq on Oct. 8, pointing out the locations of oil fields in northern Syria that have been under the control of the United States and its Kurdish allies, two people familiar with the discussion said. That oil, they said Keane explained, would fall into Iran's hands if Trump withdrew all U.S. troops from the country.
  • Keane went through the same exercise with Trump again Oct. 14, this time with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., at his side
  • Keane displayed a map showing that almost three quarters of Syria's oil fields are in the parts of the country where U.S. troops are deployed, the people familiar with the meeting said. They said that Graham and Keane told the president that Iran is preparing to move toward the oil fields and could seize the air space above them once the U.S. leaves.
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  • The president seemed "resigned" to leaving a small number of American troops in northern Syria to keep control of the oil, according to a person who was present.
  • The episodes shed light on how the latest twist in Trump's orders of a Syria withdrawal — that the U.S. needs troops there to "secure the oil" — emerged
  • Trump's comments in recent days about the need for U.S. troops to secure oil fields in Syria have raised questions about where the idea came from and fueled widespread confusion about what the president's mission is for American forces deployed there
  • On Oct. 7, the day before Keane, whom Trump had considered to be his defense secretary, first came to the White House to talk to him about Syria, he appeared on Fox News and described the president's decision on Syria as a "strategic blunder." His in-person presentation to Trump on Oct. 8 seemed to leave an impression on the president
  • the focus is on presenting options to Trump that address how to maintain the counter-ISIS operation after a U.S. withdrawal from northeast Syria, shore up defenses in Iraq and deny oil revenues to the Islamic State militant group and other adversaries.
  • In the first two years of the administration, current and former officials said Trump so frequently threatened to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and even the Korean Peninsula that some of his advisers developed a system for talking him down from taking such steps. The effort included showing him visual materials like maps to walk through the reasons why an abrupt withdrawal would be detrimental to U.S. interests,
  • On Afghanistan, the presentation to Trump included a map of the country's rare earth minerals, largely used in electronic devices,
  • The focus on Iran in trying to convince Trump to keep a contingent of U.S. troops in northern Syria — rather than on potential action by Russia, which officials say is far more capable and likely to make moves to harness the oil — is in part because the president has appeared more likely to be persuaded by proposals aimed at countering Iran than Russia
  • while the emphasis on oil in Syria is intended to convince the president that the U.S. military presence is valuable, securing the oil fields is not a military strategy. U.S. troops will not actually be guarding the oil fields
  • U.S. military officials acknowledged Monday that they don't know if troops in Syria are actually going to stay or for how long.
  • This month wasn't the first time Trump has been shown a map detailing economic assets to convince him not to follow through on ordering U.S. troops home, officials said.
  • Esper told reporters that a small contingent of U.S. troops currently working with Kurdish allies to secure the oil fields will only remain in the country until the full withdrawal of U.S. forces is complete in a matter of weeks
Ed Webb

Qatar Crisis: A Cautionary Tale - 0 views

  • As ties with the Obama White House deteriorated, ruling circles in Gulf capitals became increasingly muscular in pursuing their own regional interests. This was, in part, a reaction by Saudi and Emirati officials to Qatar’s assertive approach to the uprisings in North Africa and Syria between 2011 and 2013
  • The second phase of the Gulf states’ regional assertiveness (after Qatar’s activist approach in 2011 and 2012) played out in Libya, Yemen, the Gulf and Egypt. Saudi Arabia and the UAE funneled tens of billions of dollars in financial aid and investment in infrastructure designed to kickstart the ailing Egyptian economy. The UAE coordinated closely with Egypt and Russia to triangulate support for the Libyan strongman, Khalifa Haftar, as he battled Islamist militias in eastern Libya, carving out a largely autonomous sphere of influence separate from the internationally backed political process in Tripoli. The Saudis and Emiratis, together with the Bahrainis, withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in March 2014 and accused Doha of interfering in the domestic affairs of its regional neighbors.
  • On the international stage, King Salman of Saudi Arabia made clear his displeasure with the Obama administration by canceling his planned attendance of the US-GCC summit at Camp David in May 2015. Six weeks earlier, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had launched Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen. The Yemen war was designed to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi, ousted in 2014 by the tactical alliance of Iran-allied Houthi rebels and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s armed loyalists. Launched just five days before the initial deadline (later extended to July 2015) in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, the decision to take military action to counter and roll back perceived Iranian influence in Yemen represented a Saudi-led rebuke to the Obama administration’s belief that it was possible to separate the nuclear issue from Iran’s meddling in regional affairs.
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  • Another UAE-based visitor during the transition was Erik Prince, brother of Betsy DeVos (President-elect Trump’s nominee as secretary of education). Prince had been hired by Abu Dhabi to develop a private security force after the demise of Blackwater in 2009. He “presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis” and met with a Russian official in a UAE-brokered meeting in the Seychelles shortly before the inauguration, reportedly as part of an effort to establish a backchannel of communication over Syria and Iran.
  • In the early weeks of the administration, Kushner also reached out to Saudi policymakers, including Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud — like Kushner an ambitious millennial who had entered policymaking from a business background. They shared uncannily similar nicknames: “Mr. Everything” (MBS) and the “Secretary of Everything” (Kushner). The two men grew close and reportedly stayed up until nearly 4am “swapping stories and planning strategy” during an unannounced visit Kushner made to Saudi Arabia in October 2017.
  • A president and his senior staff determined to do things their way and bypass the traditional playbook of US foreign policy and international diplomacy offered a potentially rich opening for Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as did the political inexperience of many of the new appointees in the White House
  • The expectation in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi that the Trump presidency would adopt hawkish positions on regional issues such as Iran and Islamism that aligned closely with their own was reaffirmed by the appointments of James Mattis as secretary of defense and Mike Pompeo as director of the CIA
  • President Trump discussed Qatar’s “purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment because nobody makes it like the United States. And for us that means jobs, and it also means frankly great security back here, which we want.” The president’s comments made his subsequent swing against Qatar, after the Saudi and Emirati-led diplomatic and economic blockade began on June 5, 2017, even more surprising to observers of the presidency’s transactional approach to diplomacy.
  • the McClatchy news agency reported that SCL Social Limited, a part of the same SCL Group as Cambridge Analytica (the data mining firm where Bannon served as vice president before joining the White House) had disclosed a $330,000 contract with the UAE National Media Council. The contract included “a wide range of services specific to a global media campaign,” including $75,000 for a social media campaign targeting Qatar during the UN General Assembly. McClatchy observed, too, that Bannon had visited Abu Dhabi to meet with MBZ in September 2017, and that Breitbart (the media platform associated with Bannon both before and after his brief White House stint) had published more than 80 mostly negative stories about Qatar since the GCC crisis erupted
  • a striking element about the Saudi-Emirati outreach is the limited success it achieved. Officials may have seized the opportunity to shape the administration’s thinking and succeeded temporarily, in June 2017, in getting the president to support the initial action against Qatar, but that proved a high watermark in cooperation that did not lead to any substantive follow-through
  • The transactional approach to policymaking taken by the Trump presidency is not necessarily underpinned by any deeper or underlying commitment to a relationship of values or even interests. An example of this came in July 2017 when President Trump told Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network that he had made his presence at the Riyadh summit conditional on $110 billion in arms sales and other agreements signed with Saudi Arabia. “I said, you have to do that, otherwise I’m not going,” bragged the president.
  • Although the crisis in the Gulf may have passed its most dangerous moment — when for a few days in June 2017 the possibility of Saudi and Emirati military action against Qatar was deemed so serious by US officials that Secretary of State Tillerson reportedly had to warn MBS and MBZ against any precipitous action — it has had significant negative consequences for both the region and Washington. In the Gulf, four decades of diplomatic and technocratic cooperation among the six GCC states has been put at risk, threatening the survival of one of the hitherto most durable regional organizations in the Arab world.
  • It is hard to see how the GCC can recover after the sub-regional institution has failed to prevent three of its members from turning on a fourth twice in three years, and when it has been absent at every stage of the crisis, from the initial list of grievances to the subsequent attempts at mediation.
  • Washington’s policy approaches toward Qatar appear now to have settled on the view that the standoff is detrimental to American strategic interests both in the Gulf and across the broader Middle East and should be resolved by Kuwaiti-led mediation. However, the confused signals that came out of the Trump administration during its first six months in office do constitute a cautionary tale. They illustrate the vulnerability of a new and inexperienced political class to influence, which came close to jeopardizing a key US partnership in the Middle East. Unlike, say, the US and Iran, there are no clearly defined good and bad sides the US should support or oppose in its dealings with the GCC members, all of whom have been pivotal, in different ways, to the projection of US power and influence in the region.
Ed Webb

FDD Aligned with State Department to Attack Supporters of Iran Diplomacy - LobeLog - 0 views

  • the State Department suspended its funding for a mysterious website and Twitter account, IranDisInfo.org and @IranDisInfo, after the project attacked human rights workers, journalists and academics, many of whom are based inside the U.S. But the role of the U.S. government in financing IranDisInfo’s criticisms of Human Rights Watch and the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group that has been outspoken in warning about the Trump administration’s increasingly aggressive military posture towards Iran, appears to have been in collaboration with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). FDD pushes for military confrontation with Iran and has received funding from some of Trump and the GOP’s biggest campaign megadonors. While simultaneously denying their support for a war with Iran, FDD’s scholars have repeatedly urged U.S. military action against the Islamic Republic.
  • Dubowitz and his FDD colleagues have been advising the Trump White House on their regime change strategy in Iran.
  • FDD’s involvement with IranDisInfo was thinly concealed.  The website and Twitter account heavily promoted Mark Dubowitz and FDD advisor Saeed Ghasseminejad. Buried on FDD’s website is an “Iran Disinformation Project” that publishes the identical content from Ghasseminejad that was cross-posted on IranDisInfo’s website. And on at least five occasions FDD’s Twitter account promoted articles by Ghasseminejad “in @IranDisInfo.” Except the links didn’t send users to IranDisInfo’s website. Instead, the links were to FDD’s own “Iran Disinformation Project,” hosted on FDD’s website.
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  • In 2017, FDD received $3.63 million from billionaire Bernard Marcus, which constituted over a quarter of FDD’s contributions that year. Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot, is outspoken about his hatred of Iran, which he characterized as “the devil” in a 2015 Fox Business interview. Marcus is Trump’s second biggest campaign supporter, contributing $7 million to pro-Trump super PACs before the 2016 election.
  • by the end of the 2011 tax year, Sheldon Adelson, who went on to become Trump’s single biggest campaign funder, the GOP’s biggest funder in the 2018 midterms, and personal advocate for Trump to take Bolton as his national security adviser, was FDD’s third biggest donor, contributing at least $1.5 million. (Dubowitz says Adelson no longer contributes to FDD.) In 2013, Adelson publicly proposed the U.S. launch a preventive nuclear attack on Iran, targeting the desert, and threaten to launch a second nuclear weapon at Tehran if Iran didn’t abandon its nuclear program.
  • the Trump administration’s decision to seemingly enter into a collaborative arrangement with FDD or Ghasseminejad, an FDD “adviser,” points to the State Department, under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s leadership, moving to increasingly align itself with organizations and individuals pushing the U.S. towards another war in the Middle East.
  • Marcus and Adelson publicly endorse a militarist posture towards Iran and aren’t shy about writing big checks to politicians and organizations that share that mission. With Adelson and Marcus’s preferred national security adviser, John Bolton, evidently pushing the U.S. towards a military confrontation with Iran, it’s no wonder that FDD, possibly (until Friday) with the support of U.S.-taxpayer funding, is engaged in a public-diplomacy campaign against critics of Trump and Bolton’s Iran policy.
Ed Webb

President Trump's thoroughly confusing Fox Business interview, annotated - The Washingt... - 0 views

  • When you see that, I immediately called General Mattis. I said, what can we do? And they came back with a number of different alternatives.  And we hit them very hard. Now, are we going to get involved with Syria? No.  But if I see them using gas and using things that — I mean even some of the worst tyrants in the world didn't use the kind of gases that they used.  And some of the gases are unbelievably potent. So when I saw that, I said we have to do something.
    • Ed Webb
       
      This seems to confirm that the President decides to act based on what he sees on television.
  • people just don't see this, the level of brutality, the level of viciousness.
    • Ed Webb
       
      Plenty of people have been documenting the brutality of the conflict for over five years, including journalists and activists who have given their lives to do so.
  • I was sitting at the table.  We had finished dinner.  We're now having dessert.  And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it. And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded, what do you do? And we made a determination to do it, so the missiles were on the way.  And I said, Mr. President, let me explain something to you.  This was during dessert. We've just fired 59 missiles, all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing. BARTIROMO:  Unmanned? Brilliant. TRUMP:  It's so incredible.  It's brilliant.  It's genius.  Our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five.  I mean look, we have, in terms of technology, nobody can even come close to competing.
    • Ed Webb
       
      I wonder if delivery of this news put Pres. Xi off his chocolate cake. It is striking that both Trump and the interviewer are astonished by guided missile technology that has been around for decades.
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  • So what happens is I said we've just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq and I wanted you to know this. And he was eating his cake. And he was silent.
    • Ed Webb
       
      Maybe he was silent because he was very confused about why you would be attacking Iraq, rather than Syria...
  • But I think he understood the message and I understood what he was saying to me.
    • Ed Webb
       
      I am sure Xi understood what he was dealing with.
Ed Webb

What's going on with Qatar? - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • The ferocity and the sheer scale of the “Qatar-bashing” articles suggest that an orchestrated campaign is underway to discredit Doha regionally but also — crucially — in the eyes of the Trump administration.
  • A convergence of factors appears to have shifted the geopolitical landscape in the Persian Gulf. The Trump administration signaled that it intends to follow a set of regional policies that are aligned far closer to those of Abu Dhabi and Riyadh than Doha. Both Mohammed bin Zayed and Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were high-profile visitors to Washington in the run-up to the Riyadh summit with Arab and Islamic leaders. Further, the policy inexperience of many within Trump’s inner circle has presented an opportunity for both the Saudis and the Emiratis to shape the administration’s thinking on critical regional issues such as Iran and Islamism, both of which were evident during the Riyadh visit.
  • Key principals within the Trump administration, such as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, hold views on Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood that are virtually indistinguishable from those in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are emerging as the two spearheads around which U.S. regional policies are realigning, including a set of hawkish defense and security interests
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  • There are differences between this latest disagreement and the past — not least in the way the current standoff is being played out in the media rather than behind the closed doors of leaders’ meetings — and no act equivalent to the withdrawal of the ambassadors. In fact, few officials have publicly joined the feeding frenzy and have been careful not to single Qatar out by name in calling for brotherly unity against the Iranian “menace.”
  • By allowing the media campaign to run into a second week with no apparent letup, policymakers in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi may be hoping to pressure the leadership in Doha into making concessions or watching to see whether figures within the Trump administration take the bait without having to resort to official threats or sanctions. Where this leaves the GCC as an entity in the age of Trump is anyone’s guess
Ed Webb

Donald Trump's Year of Living Dangerously - POLITICO Magazine - 0 views

  • One year in, Trump’s much-vaunted national security team has not managed to tame the president or bring him around to their view of America’s leadership role in the world. Instead, it’s a group plagued by insecurity and infighting, publicly undercut by the president and privately often overruled by him. Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, is regularly reported by White House sources to be on his way out, with his demoralized, depleted State Department in outright rebellion. Meanwhile, the brawny military troika of White House chief of staff John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general; Defense Secretary James Mattis, another retired four-star Marine general; and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, a serving Army three-star general, has managed to stop the chaos of the administration’s early days while crafting a national security policy that gets more or less solid marks from establishment types in both parties. The problem is, no one’s sure Trump agrees with it.
  • sanctions remain in place despite, not because of, the White House, and sources tell me Trump personally is not on board with many of the more hawkish measures his team proposes to counter Putin, a fact underscored by his eyebrow-raising signing statement in December objecting to several tough-on-Russia provisions in a defense bill
  • The language of "principled realism" put forward by McMaster is so un-Trumpian that a top adviser who received a copy told a reporter it was simply “divorced from the reality” of the Trump presidency. “It’s the first time, maybe in history, key advisers have gone into the administration to stop the president, not to enable him,” says Thomas Wright, a Brookings scholar who has emerged as one of the most insightful analysts of Trump’s foreign policy
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  • One leading European official who came to town last January looking for answers told me that, at the time, the establishment types urged him to have “strategic patience”—not coincidentally the same phrase foreign policy hands used to use about North Korea’s nuclear program. By December, he was tired of waiting for Trump to improve. “When, finally, will this strategic patience pay off?” he asked.
  • Over their year of living dangerously with Trump, foreign leaders and diplomats have learned this much: The U.S. president was ignorant, at times massively so, about the rudiments of the international system and America’s place in it, and in general about other countries. He seemed to respond well to flattery and the lavish laying out of red carpets; he was averse to conflict in person but more or less immovable from strongly held preconceptions. And given the chance, he would respond well to anything that seemed to offer him the opportunity to flout or overturn the policies endorsed by his predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
  • Another conversation, with Jared Kushner, the presidential son-in-law who had been given an expansive international portfolio ranging from restarting Middle East peace talks to dealing with Mexico and China, was just as troubling. Kushner was “very dismissive” about the role of international institutions and alliances and uninterested in the European’s recounting of how closely the United States had stood together with Western Europe since World War II. “He told me, ‘I’m a businessman, and I don’t care about the past. Old allies can be enemies, or enemies can be friends.’ So, the past doesn’t count,” the official recalled. “I was taken aback. It was frightening.”
  • The president really does see the world differently than his own national security adviser
  • “At least the first several months all of us in the building, we thought, ‘We’ve seen this movie before, it’s growing pains, we get it.’ But eventually it seemed clear this was no longer about transition, and this seemed to be about intent rather than incompetence and lack of staffing,” she says. By fall, the word in the Foggy Bottom halls was unequivocal: “The secretary has absolutely lost the building.”
  • for many the rebellion is just to quit, as Bennett has done, on the brink of serving as an ambassador for the first time in her career. On the day she left this fall, she was one of four acting assistant secretaries—all women in a field in which that is still rare—to resign. “I felt like half of my life was probably enough to serve given the climate within the department,” she says, “and given what appears to be such limited respect for expertise gained over long decades of service.”
  • disruptions with the NSC team, where McMaster grew to resent what he saw as Tillerson’s disdain for the interagency process the national security adviser oversees, and by the time the strains on Tillerson’s relationship with Trump became publicly evident over the summer, the secretary of state was losing his remaining internal defenders. The two, said an outside adviser, are now fundamentally at odds. “McMaster and Tillerson are in a death struggle,” he said, “each of them trying to get rid of the other.”
  • I recently met a senior general of a U.S. ally at a conference. What was it like to deal with Trump’s government, I asked? “It’s a vacuum, a void,” he said. “There’s a complete inability to get answers out of American counterparts who don’t know what policy is.” An international diplomat who has worked extensively on hot spots such as Afghanistan and Iraq told me he has been to Washington five or six times in recent months. His normal contacts at the State Department were so out of the loop, “Frankly, they were asking me, ‘What do you think the White House thinks?’”
  • Trump’s national security team and his allies are engaged in a silent conspiracy of sorts to guide and constrain him. America’s enemies in China and Russia have taken their measure of the man and are preparing to test him more decisively than they have yet ventured. Opportunists in the Middle East and elsewhere are taking what they can get. War talk with North Korea grows ever louder. And in Washington, the America Firsters have been purged from the White House staff—but not from the Oval Office itself.
  • “Nobody speaks for Trump,” he said. “He speaks for himself. The question is, are they allowed to do things notwithstanding? And the answer is yes, until he decides to pull the rug out from under them. Well, that’s the reality. That’s how this man works.” Isn’t that, I asked, an extraordinary statement of no confidence in the presidency they are supposed to serve? “It’s amazing,” he responded. “Look, the whole thing is amazing. We’ve never been here. But that’s where it is. So, at some point you have to sort of stop saying, you know, ‘This is terrible, it shouldn’t be this way.’ It is this way.”
Ed Webb

Revealed: Trump team hired spy firm for 'dirty ops' on Iran arms deal | UK news | The G... - 0 views

  • Aides to Donald Trump, the US president, hired an Israeli private intelligence agency to orchestrate a “dirty ops” campaign against key individuals from the Obama administration who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal
  • People in the Trump camp contacted private investigators in May last year to “get dirt” on Ben Rhodes, who had been one of Barack Obama’s top national security advisers, and Colin Kahl, deputy assistant to Obama, as part of an elaborate attempt to discredit the deal
  • “These are extraordinary and appalling allegations but which also illustrate a high level of desperation by Trump and [the Israeli prime minister] Benjamin Netanyahu, not so much to discredit the deal but to undermine those around it.”
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  • It’s bloody outrageous
  • officials linked to Trump’s team contacted investigators days after Trump visited Tel Aviv a year ago
  • “The idea was that people acting for Trump would discredit those who were pivotal in selling the deal, making it easier to pull out of it.”
  • Investigators were also apparently told to contact prominent Iranian Americans as well as pro-deal journalists – from the New York Times, MSNBC television, the Atlantic, Vox website and Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper among others – who had frequent contact with Rhodes and Kahl in an attempt to establish whether they had violated any protocols by sharing sensitive intelligence. They are believed to have looked at comments made by Rhodes in a 2016 New York Times profile in which he admitted relying on inexperienced reporters to create an “echo chamber” that helped sway public opinion to secure the deal
  • it is not clear how much work was actually undertaken, for how long or what became of any material unearthed
  • digging up dirt on someone for carrying out their professional responsibilities in their positions as White House officials is a chillingly authoritarian thing to do
Ed Webb

Mega-donor Adelson, with access and influence, scores two pro- Israel victories | McCla... - 0 views

  • Adelson quietly slipped into the White House for a private meeting with Trump and three top administration officials: Vice President Mike Pence, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and an Adelson favorite, National Security Adviser John Bolton, according to two conservative sources familiar with the previously unreported private event
  • questions about the appearance of foreign policy being linked to big donations to Trump and other Republicans. Adelson, who will turn 85 this August, has been an influential donor with GOP political leaders who have courted him assiduously for almost a decade. But the casino tycoon seems to have reached new levels of cachet with the Trump administration in office.
  • Adelson’s cash also helped elect Trump — even though during the campaign Trump often asserted his independence of big donors to portray himself as a self-styled populist
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  • In 2016, Adelson gave almost $83 million in publicly disclosed funds to Republican groups and candidates, including $20 million to Future 45, a super PAC that backed Trump. He also threw in a record $5 million to the inaugural committee, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics
  • Last week’s visit to the Trump White House wasn’t the first for Adelson; he was also there, meeting and discussing policy with Trump and several advisers, in October. Today, he was in Israel with a delegation of several dozen board members from the RJC, another nonprofit he has generously bankrolled.
Ed Webb

The Diplomat Who Quit the Trump Administration | The New Yorker - 0 views

  • Many diplomats have been dismayed by the Trump Administration; since the Inauguration, sixty per cent of the State Department’s highest-ranking diplomats have left. But Feeley broke with his peers by publicly declaring his reasons
  • Mariela Sagel, a prominent columnist with La Estrella, wrote to me, “Feeley’s lightning passage through Panama was as devastating to the self-esteem of Panamanians as it was for the Waked businesses. After less than two years on the job he quit, claiming that he was not in agreement with Trump’s policies. If those were his reasons, why didn’t he resign when that demented man won the Presidency?”
  • When Tillerson was fired, this March, eight of the ten most senior positions at State were unfilled, leaving no one in charge of arms control, human rights, trade policy, or the environment. For diplomats in the field, the consequences were clearly evident. In 2017, Dave Harden, a longtime Foreign Service officer, was assigned to provide relief to victims of the war in Yemen, one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. The entire diplomatic staff for the country was barely a dozen people. “We worked out of a three-bedroom house,” he said. “It felt like a startup.” There was no support from State, and no policy direction, he said: “The whole system was completely broken.” Harden resigned last month.
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  • “We don’t get instructions from the U.S. government.” He recalled Trump’s announcement, in December, 2017, that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. As the United Nations considered a resolution condemning the move, Nikki Haley, Trump’s envoy to the U.N., circulated a threatening letter, saying that Trump “has requested I report back on those who voted against us.” Feeley heard nothing in advance about the letter. “Do you think we got a heads-up, to prepare?” he said. “Nothing.” Soon afterward, he received outraged telephone calls from Panama’s President and Vice-President, Isabel de Saint Malo. Feeley recalled that when Saint Malo called “she said, ‘John, friends don’t treat friends like this.’ All I could say was ‘I know. I’m sorry.’ We both knew it was going to hurt our personal and institutional relationship. And there was nothing we could do about it.”
  • Since Trump’s election, “we’ve taken a step back in tone,” Feeley said. “We tried to get Kerry to bury the Monroe Doctrine. But now, all of a sudden, it’s back.”
  • Early this year, during an appearance in Texas, Tillerson called the Monroe Doctrine “clearly . . . a success.” The rhetoric has had a chilling effect, Feeley said, “Latins believe that Trump and his senior officials have no real interest in the region, beyond baiting Mexico and tightening the screws on Cuba and Venezuela.”
  • a building in the style of a pagoda: a monument to China’s presence in Panama. “Look how prominent they’ve become,” one of the staffers said. In June, 2016, a major expansion of the canal was completed, and the first ship through was an enormous Chinese freighter, designed to fit the new dimensions. “I got a big American naval ship to park right outside the locks, where the Chinese ship would see it,” Feeley said. “And I threw our annual Embassy July 4th party on it.” He laughed at the memory, but he knew that the gesture was ultimately futile.
  • As the United States has retreated from Latin America, China’s influence has grown. Since 2005, banks linked to Beijing have provided more than a hundred and fifty billion dollars in loan commitments to the region—some years, more than the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank combined. In less than two decades, trade between China and Latin America has increased twenty-seven-fold.
  • The Taiwanese government furiously denounced Panama for succumbing to “checkbook diplomacy,” but Panamanian officials denied that the decision was motivated by economics. Then, last November, Varela travelled to Beijing and joined President Xi Jinping in a ceremony to celebrate their new friendship, at which he signed nineteen separate trade deals. At around the same time, the China Harbour Engineering Company began work in Panama on a hundred-and-sixty-five-million-dollar port.
  • Panama could well become China’s Latin-American hub; the One Belt, One Road initiative, working with Varela’s government, is planning to build a railway from Panama City to near the Costa Rican border. But, Feeley added, “the Panamanians are naïve about the Chinese.” He told me that he had worked to persuade Panama’s security ministry not to sign a communications-technology deal with the Chinese, partly out of concern that they would use the infrastructure for espionage, as they have elsewhere. The Chinese company Huawei, which has headquarters in Panama, lobbied hard “to delay, divert, and get the contract.” In the end, the work was contracted to an American firm, General Dynamics, but the negotiations were difficult.
  • Varela’s government has quietly leased the Chinese a huge building plot, on the strip of land that juts into the ocean at the mouth of the canal, to use as the site of a new Embassy. Sailors on every ship in the canal will see the proof of China’s rising power, as they enter a waterway that once symbolized the global influence of the United States.
  • As morale sank in the State Department, veteran diplomats had been leaving, in what some called “the exodus.” David Rank, the senior American diplomat in China, stepped down last June, after Trump withdrew from the Paris accord. “You have decisions that the rest of the world fundamentally disagrees with,” Rank said recently. He recalled that, on September 11, 2001, “I got a call from the Embassy of an allied country seconds after the attack. The person said, ‘Whatever you need, you can count on us.’ Now that we pulled out of Paris and Iran, swept tariffs across the world, I wonder if we’re going to get that call again.”
  • Feeley pointed out that leftist leaders were in retreat throughout Latin America, and that popular movements were rejecting old habits of corrupt governance. It was, he said, “the greatest opportunity to recoup the moral high ground that we have had in decades.” Instead, we were abandoning the region. “I keep waiting for a Latin leader to paraphrase Angela Merkel and say, ‘We can no longer count on the Americans to provide leadership.’ ”
  • Some people liken it to an own goal. I’d say it’s more like a self-inflicted Pearl Harbor
  • “There’s this idea that the States is just like the rest of us. That’s the saddest thing to me.”
  • Foreign Service officers were willing to work with the Trump Administration. “I don’t know of a single Trump supporter who is an F.S.O.,” he said. “But I also don’t know of a single F.S.O. who hopes for failure, myself included. Far from the Alex Jones caricature of a bunch of pearl-clutching, cookie-pushing effetes, we have an entire corps of people who will do everything they can to successfully implement American foreign policy, as it is determined by the national leaders—to include Mike Pompeo.” But, Feeley suggested, Pompeo would need to moderate his boss’s instincts. “I just do not believe that, with Trump’s rhetoric and a lot of his policy actions, we are going to recoup our leadership position in the world,” he said. “Because the evidence is already in, and we’re not. We’re not just walking off the field. We’re taking the ball and throwing a finger at the rest of the world.”
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince MBS Is Right Where Trump Wants Him - Bloomberg - 0 views

