Posts Tagged ‘Saudi Arabia’

BLOOD MONEY

In J.C. Duffy’s October 20 comic panel “The Fusco Brothers,” a waitress asks a brother, “How did you get hold of a kid’s menu?” Answer: “You’d be surprised how easy it is to overpower a 10-year-old.” There went the lame Saudi excuse about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Saudis first denied Khashoggi was murdered. Then they claimed he got into a fistfight and died from a chokehold. A 60-year-old man duking it out with 15 security men? The excuse was laughable—except to Donald Trump. But then, Trump thought a 400-lb. guy lying in his bed may have hacked Democratic National Committee emails preceding the 2016 election. Finally, the Saudis conceded the murder—a rogue operation—was premeditated.

Still, what’s wrong with violence against journalists? At a Montana rally, Trump supported Representative Greg Gianforte, who body-slammed journalist Ben Jacobs in May 2017 and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault.“ Any guy who can do a body slam, he’s my kinda guy.”

Yesterday morning, Trump tweeted about pipe bombs sent to the Clintons, Barack Obama, others and CNN: “A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News.” There’s a reason for pipe bombs. Maybe the suspect arrested this morning, Cesar Sayoc Jr., will enlighten us.

Re Khashoggi, Trump was not required to jump to conclusions and demand the ouster of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Sultan (MBS), Saudi’s de facto ruler. But he didhave to publiclyproject America’s concern about the U.S.-Saudi relationship. And mean it.

Trump hedged. So did investment managers who attended MBS’ three-day global investment conference in Riyadh. Some prominent Americans bowed out. They included treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin (who nonetheless went to Riyadh), the CEOs of Blackstone Group, JPMorgan Chase, and American, British and Dutch officials. Attendees remained hungry to do business. Many also seemed embarrassed. Alan Rappeport wrote in The New York Times (October 23): “Bankers kept their name tags obscured behind ties.”

But not too embarrassed. According to Rappeport, Tally Zingher, chief executive of Dawsat, a healthcare start-up, “considered not attending, but decided that she was not prominent enough to make a statement by skipping the conference.” Michael Slater of Northern Trust (disclosure: I wrote marketing pieces for Northern Trust years ago), said of the murder, “It’s just noise to me. The people I need to see are here, and that’s what I care about.” Deals made amounted to tens of billions of dollars.

The Khashoggi murder also seems to be noise to Trump. While acknowledging a serious cover-up, he refrains from halting arms sales of $110 billion to the Kingdom and withdrawing our support from its civilian-targeting war in Yemen. At stake: security (it’s against Iranian proxies), corporate profits (political support) and jobs (votes). To Trump, now a self-proclaimed “nationalist” with its dog-whistle implications, American interests come down to money. That includes blood money.

The world can be nasty. Accordingly, Washington often allies with nations of questionable—or horrible—political and human rights records. But presidents engaged in realpolitik still must advocate principles of law and decency and push nations to achieve them. Otherwise, like Lady Macbeth, they’ll never clean the blood off their hands—and ours.

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IRAN: NOW WHAT?

The Iran deal is done—at least until Congress votes on it. President Obama will veto a “no” vote, and overriding that veto will be difficult. So what lies ahead? We can only speculate. But I do have a warning.

First, let’s look at some possibilities. We’ve bought time, but following the ten-year agreement, Iran—unless a younger generation abandons revolution—may rush to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran’s holding a nuclear threat over Israel, the Middle East and American policy is unsettling. Some think tank inhabitants believe we can live with a nuclear Iran. Until we get there, it’s all theory.

Before the agreement ends—perhaps well before—Sunni Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and perhaps Egypt, may seek to develop their own nuclear weapons. Make no mistake. A proxy war in the Middle East now pits Shiite Iran against Sunni Saudi Arabia. Yet nations have much in common. They’re Muslim. They fund extremists. And they consider each other apostates.

Regrettably, lifting sanctions and unfreezing Iranian assets will enable Tehran to fund more terrorism, increasing its backing for the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shiite groups in the Gulf and probably Hamas in Gaza. President Obama admittedly focused solely on the nuclear issue. We have our work cut out.

Now let’s examine reality. Peter Beinart—a liberal who supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq then later saw its folly—rejects the theory of American omnipotence (The Atlantic online, July 14). We may be the world’s most powerful nation, but power is relative. We cannot dictate terms to other nations which, while not as strong as us, are formidable regional powers capable of great harm. The administration of George W. Bush set out to remake the Middle East with the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein. Lovely theory. Ugly results.

Unfortunately, saber rattling comes easy. Restraint—particularly when the United States is so potent militarily—poses a major challenge to those who think we can use force with impunity. (Side bar: we are friendly with Vietnam following a war, which cost us more than 58,000 lives; there’s always hope.) Sober commentators like Roger Cohen (New York Times, July 16) point out that the Iran deal does not bring us into the best of all possible worlds. But no one offers a better alternative.

What would have happened had we foregone deal making and ratcheted up sanctions? Would Iran really have given up its quest for the bomb? Remember the bomb drawing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu held up at the United Nations in September 2012? Although tough sanctions were in place, Iran was thisclose. But Bibi and his cabinet didn’t unleash the Israeli Air Force.

Look, I’m no pal of the ayatollahs. They and the Republican Guard are odious hate mongers. Their anti-Israel and anti-America rhetoric constitutes a thin ploy to distract Iranians from their deprivation of human rights and Iran’s regional aggression. But Peter Beinart correctly notes the limits of American power and the delusional nature of “American exceptionalism”—to wit, we know it all and can do no wrong.

I’m glad the White House hasn’t trumpeted “peace in our time.” And I hope that the deal’s critics won’t advocate, “nuke the bastards.” The future is murky. Living with uncertainty is a rough challenge. Get used to it.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—July sale priced at $15 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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RED LINES

It used to be called drawing a line in the sand. You can go this far someone would say, and no farther. Political negotiations for territory produced maps and lines in red to mark borders. This is mine. That is yours. Today, establishing a red line equates to warning other nations or groups not to undertake certain actions—or else. But such a statement produces difficult questions like: Or else what?

The revolution in Syria has taken 93,000 lives—a figure of the verified dead according to the United Nations. For the White House, lives were an issue in the Syrian civil war but not the issue. President Obama drew his own red line some time ago. If the Assad government used chemical weapons, then the U.S. would be forced to intervene. Claims of chemical weapon use surfaced. The White House determined the evidence insufficient and let the matter lie—at least publicly. Ultimately, proof came. So now?

We’ll provide the rebels with small arms and ammunition. Anti-tank weapons, too, I imagine. At least, that’s the public position. Britain and France also will provide light arms. The Saudis, fighting a proxy war against Iran, have supplied shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles

More difficult questions remain: Who will end up with all this materiel? Can the West buy the loyalty of any group we support with weaponry? And will the next step be the establishment of a no-fly zone to keep Assad’s air force grounded—a move that Mr. Obama currently rejects and the Russians oppose?

Having backed themselves into a corner, President Obama and his advisors are flying blind. Whatever strategy they settle upon may work. Or not. An old Yiddish proverb comes to mind: Man plans and God laughs. We’re talking, after all, about the Middle East.

Speaking of God, former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin suggested—and the satirical intent doesn’t go unnoticed—“Let Allah sort it out.” Fatalism plays a large role in the Muslim psyche. Inshallah one hears frequently. God willing. What does God will? Sunni and Shiite extremists believe God wills the destruction of the other. Many Americans, I suspect, will be glad to let sectarian forces savage each other. Of course, much innocent blood will be spilled in the process.

One of the perks of writing a blog is the freedom to tell the world how it should act. Regarding Syria, I’ll pass. But this I do know. Talking about red lines works only until one is crossed. Without a real consequence, the red line bleeds into the sand along with a government’s credibility.

It’s very possible that Mr. Obama’s strategy will mirror Mrs. Palin’s. We’ll do the minimum to protect some Syrian civilians while keeping Assad and Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces off balance. At the same time, we’ll attempt to minimize the buildup of too much power by Sunni rebels and the al-Qaeda Islamists who make up much of their effective fighting force. This may be the best we can do.

But we might also consider that publicly declaring a red line risks creating a straight line to disaster.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. You’ll also find online ordering links for iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.