In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, Marco Rubio wrote that Donald Trump’s brand of nationalism is not a creed that subordinates enlightenment values to zero-sum tribalism — as French president Emmanuel Macron had recently suggested. Rather, the Florida senator argued that the president’s nationalistic ethos was rooted in his deep appreciation for America’s “identity as a nation committed to the idea that all people are created equal, with a God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
There are more than a few problems with the thesis that Donald Trump only puts “America First” because America does the same for the concept of universal human rights. But an especially conspicuous one is that the president disdains the concept of human rights more than he reveres his fellow Americans.
Or so Trump’s handling of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder would suggest. From the moment the Turkish government revealed that Saudi agents had killed a Washington Post columnist — and legal U.S. resident — in Istanbul, the American president made it clear that he viewed the murder as less of a moral atrocity than a PR headache.
Trump’s first response to Turkey’s revelation was to demand that the public give his friends in Riyadh the presumption of innocence. His second was to allow that, if the Saudis did in fact murder and dismember a U.S.-based journalist, “it would not be a positive” — but nevertheless insisted that the American government couldn’t respond too harshly to such an offense because the Saudis are “spending $110 billion on [American] military equipment” (and those arms sales must be protected at all costs).
Now, with Khashoggi’s death buried beneath the ruins of a thousand subsequent news cycles, Trump has (reportedly) shifted his focus away from offering Riyadh constructive criticism on its lackluster cover-up, and toward getting Turkish president Recep Erdogan to let bygones be bygones.
More specifically, the president is reportedly trying to persuade Erdogan to forgive the Saudis for murdering a U.S. resident who was critical of their government by helping Erdogan imprison (and, in all probability, murder) a U.S. resident who was critical of the Turkish government.
As NBC News reports:
The White House is looking for ways to remove an enemy of Turkish President Recep Erdogan from the U.S. in order to placate Turkey over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to two senior U.S. officials and two other people briefed on the requests.
Trump administration officials last month asked federal law enforcement agencies to examine legal ways of removing exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen in an attempt to persuade Erdogan to ease pressure on the Saudi government, the four sources said.
… They said the White House specifically wanted details about Gulen’s residency status in the U.S. Gulen has a Green Card, according to two people familiar with the matter. He has been living in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s.
Career officials at the agencies pushed back on the White House requests, the U.S. officials and people briefed on the requests said.
“At first there were eye rolls, but once they realized it was a serious request, the career guys were furious,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the process.
Erdogan has accused Gülen (without any substantial evidence) of masterminding the failed 2016 coup attempt against his government. Last year, Erdogan vowed to behead the “traitors” who had attempted to depose him. Thus, there is little doubt that to expel Gülen to Turkey would be to put the longtime Keystone State resident, and charter-school entrepreneur, in mortal danger.
To review: In order to help an Islamist theocracy get away with executing one American immigrant, Trump is (reportedly) trying to find a legal rationale for letting another (much less totalitarian) Islamist theocracy execute a different American immigrant.
If this is true, then it seems safe to say, contra Rubio, that Trump is less of an American nationalist who harbors a deep commitment to human rights than an American solipsist who is ready and willing to abet crimes against humanity if he believes that he stands to benefit personally from doing so.
[ISIS is Al-Qaeda In Iraq, rebranded within the confines of US Prison Camp Bucca, near Basra, Iraq, where all of the primary leaders of ISIS were held…a prison referred to by the guards as “jihadi university“.
ISIS is a creation of Obama/Hillary, who assigned the job to Bandar bin Sultan, Emir of Qatar, CIA, MI-6, and Mossad.]
© AP Photo / File
In the aftermath of the Jamal Khashoggi murder, the kingdom has exploited the podium of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by using its imams to praise, sanctify and defend the rulers and their actions.
By Khaled M. Abou El Fadl
Mr. Fadl teaches law at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The rulers of Saudi Arabia derive much of their legitimacy and prestige in the Muslim world from their control and upkeep of the Grand Mosque and the Kaaba in Mecca and the mosque of Prophet Muhammad in Medina. King Salman, like the rulers before him, wears the title of the “Khadim al-Ḥaramayn al-Sharifayn,” which is translated as the “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” or, more precisely, “The Servant of the Two Noble Sanctuaries.”
Despite the humility of the royal title, the Saudi monarchy has a long history of exploiting the podium of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by using its imams to praise, sanctify and defend the rulers and their actions.
In the aftermath of the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as the world’s accusatory gaze was transfixed on Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi monarchy has again used the Grand Mosque to defend and deify the crown prince in a manner that makes its legitimacy and control of Mecca and Medina morally troubling like never before.
On Oct. 19, Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Sudais, the officially appointed imam of the Grand Mosque and the highest religious authority in the kingdom, delivered his Friday sermon from a written script. Friday sermons at the Grand Mosque are broadcast live on cable networks and social media sites, watched with great reverence by millions of Muslims and carry a great deal of moral and religious authority.
Imam Sudais delivered a troubling sermon, violating the sanctity of the sacred space he occupied. He referenced a saying attributed to Prophet Muhammad that once every century, God sends a mujaddid, a great reformer to reclaim or reinvigorate the faith. He explained that the mujaddid is needed to address the unique challenges of each age.
He proceeded to extol Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a divine gift to Muslims and implied that the crown prince was the mujaddid sent by God to revive the Islamic faith in our age. “The path of reform and modernization in this blessed land … through the care and attention from its young, ambitious, divinely inspired reformer crown prince, continues to blaze forward guided by his vision of innovation and insightful modernism, despite all the failed pressures and threats,” the imam declared, from the podium where Prophet Muhammad delivered his last sermon.
Invoking the debate following the Khashoggi murder, Imam Sudais warned Muslims against believing ill-intended media rumors and innuendos that sought to cast doubt on the great Muslim leader. He described the conspiracies against the crown prince as intended to destroy Islam and Muslims, warning that “all threats against his modernizing reforms are bound not only to fail, but will threaten international security, peace and stability.”
He cautioned that the attacks against “these blessed lands” are a provocation and offense to more than a billion Muslims. Imam Sudais used the word “muhaddath,” or “uniquely and singularly gifted” to describe Prince Mohammed. “Muhaddath” was the title given by Prophet Muhammad to Umar Ibn al-Khattab, his companion and the second caliph of Islam. The imam implicitly compared the crown prince to Caliph Umar.
Imam Sudais prayed for God to protect Prince Mohammed against the international conspiracies being woven against him by the enemies of Islam, the malingerers and hypocrites, and concluded that it was the solemn duty of all Muslims to support and obey the king and the faithful crown prince, the protectors and guardians of the holy sites and Islam.
When an imam of the Grand Mosque calls upon Muslims to obediently accept Prince Mohammed’s incredulous narrative about the murder of Mr. Khashoggi; to accept his abduction, jailing and torture of dissenters, including imprisonment of several revered Islamic scholars; to ignore his pitiless and cruel war in Yemen, his undermining the democratic dreams in the Arab world, his support for the oppressive dictatorship in Egypt, it makes it impossible to accept the imam’s categorization of the crown prince as a divinely inspired reformer. The sanctified podium of the prophet in Mecca is being desecrated and defiled.
The control of Mecca and Medina has enabled the clerical establishment and the monarchy flush with oil money to extend their literalist and rigid interpretations of Islam beyond the borders of the kingdom. Most Muslims will always prefer a tolerant and ethically conscientious Islam to the variant championed by the crown prince and the acquiescent Saudi clergy.
By using the Grand Mosque to whitewash acts of despotism and oppression, Prince Mohammed has placed the very legitimacy of the Saudi control and guardianship of the holy places of Mecca and Medina in question.
Khaled M. Abou El Fadl is a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of “Reasoning With God: Reclaiming Shari‘ah in the Modern Age.”
Gen. John Philip Abizaid, Lebanese decent, former head of Iraq mission.
The selection, if confirmed by the Senate, will finally give the president a representative of his own in Riyadh at a time when the relationship with Washington has grown strained over the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who lived in the United States and wrote for The Washington Post.
General Abizaid, a Lebanese-American who speaks fluent Arabic and spent years in the Middle East, served as head of the United States Central Command with responsibility for the region and oversaw the early years of the Iraq war under President George W. Bush. Since 2016, he has served as special envoy to the Ukrainian military helping bolster its capacity against Russian aggression.