  • There came a moment during Donald Trump’s April 2 phone call to Mohammed bin Salman when Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler, apparently stunned by what the American president had just said, asked his aides to leave the room. No courtiers were present when their master, no slouch at intimidation himself, was apparently bullied into submission.
  • Trump had, in effect, threatened the complete withdrawal of American troops from the kingdom if the Saudis didn’t slash oil production.
  • broad, bipartisan support in Washington for punitive actions against Riyadh
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  • the prince is as close to a pariah as a senior member of the royal family has ever been in the 75 years of the Saudi-American alliance
  • the crown prince must now recognize the limitations of his ill-judged strategy to base relations with the U.S., the kingdom’s indispensable ally, exclusively on the cultivation of the first family. Previous Saudi rulers would have been able to rely on friends in Congress to plead with the White House for leniency. But MBS has few friends in Washington — and the army of lobbyists he maintains there is of limited use in a crisis.
  • MBS’s dependence on Trump — and the White House veto — to override this antagonism made him highly vulnerable to presidential strong-arm tactics.
  • The prince is now in a bind. He desperately needs to rebuild bridges with Congress, but that will be harder now that he has injured U.S. oil interests. Nor can he easily submit to pressure from American lawmakers on other issues without losing face at home and in the Arab world. 
  • The timing of his humiliation by Trump is especially unpropitious: The twin blows of the oil war and the coronavirus pandemic have greatly damaged the Saudi economy and undermined his ambitious reform agenda at home. His cherished plan to build a futuristic megacity on the Red Sea coast is facing unexpected opposition. Much effort and cost will be required to extricate Saudi Arabia from the Yemeni quagmire with a semblance of dignity.
Ed Webb

How Trump and Netanyahu made American antisemitism come alive - 0 views

  • For four years, Netanyahu has equated Jews with the Israeli government, while Trump has made common cause with white nationalists. I wish more Israelis understood why this was so terrifying.
  • Growing up as a Jewish Israeli-American, antisemitism carried two connotations for me. One was a relic of the past: the stories my grandparents told about the events leading up to the Holocaust back in the old country. The second was the deliberate strategy by hasbara activists to label every criticism of Israeli policy as antisemitism — a toxic smear that I understood as manipulation.
  • My first experience of antisemitism was by proxy — antisemitism as metaphor. I was working as a human rights advocate in Israel when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cronies launched an attack on left-wing NGOs and human rights defenders that used the tactics, imagery, and language from classic European antisemitism, the kind that killed my ancestors.
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  • The Israeli right needed to divide the public against one another, blame someone for problems and sow fear, and they used antisemitism to generate it. This felt uncomfortable and urgent at the time, but I also knew that Israel had a long way to go before it was truly unsafe for Jews, even the most left-wing of us.
  • Obama had received the vast majority of American Jewish votes both in 2008 and 2012, but when Netanyahu came to Congress, he deliberately positioned himself not only as the chief representative of a foreign country, but also as the spokesperson for the Jewish people worldwide.
  • Implicit in Netanyahu’s attempt to equate all Jews with the Israeli government is the antisemitic “dual loyalty” trope: the idea that Jewish people are less loyal to our home countries than our neighbors, and that our real place is in Israel — not in the countries where we live, hold citizenship, and raise our families. For Netanyahu to make explicit this this trope made American Jews less safe.
  • Eighteen months later, Donald Trump was elected president and filled the White House with bona fide white nationalists. While Netanyahu and his right-wing supporters celebrated, my understanding of antisemitism shifted from a theoretical or metaphorical one into a real panicked feeling of threat in my body.
  • It didn’t take long for Trump to start echoing Netanyahu’s dual loyalty smear as part of his strategy to activate white nationalists as his ideological base. At a White House Hanukkah party, in front of a room full of Jewish Americans, Trump spoke about support for “your country” — meaning Israel. He has repeated this claim to American Jews several times throughout his presidency.
  • The narrative of “replacement” is not a metaphor. It is a conspiracy theory, widely believed by white nationalists, that Jews are attempting to literally replace the supposedly “real” Americans — white Christians — with immigrants and people of color. In Trump’s America, Jews are the evil globalists, seen as the secret masterminds behind movements like Dream Defenders and Black Lives Matter. It is this theory of replacement that Robert Bowers, who carried out the mass shooting in Pittsburgh just a little over a year later, cited as the reason Jews should be killed.
  • I am an outspoken left-wing Israeli-American Jew living in the United States and I am not safe. When Netanyahu and his ilk confidently speak for all Jews, when they use antisemitism themselves and provide cover for white nationalists to do the same, they are putting my life at risk
  • When more airtime is given at the AIPAC conference to the threat posed by Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s sympathies to the Palestinian cause than to growing numbers of white nationalists with automatic weapons in America, I am less safe
  • we must recognize that equating all Jews with the state and government of Israel is antisemitism, and it has to stop. American Jews are not Israelis, they are American. Period. Some support Israel, some loath Israel, some could not point to Israel on a map. Netanyahu makes all of us less safe when he claims to represent a people who have and want nothing to do with him or the state he represents.
  • The second thing that needs to happen is for new Israeli leaders to be seen and heard on the world stage, making it clear that far-right politicians are not the true representatives of the Israeli people. Not all Israelis are ethnic supremacists. Not all Israelis are Trump supporters. Not all Israelis are white. Not all Israelis are Jews.
Ed Webb

Trump aide drew plan on napkin to partition Libya into three | World news | The Guardian - 0 views

  • A senior White House foreign policy official has pushed a plan to partition Libya, and once drew a picture of how the country could be divided into three areas on a napkin in a meeting with a senior European diplomat
  • Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to Donald Trump under pressure over his past ties with Hungarian far-right groups, suggested the idea of partition in the weeks leading up to the US president’s inauguration, according to an official with knowledge of the matter. The European diplomat responded that this would be “the worst solution” for Libya
  • Gorka is vying for the job of presidential special envoy to Libya
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  • sharp differences have emerged over how much say Russia should have in Libya’s fate
  • While the GNA has been seen by some as the best option for achieving stability in the country, it has struggled against a rival government based in Tobruk, eastern Libya, backed by Khalifa Haftar, an anti-Islamist military strongman. Haftar, who would not back partition, has support in some parts of the Egyptian and Russian governments
  • Haftar, a 73-year-old field marshal and former Gaddafi general who later became his bitter opponent, presents himself as a bulwark against Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood, which makes him appealing to elements of the Trump foreign policy team
  • Gorka has alarmed foreign diplomats with his views on Libya’s future. The map he drew on a napkin during the transition period cut Libya into three sections, apparently based on the old Ottoman provinces of Cyrenaica in the east, Tripolitania in the north-west and Fezzan in the south-west.
  • Gorka’s rivals for the envoy job include Pete Hoekstra, a former congressman and lobbyist, and Phillip Escaravage, a former US intelligence official who worked on Libya for more than a decade
  • At least one European ally has privately expressed frustration at the US state department’s lack of a position on Libya, voicing concerns over Russia’s growing influence
  • Representatives of the Tobruk government, including Haftar, have sought to influence the Trump administration, calling for the US to radically change its position and withdraw support for the Sarraj government.
  • Ari Ben-Menashe, an Israeli security consultant based in Canada, whose company has a $6m (£4.9m) contract to lobby on behalf of Haftar and Aguila Saleh Issa, the head of the Libyan house of representatives in Tobruk, said the White House had been “briefed” on Libya and was “willing to play on our terms”
Ed Webb

How a diplomatic crisis among Gulf nations led to fake news campaign in the United States - 0 views

  • it’s not just Kremlin-produced disinformation that Americans may have stumbled upon recently. Browsing Facebook and Twitter — and even just perusing the magazine rack at their local Walmart — they may have also been exposed to propaganda supporting the ambitious goals of two oil-rich Arab Gulf countries
  • when Saudi Arabia and the UAE launched a boycott and blockade of the tiny peninsula state of Qatar last year, organizations with ties to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi tried something new: They worked to sway American public opinion through online and social media campaigns, bringing a complicated, distant conflict among three Washington allies to US shores
  • As they took steps against Doha, Saudi Arabia and the UAE also initiated propaganda efforts in the US aimed at weakening Washington’s alliance with Qatar — which hosts the largest American military base in the Middle East — while also enhancing their own images.
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  • The Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC), a pro-Saudi lobby group not officially tied to the Saudi government, paid $2.6 million last year to the now-defunct, Washington-based lobbying firm the Podesta Group for public affairs services that included running the anti-Qatar website and its associated social media properties
  • Along with painting Qatar as a terror-friendly nation, The Qatar Insider encouraged the US to remove its Al Udeid Air Base, which is home to the forward headquarters of the US Central Command, from Qatar and lobbied against Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup.
  • Last fall, a film billed as an “educational documentary” called “Qatar: A Dangerous Alliance” appeared online and was distributed to guests at an event hosted by the conservative Hudson Institute that featured Steve Bannon, a former senior adviser to President Donald Trump and the ex-chairman of Breitbart News
  • when Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, visited the US in March, a magazine bearing his face and celebrating his reign appeared at 200,000 outlets across the country. The Saudi Embassy denied knowledge of the magazine, and the company that published it, National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc., denied receiving guidance from the Saudis. Citing employees of American Media Inc, The New York Times later reported that the magazine was an attempt by the publisher’s CEO to win business in Saudi Arabia. Still, there was evidence that the Saudi Embassy and advisers to the Saudi royal family had received advanced copies of the publication, hinting that they were involved in its creation and fawning tone
  • Seeing Trump’s hostility toward Iran mirroring their own, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were eager to strengthen their relationship with the former reality TV host when he took office, despite his harsh campaign-trail criticisms of Islam and Saudis (who, he once said, “want women as slaves and to kill gays”). In May, The New York Times reported that an emissary of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, held a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. ahead of the 2016 elections offering their support to Trump as well as social media help in winning the election.
  • “If you asked the average American about the Gulf and they see these commercials, they will not be able to tell the difference,” he said. “And for those who do know the difference, they will remember that Saudi Arabia, not Qatar, had its citizens participating in the 9/11 attacks.”
  • Qatar — or, at best, its friends — has been involved in the hacking and leaking of emails designed to embarrass the UAE and reveal its role in trying to influence the Trump campaign. Qatar has increased its spending on lobbyists while also trying to soften its image by wooing American Jewish groups, including the Zionist Organization of America, which previously called for Qatar to be listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. And in May, Qatar flexed its soft power muscles when it offered to pay to keep the Washington, DC, metro open after a Capitals playoff game.
  • “Instead of saying one country is better than the other, everyone looks really, really horrible,” he said. “It really raises questions about what kind of partners these countries are for the United States.”
Ed Webb

