Middle East

Not What We Mean When We Say Foreign Service

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

A protester holds a photo of journalist Jamal Khashhoggi, later acknowledged to have been slain by the Saudi government. (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo)

Annieli, at Daily Kos, writes:

Those who wonder why we should care about Khashoggi’s death should ask whether we want an autocratic thug to be directing US foreign policy? Why is America’s president covering up a brutal extra-territorial murder? All this whabboutery serves MBS. Is that what we want?

And this is an important question: All of President Trump’s equivocation and excuses serve foreign interests.Remember that Donald Trump still thinks he is doing business, and this is reflected in conservative language; among Republican excuses for the President’s behavior, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), often seen as a critic of the administration, mewled and rolled over:

A key consideration in the administration’s mind, according to Republican Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), is the belief that the crown prince can salvage Kushner’s stalled peace plan between Israelis and Palestinians. “A lot of the Middle East peace plan is based upon their support. They feel like they have a lot of equity there,” Corker said.

(Dawsey, Hudson, and Gearan)

“Equity” is a curious word. Certes, the Trump family has invested tremendous “political capital”. There are a handful of Congressional Republicans willing to speak against President Trump, and the general criticism runs that tweeting disapproval is pretty much all they do compared to their voting records. And in this moment, Mr. Corker, the retiring U.S. Senator, is lending his voice in aid and comfort to presidential pandering on behalf of foreign interests. The Washington Post goes on to explain:

Trump allies acknowledged that the White House’s equivocations would probably result in growing calls from Congress for a more credible accounting of events from Saudi Arabia, but they doubted it would damage the president politically.

Equity. This is just an investment. And if Sen. Corker, a Republican, wishes to be seen in opposition to President Trump, “equity” is the wrong word. Consider an actual Trump ally, such as evangelical preacher Pat Robertson:

“We’ve got to cool the rhetoric,” Robertson said. “Calls for sanctions and calls for punitive actions against the Saudis is ill-advised … You’ve got a hundred billion dollars worth of arms sales—which is, you know, that’s one of those things—but more than that, we’ve got to have some Arab allies. We have to have it! We cannot alienate a biggest player in the Middle East who is a bulwark against Iran.”When Robertson’s co-host Wendy Griffith argued that we cannot have governments killing critical journalists with impunity, Robertson dismissed those concerns.”We’ve had so many people killed,” he responded. “We’ve had CIA people killed in Lebanon. People have been taken hostage over the years. I know it’s bad, but we’ve had all kinds of stuff, but you don’t blow up an international alliance over one person. I mean, I’m sorry.”

(Mantyla)

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A Mystery in #DimensionTrump

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

The White House (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Jonathan Swan and Axios offer up a scoop:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has been talking with George Nader, a little-known Bannon associate who boasts of his well-placed connections in the Middle East, Axios has learned.

Nader has spoken with Mueller’s team at least twice, according to a source briefed on the investigation. A second source briefed on the investigation confirmed that Mueller’s team has brought Nader in for questioning in the past week. The Special Counsel’s office declined to comment.

Will that be nuts, or a cherry on top? Time will tell. To wit, the “mysterious White House visitor”, Mr. Nader, is said to allege personal ties to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, who is also the Deputy Supreme Commander of the armed forces in the United Arab Emirates; to the other, as Mr. Swan reports, “well-connected and experienced Middle East hands in Washington” said they “never heard of Nader”.   (more…)

What They Voted For: Swamp

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump answers a question during the third presidential debate at University of Nevada Las Vegas, 19 October 2016. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Who: Christina Flom (Roll Call)
What: “Rand Paul on Bolton Appointment: ‘Heaven Forbid'”
When: 15 November 2016

Roll Call brings us up to speed:

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul says that President-elect Donald Trump appointing former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton to his Cabinet would be a major step toward breaking his promise of “changing America’s disastrous foreign policy.”

Rumors that Trump is considering Bolton as Secretary of State prompted Paul to write an op-ed in Rare.us, calling Bolton “part of failed elite that Trump vowed to oppose” ....

.... Paul said no man “is more out of touch” with the Middle East than Bolton and that Bolton is unable to see the mistakes he has made.

“All nuance is lost on the man,” Paul wrote. “The fact that Russia has had a base in Syria for 50 years doesn’t deter Bolton from calling for all out, no holds barred war in Syria. For Bolton, only a hot-blooded war to create democracy across the globe is demanded.”

This is one of those interesting things Republicans do to themselves. The Kentucky also-ran is not without a point, but he’s also Rand Paul, and this is Donald Trump’s Republican Party, now. There really isn’t anything surprising happening, which is a strange thing considering it’s happening at all. Still, though, as Donald Trump continues to undermine pretty much every allegedly respectable reason anyone might have offered in defense of their vote, we should remember that it always was about supremacism and lulz.

