A belated turning point in America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia?

Susan Glasser writes:

In an era when Trump’s tweets and constant commentary produce news cycles of shorter and shorter duration, the Khashoggi affair may turn out to be the longest-running Washington plotline of this midterm-election season. The Times’ revelation that Trump was a decades-long tax cheat came and went. The September plea deal by Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort receded from the headlines. The national uproar over allegations of sexual misconduct by the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh lasted just under three weeks. Yet here we are, a full seventeen days and counting as I write this, with no end in sight as the Trump Administration blusters and blunders about in a search, so far unsuccessful, for a way to end the saga that does not involve a serious rupture with an ally central to its entire Mideast strategy.

I’m not surprised by Washington’s obsession with the story: it’s the Trump Presidency distilled to its morally compromising, press-bashing, truth-denying essence. At a time when many question American leadership in the world, Trump’s combination of credulity and cynicism in response to the brutal murder of a dissident who sought refuge here gives the world’s bad guys yet another reason to cheer. Even many Republicans in Congress are furious at Trump, with the senators Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio reëmerging as the tribunes of American virtue that they used to be, demanding Trump take tough action against the Saudis in response. Chris Murphy, the Democratic senator from Connecticut, told me that this particular outrage, in a world full of them, has resonated because “it’s a spy thriller, a page-turner.” He believes that dynamic will continue. Of the Saudis, he said, “Every day that goes by they don’t try to explain what happened is another day their credibility starts to evaporate in Congress.”

Already, it’s clear on Capitol Hill that American politics toward Saudi Arabia have shifted dramatically. In May of Trump’s first year in office, when I talked with Murphy about his efforts to get Congress to sanction Saudi Arabia over its brutal war in neighboring Yemen, Murphy’s was a lonely fight. Now it’s a bipartisan consensus. “I’m mad and frustrated that it took the murder of one journalist for people to start paying attention to the murder of thousands of civilians inside Yemen, but still I see this as a belated turning point in our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Murphy told me on Thursday. “I don’t put it outside the realm of possibility that the Saudis pull a rabbit out of a hat, but right now I don’t see how Congress continues to approve arms sales or maintain its unconditional approval for the war in Yemen.” If the Democrats take control of one or both houses of Congress next month, Murphy and others I spoke with expect more fallout, including investigations of Trump’s business interests with the Saudis (the President falsely claimed to have none at all, in one of the week’s more brazen tweets) and the extensive dealings between Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the Saudi prince known as M.B.S., with whom Kushner has so famously bonded. [Continue reading…]

Trump allies reveal their sympathies with Saudi butchers

The Washington Post reports:

Hard-line Republicans and conservative commentators are mounting a whispering campaign against Jamal Khashoggi that is designed to protect President Trump from criticism of his handling of the dissident journalist’s alleged murder by operatives of Saudi Arabia — and support Trump’s continued aversion to a forceful response to the oil-rich desert kingdom.

In recent days, a cadre of conservative House Republicans allied with Trump has been privately exchanging articles from right-wing outlets that fuel suspicion of Khashoggi, highlighting his association with the Muslim Brotherhood in his youth and raising conspiratorial questions about his work decades ago as an embedded reporter covering Osama bin Laden, according to four GOP officials involved in the discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Those aspersions — which many lawmakers have been wary of stating publicly because of the political risks of doing so — have begun to flare into public view as conservative media outlets have amplified the claims, which are aimed in part at protecting Trump as he works to preserve the U.S.-Saudi relationship and avoid confronting the Saudis on human rights.

Trump’s remarks about reporters amid the Khashoggi fallout have inflamed existing tensions between his allies and the media. At a Thursday rally in Montana, Trump openly praised Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) for assaulting a reporter in his bid for Congress last year.

“Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of — he’s my guy,” Trump said.

Hours earlier, prominent conservative television personalities were making insinuations about Khashoggi’s background.

“Khashoggi was tied to the Muslim Brotherhood,” Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner asserted on Thursday’s highly rated “Outnumbered” show. “I just put it out there because it is in the constellation of things that are being talked about.” Faulkner then dismissed another guest who called her claim “iffy.”

The message was echoed on the campaign trail. Virginia Republican Corey A. Stewart, who is challenging Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), told a local radio program Thursday that “Khashoggi was not a good guy himself.”

While Khashoggi was once sympathetic to Islamist movements, he moved toward a more liberal, secular point of view, according to experts on the Middle East who have tracked his career. Khashoggi knew bin Laden in the 1980s and 1990s during the civil war in Afghanistan, but his interactions with bin Laden were as a journalist with a point of view who was working with a prized source.

Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen, left his home country last year and was granted residency in the United States by federal authorities. He lived in Virginia and wrote for The Washington Post.