Exclusive: Official Who Heard Call Says Trump Got 'Rolled' By Turkey and 'Has No Spine' - 0 views

  • Trump got "rolled" by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a National Security Council source with direct knowledge of the discussions told Newsweek.
  • The U.S. withdrawal plays into the hands of the Islamic State group, Damascus and Moscow, and the announcement left Trump's own Defense Department "completely stunned," said Pentagon officials. Turkey, like the United States, wants regime change in Syria. Russia and Iran support the Assad regime
  • Turkey has long considered the Kurdish militia in Syria to be a terrorist insurgency, despite the United States providing military and financial aid to the group in its fight against ISIS, the Islamic State militant group. A battle with the vastly superior military of Turkey, a NATO ally, could drive the Kurds into the arms of Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian dictator that Washington wants ousted, and by extension into an alliance with Russia and Iran, two U.S. rivals with forces in Syria.
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  • both the Defense Department and Trump on Twitter said they made clear to Turkey that they do not endorse a Turkish operation in northern Syria
  • Trump did not endorse any Turkish military operation against Kurdish Forces, but also did not threaten economic sanctions during the phone call if Turkey decided to undertake offensive operations.
  • "To be honest with you, it would be better for the United States to support a Kurdish nation across Turkey, Syria and Iraq," said the National Security Council official. "It would be another Israel in the region."
    • Ed Webb
       
      Hmmm. In what sense? With what effects?
  • witnesses observed United States forces withdraw from two observation posts in Tel Abyad and Ein Eissa in northeastern Syria.
  • the United States chose not to stand its ground to protect Kurdish Forces against Turkish airstrikes as a part of Trump's "America First policy" and his historical views that war is bad for business
  • Erdogan reinforced his army units at the Syrian-Turkish border hours after he issued his strongest threat to launch Turkish forces over the border and into the "buffer zone," between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers
  • Trump told Erdogan he did not want anything to do with ISIS prisoners despite the United States not currently detaining Islamic State prisoners in Syria. The Syrian Defense Forces control custody of the prisoners.Erdogan said Turkey would take custody of the ISIS militant prisoners, according to the White House statement and the National Security Council official Newsweek spoke to for this story
  • A senior Defense Department official told Newsweek in January no U.S. general was happy with the decision to pull back U.S. troops from Syria as Pentagon officials feared the withdrawal could spark an ISIS resurgence similar to the Taliban's growing influence and territory in Afghanistan.
  • A complete withdrawal could also potentially give up a valuable regional position to American military forces that threaten United States interests in the region, including the interests of allies such as Israel and, to some extent, Jordan.
  • "We are telling the world, we will use you and then throw you away," the official added. "It's not like they don't have a television in Asia, in Africa, and South America."
Ed Webb

EXCLUSIVE: Trump sent second letter to Erdogan threatening sanctions over S-400s | Midd... - 1 views

  • US President Donald Trump last week warned Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a letter that he would soon have to impose sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems if Ankara did not accept his proposed terms
  • Trump also said that Turkey could be re-admitted into a partner programme for the US's next-generation F-35 fighter jet if it agreed not to activate the S-400 systems and committed to not purchasing Russian weapons systems in the future
  • the two NATO allies at odds over a range of issues including Ankara's incursion into northern Syria
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  • Trump's last correspondence with Erdogan, sent last month and threatening him with heavy sanctions over Turkey's operation in northern Syria, caused uproar at the time because of its informal style which was perceived as undiplomatic and "childish".
  • The White House, under pressure from the Congress, seems to have lost patience and really wants to put an end to the S-400 debacle, by either sanctioning Turkey, or using the threat of sanctions to force it to accept its terms,
  • Trump has publicly said multiple times that Turkey should purchase US-made Patriot missile systems to defend its territories. Erdogan told journalists last week that he was still interested in the Patriots.
  • administration is mandated to sanction countries that conduct transactions with the Russian military industry, according to a law ratified by the US Congress in 2017, called CAATSA, or Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act
  • The Pentagon suspended Turkey from F-35 programme in July, saying that the S-400s could be used to spy on the crucial technology of the jet.
  • Erdogan, replying by letter, told Trump that Turkey would not discuss the S-400 issue with pre-conditions. He reiterated his demand to form a joint committee to resolve the problem and continued to defend the argument that S-400s and F-35 could be compatible within Turkey's defence structure.
Ed Webb

Israel hoping for Iran confrontation before November election: sources - Business Insider - 0 views

  • A former Israeli defense official told Insider it was common knowledge that at least some of the latest attacks in Iran were done by Israeli intelligence.
  • An EU official also told Insider that they fear Israel is planning to provoke Iran into military confrontation "while Trump remains in office."
  • Israel is involved in an extended campaign to pressure or damage Iran before President Donald Trump could be voted out in the November election, a former Israeli defense official and a current EU intelligence official have told Insider.
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  • Iran has seen weekly incidents including explosions at a missile-production facility on June 22; the Natanz nuclear facility, Iran's largest uranium-enrichment facility, on July 2; and an important shipyard in the port city of Bushehr on Wednesday.
  • Israeli officials told The New York Times in July that their intelligence services were responsible for the nuclear facility explosion, and implied that other attacks would be forthcoming.
  • "It's been decided to follow the Trump administration's lead of exerting 'maximum pressure' on the Iranians," they said, referencing the US' economic sanctions policy directed toward Iran.
  • The attacks appear to be part of a campaign of "maximum pressure, minimal strategy," said the EU intelligence official
  • The source warned that Iran could be considering a rash response after exhibiting relative patience in the wake of the January assassination of top commander Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike.
  • I fear the Israeli plan here is to provoke an Iranian response that can turn into a military escalation while Trump remains in office
  • With a broad belief among America's allies that Trump is unlikely to win reelection, Israel's apparent shift in tactics towards high-pressure "kinetic" operations seem to reflect a belief that under a Biden administration, there would be a move to save the 2015 nuclear deal that had been scuttled by Trump.
Ed Webb

Trump Administration Is Bypassing Arms Control Pact to Sell Large Armed Drones - The Ne... - 0 views