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The Gary Johnson Trip (Dearth and Aleppo)

Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson botches a foreign policy question about Aleppo, Syria, on msnbc's Morning Joe, 8 September 2016.

Thus Mike Barnicle interviews Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson for Morning Joe on msnbc:

Say what?Barnicle: What would you do, if you were elected, about Aleppo?

Johnson: About …?

Barnicle: Aleppo.

Johnson: And what is Aleppo?

This is yet another reminder why the American electoral outlook is functionally a two-party system.

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Barnicle, Mike. “Gary Johnson asks: What is Aleppo?” msnbc. 8 September 2016.

An American Snapshot (Heritage: Hatred)

Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during the 2016 Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington, DC, December 3, 2015 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

“Yes, a majority of Americans said they were against such measures, but let’s not brush past the obvious point: a third of the country is an alarming number of people.”

Steve Benen

The problem with making a point like Steve Benen’s is not that it is somehow wrong or grotesquely exaggerated. Rather, the problem is that such straightforward, dramatic statements find themselves anywhere near the realm of American reality.

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The Lindsey Graham Show (Three Amigos Reunion)

From left, Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham and former Senator Joseph I. Lieberman in New York on Monday. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Maggie Haberman’s entry for First Draft, at the New York Times, actually has a really distracting quirk about it.

Surrounded by two of the “three amigos” — as former Gen. David H. Petraeus called them — Senator Lindsey Graham appeared with Senator John McCain and former Senator Joseph I. Lieberman in New York on Monday to denounce the deal to contain Iran’s nuclear program.

Mr. Graham, a Republican presidential hopeful from South Carolina who is one of the most hawkish voices in his party, repeatedly invoked the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, just over three miles from the Women’s National Republican Club in Midtown Manhattan, where the “No Nukes for Iran” forum was held.

“My friends, what we will see is a nuclearized Middle East,” said Mr. Graham of the deal’s implications, arguing it would extend well beyond Iran. “They view New York as a symbol of America. This is the place they would choose to hit us again if they could.”

Let us be clear: “Surrounded by two of the ‘three amigos'”? Sen. Graham (R-SC) is the third Amigo. This was a Three Amigo reunion. And they broke out a new version of an old classic. A nuclear nonproliferation treaty is bad because … here’s the new chorus, same as the old chorus.

But, yeah, other than the quirk, the important point is that it remains imperative to remember just how wrong these Three Amigos were.

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Image note: From left, Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham and former Senator Joseph I. Lieberman in New York on Monday. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Haberman, Maggie. “Lindsey Graham and Friends Join to Denounce Iran Deal”. First Draft. 20 July 2015.

Steinhauer, Jennifer. “Foreign Policy’s Bipartisan Trio Becomes Republican Duo”. The New York Times. 26 November 2012.

Gohmertology

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, joins House Republicans to speak during a news conference in opposition to the Supreme Court's Defense of Marrriage Act (DOMA) decision on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The note at the outset: This is Louie Gohmert we’re talking about.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) on Tuesday said that former President George W. Bush (R) may have gone about the Iraq invasion differently if he had known he would be succeeded in the White House by President Obama.

“Everybody else wants to ask that question about, ‘Gee, would you have gone into Iraq, you know, knowing what you know now?’ And I think if President Bush had known that he would have a total incompetent follow him — that would not even be able to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq, that would start helping our enemies and just totally put the Middle East in chaos — then he would have to think twice about doing anything if he had known he would have such a total incompetent leader take over after him. That should be the question,” Gohmert said in an interview with radio host John Fredericks, according to an audio clip highlighted by Right Wing Watch.

(MacNeal)

Those who remember the old Doonesbury joke about “future presidents” can try out their best fourth-frame smile; this is what it comes to. Nonetheless, we should recognize that the distinguished gentleman from Texas’ First Congressional District, Mr. Gohmert, is at the very least a team player.

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The Jeb Bush Show (I Wish My Brother George Was Here)

Then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks to reporters on the war on terror as his brother, then-President George W. Bush, looks on at the White House in 2006. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Over the course of about six weeks, Jeb Bush managed to take his obvious new pitch and grind it into dust. Starting with the idea of telling voters, “I am my own man” in February, the Republican half of our expected dynastic grudge match buried his own message in derisive laughter before March expired.

The problem, of course, is twofold. Cottage politics and pocket slates are what they are; the neoconservatives backing the Iraq Adventure during the previous Bush administration had been at it since Nixon sat in the Oval Office, and we have certainly seen famous names from the Clinton camp resurfacing in the Obama White House. During those six weeks, though, not only did Jeb Bush manage to surround himself with familiar hawks, he also managed to surround himself with other Bushes, leading to Steve Benen to quip, “After Jeb Bush turned to his mother, father, and brother to help raise money for his super PAC, I joked last week that the Republican might have to turn to Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Jeb’s son, for the next fundraising appeal. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it’s tough to joke about these guys.”

Watching the former Florida governor assemble the family’s foreign policy team, and the family for fundraising, most observers simply chuckle at the idea that he is so independent of his familial influences as he might otherwise claim. As such, the lede from Robert Costa and Matea Gold for the Washington Post verges on hilarity:

After spending months distancing himself from his family’s political legacy, Jeb Bush surprised a group of Manhattan financiers this week by naming his brother, former president George W. Bush, as his most influential counselor on U.S.-Israel policy.

And, really, what do you do with a paragraph like that?

Is there anything about that sentence that isn’t … you know … just … weird?

Let’s try it this way:

•After spending months [verbally, in sound-bites] distancing himself from his family’s political legacy [while assembling longtime Bush White House and campaign allies for the coming run], Jeb Bush surprised a group of [apparently naïve, or else supremely inattentive] Manhattan financiers this week by naming his brother, former president George W. Bush [who takes his foreign policy advice from God], as his most influential counselor on U.S.-Israel policy [since GWB’s foreign policy in the Middle East was so … er … ah … whatever].

Okay, you’re right. It isn’t funny.

Nor is Jeb Bush “his own man”, whatever the hell he expected we would think that to mean in the first place.

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Image note: Detail―Then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks to reporters on the war on terror as his brother, then-President George W. Bush, looks on at the White House in 2006. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Costa, Robert and Matea Gold. “One of Jeb Bush’s top advisers on Israel: George W. Bush”. The Washington Post. 7 May 2015.

Benen, Steve. “Jeb throws the ‘I am my own man’ pitch out the window”. msnbc. 1 April 2015.

A Matter of War and Peace

This would probably be a good time to pay attention to the news cycle:

Detail of cartoon by Randall Enos, 4 April 2015, via Cagle Post.For most independent experts, assessments of the preliminary framework tend to range from good to surprisingly good to astonishingly good. Among congressional Republicans, those parameters vary from bad to Neville Chamberlain to oh-God-oh-God-we’re-all-going-to-die levels of opposition.

The question, however, is not what GOP lawmakers intend to do; the now infamous “Iran letter” from 47 Senate Republicans already makes clear just how far the congressional majority will go to sabotage American foreign policy. Rather, the pressing matter at hand is whether Democrats will help the Republicans’ sabotage campaign.

(Benen)

It is easy enough to grasp the Republican position; this is about the New American Century, and an opportunity to create a new worldwide rivalry akin to the Cold War in the guise of a series of blazingly hot wars across the Middle East and into South Asia.

More mysterious is the Democratic motivation. In the face of Republican warmongering, we find ourselves wishing that just once the Democrats could actually go about their jobs with some degree of collective competence.

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Image noteDetail of cartoon by Randall Enos, 4 April 2015, via Cagle Post.

Benen, Steve. “To sabotage or not to sabotage, that is Congress’ question”. msnbc. 5 April 2015.

Arkansas? (Really?)

Arkansas

What the hell is wrong with Tom Cotton?

It would seem the Congressman from Arkansas’ Fourth Congressional District is so desperate for a U.S. Senate seat that he will aid and abet terrorism in order to do so.

Does that sound a little strange? Well enough; it ought to. Andrew Kaczynski brings the underlying lede:

An ad from Republican Arkansas Senate candidate Tom Cotton about his military experience and national security issues uses footage from an ISIS propaganda video as B-roll.

And Steve Benen brings the blistering critique:

In recent months, most of the Republicans incorporating ISIS propaganda into their commercials have relied on the ISIS video in which James Foley was murdered. Foley’s family has pleaded not to even watch the footage, but in a few cases, politicians on the right have ignored those wishes ....

Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR4), candidate for United States Senate, is willing to help Daa'ish in order to win..... I honestly never thought I’d see the day. Far-right politicians, eager to seem “tough” on terror, are deliberately putting terrorists’ propaganda on the air, on purpose, to advance their personal ambitions.

Keep in mind, there’s no shortage of available footage that the Republican campaign could have included in the commercial. There’s plenty of background video of combat in the Middle East, for example, which Cotton could have used to make the same point.

But, no. Cotton instead used ISIS propaganda, putting the same footage on the air that the terrorists want to see on the air.

And while Benen might wonder about who on the campaign thought this was a good idea, there is perhaps a more important question.

Really, Arkansas? This is okay with you?

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