The nomination comes six weeks after Mr. Khashoggi was killed while visiting the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to obtain paperwork needed for his coming wedding. A team of Saudi agents flew to Istanbul and killed him minutes after his arrival, then dismembered his body, according to Turkish officials.
After initially denying it, Saudi officials have acknowledged that Mr. Khashoggi was killed in the consulate and that it was premeditated, but have continued to deny that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, often known by his initials, M.B.S., knew in advance or had any involvement in the operation. A recording shared by Turkish officials with the C.I.A. captured a member of the kill team instructing a superior over the phone to “tell your boss” that the operation had been carried out.
The lack of an ambassador in either Saudi Arabia and Turkey has been a point of contention since Mr. Khashoggi’s death, underscoring that many important diplomatic posts remain unfilled nearly two years into Mr. Trump’s administration, some because no one has been nominated and others because the Senate has not acted.
Mr. Trump has promised “severe punishment” if it were demonstrated that the Saudis were behind the killing, but he has resisted curbing arms sales as lawmakers in both parties have urged. His Middle East strategy to confront Iran and force Palestinians to make peace with Israel has relied largely on Saudi Arabia, a relationship cultivated by Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, with Prince Mohammed.
General Abizaid, 67, graduated from West Point, where his 1973 yearbook described him as “an Arabian Vince Lombardi” in that he “just couldn’t accept second place.” He spent 34 years in the Army, rising from infantry platoon leader to a celebrated four-star general. As a company commander in Grenada in 1983, he used a bulldozer to advance on a Cuban bunker, a moment later recreated in the Clint Eastwood movie “Heartbreak Ridge.”
As deputy head and then commander of the United States Central Command, he oversaw the early years of the Iraq war, including the quick defeat of the Baghdad government and the capture of Saddam Hussein. His deep understanding of the Middle East made him “our version of Lawrence of Arabia,” as John P. Hannah, Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser, once described him. He coined the phrase “long war” to describe the nation’s struggle with terrorists to make clear to Americans that it would not be a quick battle.But a Sunni insurgency grew on his watch, turning the war into a bloody quagmire. General Abizaid favored a strategy of turning over the war to Iraqi forces as early as possible and resisted sending more American troops when Mr. Bush opted to dispatch a “surge” of reinforcements in 2007 that helped turn around the war, at least for a time. As the surge began, General Abizaid retired, having served as head of Central Command longer than any of his predecessors.
General Abizaid remains highly regarded by both military and diplomatic veterans. Three people familiar with the selection said it had been in the works for months and one of the people said General Abizaid turned down the job twice before relenting.
“Excellent choice with experience in the kingdom, but he faces an unprecedented challenge dealing with a crown prince whose reputation is in tatters, probably irredeemably,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and former C.I.A. officer who wrote a recent book on Saudi Arabia and American presidents.
“He has deep knowledge of the area, thinks strategically and should be good,” said Ronald E. Neumann, a former ambassador to Afghanistan and the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy.
Gerald M. Feierstein, a former ambassador to Yemen and the State Department’s second-ranking diplomat for Middle East policy from 2013 to 2016, said the selection showed that Mr. Trump continued to favor military officers for senior civilian positions.
“But Abizaid isn’t a bad choice and may have some influence with the Saudis,” he said. “The timing is also interesting after delaying for two years. It may indicate that the administration has finally figured out that the Kushner-M.B.S. channel isn’t sufficient for managing the relationship.”
Still, it was unclear how much leeway General Abizaid would have in managing the relationship rather than being a figurehead while Mr. Kushner and Prince Mohammed maintain their channel. “It’s a very conventional pick,” said Andrew Miller, the deputy director for policy at the Project for Middle East Democracy and a former State Department and White House official under President Barack Obama. “There’s a long history of retired military officers serving in that post.”
Image: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (2nd L) welcomes U.S. President Donald Trump to dance with a sword during a welcome ceremony at Al Murabba Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Donald Trump doesn’t like the original NATO, so why does he want a second one?
by Doug Bandow
Rather, the region’s greatest problems are internal, often exacerbated or even created by the U.S. government. Indeed, Washington is the region’s most destabilizing force: blowing up both Iraq and Libya, attempting to overthrow the Syrian government, pushing barely disguised regime change in Iran, and backing the Saudi regime’s reckless military intervention in Yemen and elsewhere. No other government has wreaked nearly as much havoc throughout the region.