  • The Trump administration announced on Friday that it would allow the sale of advanced armed drones to other nations and bypass part of an international weapons export control agreement that the United States helped forge more than three decades ago.
  • Missile Technology Control Regime
  • circumventing one part of the pact could undermine the agreement in general and encourage other nations to selectively ignore or reinterpret clauses that they find inconvenient
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  • United States has relied on the agreement to help constrain global exports of missile technology to nations it views as security threats because of their nuclear programs, notably North Korea and Iran
  • Several Middle Eastern nations, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are eager to buy drones capable of carrying large payloads. Both those countries have waged a devastating air war in Yemen that has led to thousands of civilian deaths.
  • “This reckless decision once again makes it more likely that we will export some of our most deadly weaponry to human rights abusers across the world,” he said. “This is yet another reckless move by an administration fixated with eliminating the international cooperation that has made the United States and other countries safer for decades.”
  • A Chinese company, Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group, has developed a drone, the Wing Loong II, that has the same abilities as the MQ-9 Reaper, made by General Atomics, based in San Diego.This year, General Atomics stepped up its lobbying efforts to persuade the government to allow sales of the Reaper, whose export is effectively banned by the requirement of a “strong presumption of denial” in the pact, a congressional aide said.
  • Trump administration, though, has shown disdain for the concept of international agreements and has withdrawn from several major ones
  • In May 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo bypassed a congressional freeze on sales of $8.1 billion of arms to the two countries with an emergency declaration that whose legality is in question.
  • Arms exports, particularly to Gulf Arab nations, have led to some of the biggest clashes between the Trump administration and Congress
  • Officials in the State Department and Pentagon who work on nonproliferation issues have pushed back internally on efforts by other officials to bypass the ban in the agreement, which covers drones capable of carrying at least 500 kilograms, or over 1,100 pounds, of weapons over 300 kilometers, about 186 miles. Those officials and some lawmakers argue that other countries or companies can copy the technology once they are in possession of the drones and start making their own.
  • Besides countries in the Middle East, ones in East Asia and Central and Eastern Europe are likely to ask to buy the drones. Reuters reported last month that the United States was considering bypassing the agreement to sell larger drones.
  • Missile Technology Control Regime was established in 1987 by the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Britain to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The pact, which now includes 35 member nations, restricts the exports of missiles and their components. It has been credited with slowing down missile development programs in countries like Egypt and Iraq.
Ed Webb

Trump's Syria Strategy Would Be a Disaster | Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • A brief history lesson should suffice to demonstrate the Assad regime’s lack of counterterrorism qualifications. This is the government whose intelligence apparatus methodically built al Qaeda in Iraq, and then the Islamic State in Iraq, into a formidable terrorist force to fight U.S. troops in that country from 2003 to 2010
  • Trump’s suggestion to partner with Russia in “smashing” the Islamic State is little more than a non sequitur, given Russia’s near-consistent focus on everything but the jihadi group
  • contrary to an increasingly popular narrative, fighters in these vetted groups are not, with very few exceptions, handing over U.S. weapons to jihadis, nor are they wandering off to join the extremists themselves. The cornerstone of the CIA effort has been to supply rebel groups with U.S.-manufactured BGM-71 TOW anti-tank guided missiles, which have ensured that the moderate opposition has remained a relevant actor in the conflict. Thus far, according to publicly available information, at least 1,073 TOW missiles have been sent to Syria and used in combat, only 12 of which have changed hands and been used by nonvetted groups — amounting to an impressively low proliferation rate of 1.1 percent
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  • the Kremlin’s focus has unequivocally and consistently been on fighting Syria’s mainstream opposition, not the Islamic State. Much of its targeting has been against U.S.-linked members of Syria’s opposition
  • Regional states may also feel justified in breaking a long U.S. taboo in sending anti-aircraft weapons like MANPADS to their closest proxies on the ground in Syria. To a certain extent, this illicit flow of anti-aircraft weaponry has already begun in response to perceptions of insufficient U.S. “muscle” in preventing the brutal assault on the besieged eastern districts of Aleppo. According to well-placed opposition sources, at least three small shipments of MANPADS have entered northern Syria since late 2015.
  • he risks exacerbating six major threats to U.S. domestic and international security
  • The widespread perception that Washington is indifferent to the suffering of Syrian civilians has led ever more members of the Syrian opposition to consider al Qaeda a more willing and more effective protector of their lives and interests than the United States, the supposed “leader of the free world.” Trump’s proposed abandonment of the Syrian opposition would permanently cement that perception and make Syria a pre-9/11 Afghanistan on steroids. This should be deeply troubling to anyone concerned about international security, given Syria’s proximity to Europe.
  • Removing that U.S. role risks re-creating the chaos and infighting that ruled the early days of the Syrian crisis, but this time in a context where extremists are poised to swiftly take advantage.
  • it would not be altogether surprising to see Qatar or Turkey — for example — switching the bulk of their support to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and similar groups were the United States to cease supporting the opposition
  • Trump appears to be indicating a preference for combating the symptoms of a crisis — that is, terrorism — while strengthening their principal cause: Assad’s dictatorship and his refusal to negotiate
  • Although a U.S.-Russian alliance would likely increase the threat to the Islamic State’s territorial holdings in Syria, at least in the short term, such a partnership would be an invaluable long-term boon to the group’s propaganda. Were Russia to employ the same carpet-bombing tactics it has used in its attempt to crush the Syrian opposition, the consequences of such “victories” would ensure that the Islamic State has a ready-made narrative to attempt a determined resurgence with some level of popular acceptance or even support.
  • a potential U.S.-Russian partnership in Syria could also further energize the Islamic State’s calls for attacks against targets in the West, particularly in the United States
  • Paired with the possibility that Trump may introduce newly oppressive domestic policies on immigration and other issues relating to race and religion, this scenario portends greater threats, not a safer America
  • As a staunch opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, it is surprising that Trump appears to be proposing Syria policies that would save Iran from a geopolitically crippling defeat and strengthen its regional influence
  • Were President-elect Trump to drop America’s insistence that Assad has lost his legitimacy and must be removed through transition, not only would Iran gain immeasurably, but the greatest immediate terrorist threat to Israel would be free to point its formidable weapons array toward America’s most valued regional ally
  • Putin seeks to secure a Russian rise at the expense of American power and influence, not in equal partnership with them.
  • A combination of all or some of the above-mentioned scenarios would produce dynamics that would undoubtedly further exacerbate Syria’s refugee crisis, leaving as many as 5 million Syrians permanently outside their country’s borders. With Assad remaining in power and his various backers secure in his defense, a quarter of Syria’s entire prewar population would be highly unlikely to ever return to their homes, meaning that neighboring states would be left to shoulder the unsustainable costs of housing them while many refugees would embrace desperate attempts to get to Europe.
  • Although it remains possible that President-elect Trump will do away with his perilously simplistic reading of the Syrian crisis, the dangers of pursuing a policy based on his limited understanding should be well-understood. As five years of failed policy under President Barack Obama has shown, treating the symptoms of the crisis rather than its root cause — Assad’s dictatorship — will only lead to further displacement and ruin.
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