Nevertheless, the smears have escalated. Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son and key political booster, shared another person’s tweet last week with his millions of followers that included a line that Khashoggi was “tooling around Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden” in the 1980s, even though the context was a feature story on bin Laden’s activities. [Continue reading…]

The nature of a whispering campaign is that it hinges on insinuation and the insinuation here is that Khashoggi got what was coming to him. Of course, none of Trump’s minions have the audacity to spell out what they are implying. Moreover, given Trump’s moral depravity and that of those aligned to him, the more specific implication in their apologism for the Saudis is that the treatment of the man they murdered was only unwarranted in that it went too far.

Trump is an unapologetic advocate for the use of torture, so perhaps he would have had few qualms if Khashoggi’s butchers had merely cut off his fingers without decapitating him.

As for those who opt to push back against this smear campaign by defending the victim’s journalistic integrity and his commitment to democracy, it’s a defense that obfuscates the real issue: no human being on this planet deserves to be treated with the extraordinary brutality exercised by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s henchmen.

As Khashoggi crisis grows, Saudi king asserts authority, checking son’s power

Reuters reports:

So grave is the fallout from the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi that King Salman has felt compelled to intervene, five sources with links to the Saudi royal family said.

Last Thursday, Oct. 11, the king dispatched his most trusted aide, Prince Khaled al-Faisal, governor of Mecca, to Istanbul to try to defuse the crisis.

World leaders were demanding an explanation and concern was growing in parts of the royal court that the king’s son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to whom he has delegated vast powers, was struggling to contain the fallout, the sources said.

During Prince Khaled’s visit, Turkey and Saudi Arabia agreed to form a joint working group to investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance. The king subsequently ordered the Saudi public prosecutor to open an inquiry based on its findings.

“The selection of Khaled, a senior royal with high status, is telling as he is the king’s personal adviser, his right hand man and has had very strong ties and a friendship with (Turkish President) Erdogan,” said a Saudi source with links to government circles. [Continue reading…]

The Global Magnitsky Act and why U.S. senators are invoking this on Saudi Arabia

 

Jordan Tama writes:

Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi has not been seen since he entered a Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2, prompting widespread rumors that the Saudi government is behind his disappearance. A bipartisan group of 11 Democratic and 11 Republican senators sent a letter to President Trump this week, calling for an investigation and a determination of whether to impose sanctions on foreign government officials because of Khashoggi’s reported disappearance, “including with respect to the highest ranking officials in the Government of Saudi Arabia.”

The letter, signed by all but one member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was drafted pursuant to a 2016 law — the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act — that requires the president to decide within 120 days whether to impose the requested sanctions.

And that creates a problem for Trump: He may be in the awkward position of having to choose explicitly between sanctioning a favorite foreign partner — the Saudi royal family — and flouting the bipartisan will of Congress. Here’s what you need to know: [Continue reading…]

Justice Dept. charges Russian woman with interference in midterm elections

The Washington Post reports:

The Justice Department announced Friday it had charged a Russian woman who prosecutors say conspired to interfere with the 2018 U.S. election, marking the first criminal case that accuses a foreign national of interfering in the upcoming midterms.

Elena Khusyaynova, 44, was charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. Prosecutors said she managed the finances of “Project Lakhta,” a foreign influence operation they said was designed “to sow discord in the U.S. political system” by pushing arguments and misinformation online about a host of divisive political issues, including immigration, the Confederate flag, gun control and the National Football League protests during the national anthem.

The charges against Khusyaynova came just as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence warned that it was concerned about “ongoing campaigns” by Russia, China and Iran to interfere with the upcoming midterm elections and the 2020 race — an ominous message just weeks before voters head to the polls. [Continue reading…]

Prepare for disappointment with Mueller report

Politico reports:

President Donald Trump’s critics have spent the past 17 months anticipating what some expect will be among the most thrilling events of their lives: special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report on Russian 2016 election interference.

They may be in for a disappointment.

That’s the word POLITICO got from defense lawyers working on the Russia probe and more than 15 former government officials with investigation experience spanning Watergate to the 2016 election case. The public, they say, shouldn’t expect a comprehensive and presidency-wrecking account of Kremlin meddling and alleged obstruction of justice by Trump — not to mention an explanation of the myriad subplots that have bedeviled lawmakers, journalists and amateur Mueller sleuths.

Perhaps most unsatisfying: Mueller’s findings may never even see the light of day. [Continue reading…]

Inciting violence: Following murder of journalist, Trump praises physical assaults on reporters

The New York Times reports:

President Trump praised a Republican candidate’s assault last year on a reporter and fumed over his Democratic opponents here on Thursday night in a freewheeling rally meant to mobilize his base’s support in the coming midterm elections.

In urging the crowd to vote for Representative Greg Gianforte, who is running for re-election and who was sentenced to anger management classes and community service for assaulting a reporter last spring, Mr. Trump jokingly warned the crowd to “never wrestle him.”

“I had heard he body-slammed a reporter,” Mr. Trump said, noting that he was initially concerned that Mr. Gianforte would lose in a special election last May. “I said, ‘Wait a minute. I know Montana pretty well; I think it might help him.’ And it did.”

“Anybody that can do a body-slam,” the president added, “that’s my kind of guy.”

Mr. Trump made no mention at the rally of Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist and columnist for The Washington Post, who disappeared this month after visiting the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. United States intelligence officials say Mr. Khashoggi was most likely killed by Saudi officials.

Backlash against the president over his attacks on the news media and over his administration’s mild response to allegations that the Saudi government orchestrated the killing has been swift.

The Guardian U.S., which employs the reporter whom Mr. Gianforte body-slammed, issued a statement on Thursday night after Mr. Trump finished speaking. [Continue reading…]

Trump’s failure to fight climate change is a crime against humanity

Jeffrey Sachs writes:

President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and others who oppose action to address human-induced climate change should be held accountable for climate crimes against humanity. They are the authors and agents of systematic policies that deny basic human rights to their own citizens and people around the world, including the rights to life, health, and property. These politicians have blood on their hands, and the death toll continues to rise.

Trump remains in willful denial of the thousands of deaths caused by his government’s inept, under-funded, and under-motivated response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year. The image that will remain in history is of the President gleefully throwing paper towels for a photo op as the people of Puerto Rico around him suffered and died of neglect. Last month, Hurricane Florence claimed at least 48 deaths, with more likely to come in its aftermath. This past week Hurricane Michael has claimed at least 32 lives, with more than a thousand people reportedly still missing. The final death toll will likely soar in the months ahead as the residual consequences of the storm become more clear.

As the Earth warms due to the continued burning of coal, oil, and gas, climate-related disasters that include high-intensity hurricanes, floods, droughts, extreme precipitation, forest fires, and heat waves, pose rising dangers to life and property. Hurricanes become more destructive as warmer ocean waters feed more energy to the storms. Warmer air also carries more moisture for devastating rainfalls, while rising sea levels lead to more flooding.

Yet Trump and his minions are the loyal servants of the fossil-fuel industry, which fill Republican party campaign coffers. Trump has also stalled the fight against climate change by pulling out of the Paris Agreement. The politicians thereby deprive the people of their lives and property out of profound cynicism, greed, and willful scientific ignorance. [Continue reading…]

Jamal Khashoggi: What the Arab world needs most is free expression

In the last column that Jamal Khashoggi submitted to the Washington Post, he wrote:

I was recently online looking at the 2018 “Freedom in the World” report published by Freedom House and came to a grave realization. There is only one country in the Arab world that has been classified as “free.” That nation is Tunisia. Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait come second, with a classification of “partly free.” The rest of the countries in the Arab world are classified as “not free.”

As a result, Arabs living in these countries are either uninformed or misinformed. They are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives. A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative. Sadly, this situation is unlikely to change.

The Arab world was ripe with hope during the spring of 2011. Journalists, academics and the general population were brimming with expectations of a bright and free Arab society within their respective countries. They expected to be emancipated from the hegemony of their governments and the consistent interventions and censorship of information. These expectations were quickly shattered; these societies either fell back to the old status quo or faced even harsher conditions than before.

My dear friend, the prominent Saudi writer Saleh al-Shehi, wrote one of the most famous columns ever published in the Saudi press. He unfortunately is now serving an unwarranted five-year prison sentence for supposed comments contrary to the Saudi establishment. The Egyptian government’s seizure of the entire print run of a newspaper, al-Masry al Youm, did not enrage or provoke a reaction from colleagues. These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence. [Continue reading…]

Why King Salman must replace M.B.S.

Madawi al-Rasheed writes:

Thanks to the actions of the impetuous Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — from the brutal war in Yemen to picking a fight with Canada to, most recently, the apparent murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi — Saudi Arabia is at risk of becoming a pariah state. The royal court in Riyadh — including King Salman bin Abdulaziz — surely realizes that this situation cannot continue.

If they are smart they will take decisive action. First, King Salman needs to remove Prince Mohammed from his post, admit responsibility for the assassination of Mr. Khashoggi, and face consequences. Later, if Saudi Arabia truly wants to become a respected member of the international community, the government should take steps toward becoming a constitutional monarchy.

The idea that King Salman would replace his son, also known as M.B.S., with a less boisterous and erratic crown prince might appear unrealistic — but it has precedents. If it is the will of the king, dismissing a crown prince is not very difficult or controversial. King Salman already sacked two crown princes when he became king in 2015: his half brother, Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz and his nephew, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. They were both sidelined by royal decree.

But there is a more useful historical example when we consider M.B.S.: In the 1960s, King Saud bin Abdulaziz became an embarrassment to the royal family as he plundered wealth, plotted to assassinate Arab leaders such as Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, and later waved the flag of anti-imperialism and Arab nationalism. [Continue reading…]