Saudi Arabia

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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Neither Insignificant Nor Unexpected

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Special Counsel Robert Mueller (AP Photo)

The lede from Associated Press is not insignificant, but it is also expected:

Investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller have interviewed one of President Donald Trump’s closest friends and confidants, California real estate investor Tom Barrack, The Associated Press has learned.

Barrack was interviewed as part of the federal investigation of possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations . . . .

. . . .One of the people who spoke to AP said the questioning focused entirely on two officials from Trump’s campaign who have been indicted by Mueller: Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s longtime deputy, Rick Gates. Gates agreed to plead guilty to federal conspiracy and false-statement charges in February and began cooperating with investigators.

This person said Barrack was interviewed “months ago” and was asked a few questions about Gates’ work on Trump’s inaugural committee, which Barrack chaired, and but there were no questions about the money raised by that committee.

A second person with knowledge of the Barrack interview said the questioning was broader and did include financial matters about the campaign, the transition and Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.

If the question is what Barrack’s interview means in the larger scheme, the fact of the interview itself is expected in part because of his proximity to candidate- and then President Trump, but also for his connection to convicted felon Rick Gates, which includes helping him gain access to the White House. And if the unsurprising news is not insignificant, we need only stick the proverbial pin and stay tuned.

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Just Another One of Those Things No Republican Has the Courage to Answer For

#WhatTheyComplainedAbout | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. President Donald Trump dances with a sword as he arrives to a welcome ceremony by Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at Al Murabba Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017. (Photo: Thomson/Reuters)

“The announcement that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will donate money to her fund was a ‘pay to play’ far more blatant than anything Hillary Clinton ever dreamed of.”

Anne Applebaum

The lack of complaint from Republicans and Trump supporters about the sort of thing they usually complain about is, historically speaking, precisely unsurprising.

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Image note: U.S. President Donald Trump dances with a sword as he arrives to a welcome ceremony by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at Al Murabba Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 20 May 2017. (Photo: Thomson/Reuters)

Appelbaum, Anne. “Trump’s bizarre and un-American visit to Saudi Arabia”. The Washington Post. 21 May 2017.

The Ben Carson Show (Phenomenon)

Source photos: Ben Carson announces his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, 5 May 2015 (Paul Sancya/AP). A biblical inscription is chiseled into the wall of Ben Carson's home, with 'proverbs' spelled incorrectly (Mark Makela/The Guardian, 2014).

Tom McCarthy tries to explain the Ben Carson phenomenon for The Guardian:

He is more than an American success story, brilliant brain surgeon and bestselling author of 10 Christian-themed books. He has also coined some of the most outlandish statements ever uttered on the national stage, a purveyor of bizarre conspiracy theories and a provocateur who compares abortion to slavery and same-sex marriage to pedophilia.

This week, Carson restated his belief that the pyramids were built by the biblical Joseph to store grain, and not by Egyptians to entomb their kings. He believes that Vladimir Putin, Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Abbas attended school together in Moscow in 1968. He believes that Jews with firearms might have been able to stop the Holocaust, that he personally could stop a mass shooting, that the Earth was created in six days and that Osama bin Laden enjoyed Saudi protection after 9/11.

The Carson conundrum is not fully captured by a list of his eccentric beliefs, however. He also confounds the traditional demographics of US politics, in which national African American political figures are meant to be Democrats. Not only is Carson a Republican – he is a strong conservative on both social and economic issues, opposing abortion including in cases of rape and incest, and framing welfare programs as a scheme to breed dependence and win votes.

He has visited the riot zones of Ferguson and Baltimore but offered little compassion for black urban poor populations who feel oppressed by mostly white police forces.

Even Carson’s core appeal as a Christian evangelical is complicated by the fact that he is a lifelong adherent to a relatively small sect, the Seventh-Day Adventist church, whose celebration of the sabbath on Saturday instead of Sunday and denial of the doctrine of hell have drawn accusations of heresy from other mainstream Christian groups.

That last probably plays more strongly with the British audience; in the United States, Christian is as Christian does; Dr. Carson’s penchant for false witness and exclusionary, judgmental scorn are his own ad hoc iteration of faith, shot through with neurotic self-contradiction as it struggles to justify his self-centered pretense of humility. If one seeks strangeness about the SDA experience in general, it is a different phenomenon.