Some Americans care much more about Israel than they do about U.S. energy supplies or regional stability. However, the radical Likud government also is playing the United States. Israel is a nuclear-armed regional superpower, capable of defending itself from all comers. Like its neighbors, the principal existential threat facing Israel is internal: if it seeks to forcibly maintain a growing Arab population as a subject labor force, then Israel may find it impossible to be both democratic and Jewish.
Fourth, Iran is in no position to dominate the Mideast. President Trump recently argued that “When I came into here, it was a question of when would [the Iranians] take over the Middle East?” But Iran faces severe domestic challenges. The Islamist elite lacks legitimacy, especially among a younger population which looks West. The economy is isolated and weak. The military as never recovered from the revolution which overthrew the Shah.
Indeed, Iran’s conventional military strength is anemic; Tehran’s military outlays ran about $16 billion last year, trailing both Saudi Arabia’s $77 billion and UAE’s $25 billion. The Islamic Republic is in no position to launch a blitzkrieg assault on its immediate neighbors, let alone more distant states such as well-armed Egypt.
Iran’s missile program, oft criticized by U.S. officials who control the world’s most powerful military, is a deterrent borne of weakness, ensuring deterrence as city-busting weapons targeting desert city-states. Saudi Arabia is the region’s most threatening aggressor, having invaded its poor neighbor, Yemen, used military forces to maintain Bahrain’s brutal Sunni monarchy over the majority Shia population, subsidized Egypt’s murderous al-Sisi dictatorship, underwritten radical jihadists in Syria, and kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister. Abu Dhabi, with a more effective military, has joined in many of these destructive interventions. Tehran is a piker in comparison.
Iran’s supposed empire of Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen is a fantasy. The Bush administration empowered the Islamist regime by ousting Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, but even so Baghdad is no puppet. Tehran enjoys influence in desperately dysfunctional Lebanon through Hezbollah, but at most that offers Iran a possible deterrent weapon against Israel. Tehran has never dominated Yemen and is assisting Houthi rebels mostly to bleed the aggressors, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In Syria Iran has worked hard to preserve a long-standing ally under siege by Riyadh and others. These foreign-policy initiatives are largely defensive and, even if successful, have been economically ruinous.
The Saudi Crown Prince has admitted that “Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia. Its army is not among the top five armies in the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy. Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia.” So why does Riyadh, which candidate Donald Trump denounced for its military dependence on Washington, need U.S. defense subsidies formalized by treaty?
An Arab NATO cannot supply the region’s governments with what most desperately crave: political legitimacy. A gaggle of corrupt, authoritarian monarchies, highlighted by Saudi Arabia’s totalitarian absolute rule, plus one ostentatiously brutal dictatorship (Egypt), cannot appeal to disaffected young Arabs. To survive they must rely on repression. MESA would formally put the U.S. military at their service. So much for the president’s insincere rhetoric about human rights.
Today the Gulf states contract out most work, from gardening to medicine. They informally do the same with the military. MESA would make official their reliance on the U.S. armed services as their bodyguards—and certainly not for America’s benefit.
The Middle East has been a graveyard of U.S. expectations. Decades of military intervention have had counterproductive, often disastrous consequences. Washington has blown up Iraq and Libya with devastating impact and intervened in the Lebanese and Syrian civil wars with no good result. The United States has backed tyranny throughout the region, including in Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Failing to recognize that the illegitimate Gulfdoms need Washington more than Washington needs them, the United States has backed Riyadh’s and Abu Dhabi’s monstrous war in Yemen. Even support for Israel, a democracy for its Israeli citizens but not millions of Arab subjects, has created blowback, encouraging violent terrorism against Americans at home and abroad.
It is a catastrophic record. Yet MESA would reinforce Washington’s failed strategy. The United States should step back and disengage from the Middle East. The original NATO has turned into a deadweight for America. A new Mideast alliance start badly and go downhill from there.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire .