FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Prez Pans Saudi Shocker, Stays Mum On Mass-Murder Prequel

Photo Source The White House | CC BY 2.0

There should be a simple rule for Trump commentary: Every criticism of his actions should be placed in historical context by citing any other politicians, in Washington and elsewhere, who have done similar things. Appoint a hostile administrator to gut the EPA? Reagan did that, and her son now sits on the Supreme Court. Racist rhetoric? See Nixon, Richard and George H. W. Bush’s Willie Horton ad. Promote a bloated military budget? Most politicians in Washington went along with Trump’s latest request, and threw in billions he didn’t even ask for.

I try to keep my Trump-only critiques to a minimum, for four reasons:

+ Everybody knows he’s an asshole. No news value there.

+ Everybody’s knocking Trump. It’s a trend. It’s like the 1970s, when everyone started recording disco tracks, or the 1990s, when everyone went country. Don’t follow the herd, I say.

+ Most Trump criticism is a distraction from the systemic political and oligarchical failures that gave us Trump in the first place.

+ The tendency to characterize Trump as not only horrible, but uniquely horrible, contributes to our national amnesia regarding the other monsters in the American id — some of whom still walk among us.

On that last point: Despite his newfound popularity among Democrats, George W. Bush’s body count vastly surpasses Trump’s — at least so far. Who knew that handing a favorite personality a piece of candywas all it took to rehabilitate a war criminal? Abu Ghraib, torture, spying on American citizens, Dick Cheney: all forgotten in one Hallmark moment.

What used to be called “living memory” — the recollection of events most of us have personally lived through — is barely on life support nowadays.

Prez Pans Saudi Shocker

I was compelled to break my own rule today, however, when I read Trump’s latest comment about the Saudi cover-up of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. The President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the largest military force in human history reportedly said the following:

“They had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly, and the cover-up was one of the worst in the history of cover-ups. Very simple. Bad deal, should have never been thought of.”

That’s showbiz lingo as practiced by amateurs. It’s the way Hollywood wannabes sound when they’re talking too loudly during a movie at the Arclight Cinema in Hollywood. Style notes aside, Trump’s review of the Saudi murder show was an unequivocal two thumbs down. Once the other world leaders have filed their reviews we can check ‘em out on Rotten Tomatoes.

In the meantime, Trump isn’t wrong. The Khashoggi cover-up was a bad concept, and it was carried out poorly. If Trump is frustrated about that, he almost certainly has good reason to be. He has well-documented financial ties to Saudi Arabia — much better documented, in fact, than any ties to Russia — and he’d undoubtedly love to sweep this whole ugly matter under the faux-bearskin rug as soon as possible.

Town Without Pity

But — and keeping item #4, above, in mind — there are a lot of people here in Washington who’d like to bury the Khashoggi matter just as much as Trump would. This town is awash in Saudi cash. It props up “bipartisan” national security think tanks, funds research, and some of the “experts” you may have seen on cable TV.

That’s not new information. The New York Times documented the foreign funding of think tanks in 2014, with Saudi government money going to the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Middle East Institute.  Comments from one expert, quoted by Vox’s Max Fisher, demonstrate exactly what that money buys:

“’I could write about Saudi sectarianism, but then I might lose some money,'” the expert said, explaining the thoughts a Gulf-funded scholar might have. “‘I could write about UAE human rights abuses, but, you know, there are abuses everywhere, and there are a million other things I can write about.'”

The King and Us

Worse, to criticize Saudi brutality is to risk the enmity of the United States government, which has backed it under both parties. The Obama Administration’s support for the Saudis’ humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen was continued and intensified under Trump. The horror has grown even worse.

A child dies every ten minutes in Yemen, which means one probably died while you were reading these words. Nearly half of all children aged between six months and 5 years old are chronically malnourished and stunted, conditions that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

And that’s just the children. (More statistics here.)

Only one thing could make the Saudi/think tank story even worse: That’s right, it’s Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook announced last May that it’s “partnering” with one of those Saudi-funded think tanks, the Atlantic Council, to censor political speech on its platform. (They don’t put it quite that way, but that’s what they mean.)

Conscience and Cocktails

The insiders who are genuinely outraged by Khashoggi’s murder — and who weren’t outraged before — don’t deserve much credit. What does it say about the empathy of our elites when they are unmoved by the deaths of children, and can only summon emotion when the brutality extends to someone they might have met at a cocktail party?

It’s useful hypocrisy, I suppose, if it can be used to muster support for ending US involvement in Yemen. But there’s not much chance of that.

Michael J. Glennon, professor of international law at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, explained why bad foreign policy remains largely unchanged from administration to administration. In his book, “National Security and Double Government,”

Glennon characterizes the “several hundred officials” who shape that policy as answerable to no one and indifferent to the consequences and costs of a metastasizing military machine. Glennon writes that their “dynamic” promotes “encourages the exaggeration of existing threats and the creation of imaginary ones.”

Those officials like things the way they are, and they set the rules politicians must follow — unless they’re brave.

No wonder a “bipartisan” Congress gave the Pentagon billions of dollars more than the Trump administration had asked for — with yes votes from a lot of “Resistance” heroes. That may explain the course of action Trump says he plans to take regarding Saudi Arabia.