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Your Congress at War … With Itself … Again

Detail: Morning rises over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., 11 March 2014.  Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

The setup: Remember how Republicans used to denounce President Obama as a “king” and lamented his unprecedented executive power?

Can we try laying on thick? Remember how Republicans and Democrats alike handed President Bush what essentially amounted to perpetual war powers?

Now, remember: President Obama is currently operating in the Iraqi-Syrian theatre, against Daa’ish, under authority granted by the Authorization for Use of Military Force granted President Bush in 2001 to fight Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and, apparently, everyone else in Iraq.

We might also remember some back and forth in there about the fact that it is Congress who grants war powers to the president, yet it was also Congress who wanted President Obama to march down to Capitol Hill with a plan that satisfies their desire to send our troops to war.

So President Obama did just that. Well, at least, the marching down with a plan part.

And of course, Republicans are upset that he did so.

Steve Benen tries to explain an emerging, familiar theme―

In terms of the politics of the AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Military Force), the president’s language was not well received on Capitol Hill – many Democrats said the resolution, as written, is too broad and includes too few restrictions, while most Republicans said it’s too narrow and includes too many restrictions. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), demonstrating his trademark wit, called the proposed language “utterly stupid.”

The dynamic has annoying familiarity to it:

1. Congress demanded to President Obama, “Send us a resolution!”

2. President Obama responded, “Fine, here’s proposed language.”

3. Congress then declared, “We don’t like this resolution!”

Perhaps now would be a good time to remind lawmakers that they could have – at some point over the last six months – worked on writing their own language to consider. Perhaps “legislators writing legislative language” would have been too obvious.

―except this time there is a twist:

… pay particular attention to the detail about Obama putting an expiration date on the resolution – something that didn’t happen in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

As near as anyone can tell, Republicans appear to be upset that the war powers request is mission-specific and has an expiration date requiring renewal after three years. Benen points to his msnbc colleague David Taintor:

Former Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, who is eyeing a White House bid in 2016, criticized Obama’s resolution as too limited.

“All options need to be on the table in combating this Radical Islamic threat,” Santorum said in a statement distributed by his Patriot Voices PAC. “We need to take the fight to our enemy without the constraints this Administration is proactively placing upon itself and this President’s successor. The next President needs to be able to have all the tools at their disposal to not just conduct military operations, but win this war.”

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who is also considering a White House bid, said Obama’s war proposal need only be one sentence. “I would say there is a pretty simple authorization he could ask for, and it would read one sentence. And that is: ‘We authorize the President to defeat and destroy ISIL, period.’ And that’s, I think, what we need to do,” Rubio said Wednesday in a speech on the Senate floor.

Those who preach that there is no difference between the parties should take a moment to explain this one: Democrats are concerned that the AUMF request is too vague and will license widespread warfare. Republicans are upset that the AUMF fails to demand either widespread or perpetual warfare.

No difference at all, there, eh?

Here we go. Iiiiiiiiiiit’s wartiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime!

(Those who might remind as we did above that our troops are already engaged in this war might also wish to take a note; previously, the U.S. was merely fighting this war, and now we are preparing to officially commit to it. And given that our response to 9/11 and its connections to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen was to invade Iraq, one wonders if maybe Republicans might actually be hoping for another petition to perpetual warfare. After all, in matters of war and peace, or life and death, it’s important to keep the really important things in mind, like posturing for the 2016 election. No, seriously, just think about what’s happening; a president with a Nobel Peace Prize is asking to go to war and Republicans are pitching a fit because it’s not a big enough war.)

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Benen, Steve. “Congress balks at war resolution it didn’t want to write”. msnbc. 12 February 2015.

Taintor, David. “Obama asks for new war powers: ISIS is ‘going to lose'”. msnbc. 11 February 2015.

A Point We Probably Need to Bear in Mind

It is not so much that somebody had to say it, but that concomitant sadness in expecting that nobody will actually care. Or, you know, get it.

No, seriously. There really is an important point in there.