“In terms of what we ultimately do,” Trump said, “I’m going to leave it very much — in conjunction with me — up to Congress.”

A Full Investigation

When my broadcast team and I released a secretly-recorded audio tape of Trump speaking at a June, 2017 fundraiser, I wondered in The Intercept why Trump had “waded heavily into an ongoing confrontation involving Saudi Arabia and its allies on one side and Qatar on the other” and suggested further investigations into Trump’s financial dealings with Saudi Arabia.

There was one problem with that idea: The national security establishment wants to protect its relationships with Saudi Arabia, and it wants to escalate tensions with Russia. Predictably, Trump’s Russia ties have received widespread coverage and investigation, while his Saudi ties have gone all but unremarked.

Now, Trump is reportedly sending CIA Director Gina Haspel to help with the investigation — because, when it comes to uncovering the truth about a state’s brutal actions, who has more credibility than someone who participated in an illegal torture program and systematically destroyed evidence?

Haspel would never have become CIA director if President Obama had not chosen to ignore evidence of war crimes by proclaiming, “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” (Until we develop “minority report” technology — you can be sure they’re working on it right now — that statement would make it impossible to investigate any crime.)

Concept and Execution

Nobody ever expected the Saudi’s cover story to be plausible. It wasn’t meant to be believed, at least by anyone familiar with foreign policy. But it needed to be a simulacrum of plausibility, something official-sounding and obfuscating enough to provide cover for the DC establishment as the money spigot was re-opened. Unfortunately, their story is so preposterous — a “bad original concept” that was indeed “carried out poorly”— that it’s likely to take some time before the cash can start flowing again.

Given the gravity of the horror and the enormity of the crime, it could take as long as six weeks.

No wonder the Saudi story got such a bad review. Trump, and the entire city of Washington, was hoping for a halfway decent performance on opening night. But, when the curtain rose, the Saudis did the same thing on the world stage that they’ve been doing in Yemen for years:

They bombed.

More articles by:

Richard (RJ) Eskow is the host of the Zero Hour and a former adviser to the campaign of Bernie Sanders. He is a senior fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future. @rjeskow.

November 15, 2018
Kenneth Surin
Ukania: the Land Where the Queen’s Son Has His Shoelaces Ironed by His Valet
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Spraying Poisons, Chasing Ghosts
Anthony DiMaggio
In the Wake of the Blue Wave: the Midterms, Recounts, and the Future of Progressive Politics
Christopher Ketcham
Build in a Fire Plain, Get What You Deserve
Meena Miriam Yust
Today It’s Treasure Island, Tomorrow Your Neighborhood Store: Could Local Currencies Help?
Karl Grossman
Climate of Rage
Walter Clemens
How Two Demagogues Inspired Their Followers
Brandon Lee
Radical Idealism: Jesus and the Radical Tradition
Kim C. Domenico
An Anarchist Uprising Against the Liberal Ego
Elliot Sperber
Pythagoras in Queens
November 14, 2018
Charles Pierson
Unstoppable: The Keystone XL Oil Pipeline and NAFTA
Sam Bahour
Israel’s Mockery of Security: 101 Actions Israel Could Take
Cesar Chelala
How a Bad Environment Impacts Children’s Health
George Ochenski
What Tester’s Win Means
Louisa Willcox
Saving Romania’s Brown Bears, Sharing Lessons About Coxistence, Conservation
George Wuerthner
Alternatives to Wilderness?
Robert Fisk
Izzeldin Abuelaish’s Three Daughters were Killed in Gaza, But He Still Clings to Hope for the Middle East
Dennis Morgan
For What?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Government is Our Teacher
Bill Martin
The Trump Experiment: Liberals and Leftists Unhinged and Around the Bend
Rivera Sun
After the Vote: An Essay of the Man from the North
Jamie McConnell
Allowing Asbestos to Continue Killing
Thomas Knapp
Talkin’ Jim Acosta Hard Pass Blues: Is White House Press Access a Constitutional Right?
Bill Glahn
Snow Day
November 13, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Midterm Results are Challenging Racism in America in Unexpected Ways
Victor Grossman
Germany on a Political Seesaw
Cillian Doyle
Fictitious Assets, Hidden Losses and the Collapse of MDM Bank
Lauren Smith
Amnesia and Impunity Reign: Wall Street Celebrates Halliburton’s 100th Anniversary
Joe Emersberger
Moreno’s Neoliberal Restoration Proceeds in Ecuador
Carol Dansereau
Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity
Dave Lindorff
Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time
Dan Corjescu
Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge
Patrick Bond
Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg
Ed Meek
The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext
Binoy Kampmark
Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power
November 12, 2018
Kerron Ó Luain
Poppy Fascism and the English Education System
Conn Hallinan
Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon
Robert Hunziker
Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia
John W. Whitehead
Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans
Will Griffin
Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class
John Eskow
Harold Pinter’s America: Hard Truths and Easy Targets
Rob Okun
Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take
Dean Baker
Short-Term Health Insurance Plans Destroy Insurance Pools
George Wuerthner
Saving the Buffalohorn/Porcupine: the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail