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Saudi Arabia


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Arms Sales and Trump’s ‘Saudi First’ Foreign Policy
By DANIEL LARISONOctober 14, 2018, 8:44 PM

Jonathan Caverley debunks Trump’s claims that the U.S. would lose a great deal by cutting off arms sales to the Saudis:

If American officials really want to encourage a change in Saudi policy, they should begin by looking at Saudi Arabia’s largest imports from the United States: weaponry. Cutting off the flow of American arms to Saudi Arabia would be an effective way to put pressure on Riyadh with little cost to the American economy or national security.​

Trump keeps rejecting the idea that the U.S. should block arms sales to the Saudis, but as Caverley explains the president’s claims don’t hold up under scrutiny. Trump misrepresents the value the arms sales concluded during his presidency, he grossly exaggerates their importance for the U.S. economy, and by refusing to consider halting arms sales he is forfeiting significant leverage that the U.S. could use to rein in the crown prince’s destructive and abusive behavior. While Trump may claim that he willing to punish Saudi Arabia over their murder of Jamal Khashoggi, his determination not to touch arms sales to the kingdom proves that this is just empty rhetoric. The president isn’t going to impose significant penalties on the Saudis, and so Congress will have to do it instead.

William Hartung addressed Trump’s fascination with selling weapons to despots earlier this year here. As he explained then, arms sales create very few jobs, they are one of the most inefficient ways to spur economic activity, and job creation isn’t a good reason to be selling weapons abroad. Selling weapons that we know in advance are very likely to be used in the commission of war crimes and human rights abuses is a violation of U.S. law, and as long as the Saudis are waging war on Yemen we can be certain that this is how they will use U.S.-made weapons. We know that they are using U.S.-made weapons that they already have to slaughter civilians, and we have seen their blatant disregard for civilian lives on display for over three and a half years.

Caverley concludes by referring to the role of arms sales in Pompeo’s bogus Yemen certification:

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certified that Saudi Arabia was minimizing civilian casualties in the Yemen air campaign apparently to avoid jeopardizing $2 billion in weapons sales. That small number does not show how powerful the Saudis are so much as how cheaply the United States can be bought [bold mine-DL]. Given these sales’ low domestic economic impact and the enormous costs of going elsewhere for Saudi Arabia, the United States has the preponderance of influence in this arms trade relationship. It should act accordingly.​

It is damning that Pompeo lied to Congress about Yemen to protect arms sales, and it is even worse that he did so to protect sales worth such a relatively small sum. Our government should not be covering for its reckless clients, and it shouldn’t be so desperate to make more deals with war criminals.

One of the common arguments against blocking arms sales is that the penalized government can just turn around and buy from some other weapons exporting state. This seems plausible at first glance, but the reality is that U.S. clients cannot switch so easily to other arms suppliers. Caverley explains:

Transforming the Saudi military to employ Russian, much less Chinese, weapons would cost a fortune even by Gulf standards, would require years of retraining and would greatly reduce its military power for a generation. Russia cannot produce next-generation fighter aircraft, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles for its own armed forces, much less for the export market. China has not produced, never mind exported, the sophisticated aircraft and missile defense systems Saudi Arabia wants.​

Trump happily picks fights for no reason with U.S. trading partners that do far more harm to the economies of all concerned than cutting off arms sales to the Saudis would do, and his Iran sanctions threaten to drive up oil prices to $100/barrel, but he claims that cutting off arms sales would be a “tough pill to swallow” when the cost would be negligible. He is prepared to inflict considerable economic damage on the economy and American workers if it lets him beat up on Canada and Germany and strangle Iran’s economy, but he doesn’t want to hold a despotic state accountable for an egregious crime because the economic consequences are supposedly too great? Even by Trump’s bizarre standards, his preferential treatment of the Saudis makes no sense.

Trump’s continued indulgence of the Saudis is the latest example of a recurring problem in how the U.S. handles the excesses and crimes of its clients. Even though the clients need the U.S. far more than we need them, they and their lobbyists have managed to convince a lot of people in Washington that the U.S. can never use its leverage with its clients for fear of wasting it or because there is a minuscule chance of driving them into the orbit of another major power. This problem did not begin with Trump, but he has made it worse. We saw this with the Obama administration’s pathetic response to the military coup in Egypt five years ago, and we have seen it many times in the U.S. response to Saudi outrages and crimes over the last few years. The U.S. becomes so frightened of alienating bad clients that it doesn’t need that it allows them to run amok and enables them in their worst behavior. That has the effect of letting the clients dictate U.S. actions no matter how detrimental they to U.S. interests these might prove to be.

An administration conducting a foreign policy that genuinely prioritized American interests would not keep sucking up to and covering for Saudi crimes. Unfortunately for the U.S., Yemen, and even Saudi Arabia, the administration’s “Saudi first” foreign policy encourages the crown prince’s worst instincts and leads him to believe that he will be able to get away with just about anything. It is up to Congress, American businesses, and the American public to make sure that Mohammed bin Salman doesn’t get away with anything else.
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The Relationship with Saudi Arabia No Longer Serves U.S. Interests
Posted on October 15, 2018, 11:11 PM Daniel Larison

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman believed to have ordered Khashoggi kidnapping (Al Arabiya screenshot)
Walter Russell Mead’s recommendations for how to handle Saudi recklessness are typically myopic:

But to do what the Iran-deal chorus and the Erdogan and Muslim Brotherhood apologists want—to dissolve the U.S.-Saudi alliance in a frenzy of righteousness—would be an absurd overreaction that plays into the hands of America’s enemies. It could also stampede the Saudis into even more recklessness.

It is difficult to see how downgrading the U.S.-Saudi relationship could possibly “play into the hands” of our enemies when the Saudi government has been working overtime to play into the hands of their rivals at the expense of our interests. The war on Yemen has not made Saudi Arabia and the UAE more secure, it has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis while failing to achieve any of its objectives, it has strengthened Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and it has led to a modest increase in Iranian influence in the country. The war has implicated the U.S. in coalition war crimes and made us an accomplice to the creation of a famine that could threaten the lives of 13 million people. The Qatar crisis is another Saudi-led blunder that has managed to deepen Qatar’s ties with Turkey and Iran while fracturing the GCC and creating a massive headache for Washington. The U.S. has never been in any danger of overreacting to Saudi crimes and blunders. At the very least, the U.S. shouldn’t be in the business of enabling them, and ideally it would be criticizing and opposing them.

By any measure, the signature policies of the current Saudi leadership over at least the last three and a half years have been bad for U.S. interests and America’s reputation, and they have failed on their own terms as well. The Saudi government has not done anything significantly constructive or helpful for the U.S. in at least the last decade, but it has been racking up quite the list of costly, destructive errors in that same period. This so-called “alliance” is bringing the U.S. nothing but problems, grief, and liabilities, and it yields hardly any discernible benefits. Demands to reassess the U.S.-Saudi relationship are not the product of a “frenzy of righteousness,” but come out of a sober calculation of what the Saudi relationship costs the U.S. versus what it gains us. In Mead’s flawed reckoning, the U.S. should stick with a bad client no matter what. That’s not even a serious attempt at analysis. It’s just mindless support of a corrupt status quo.

Mead continues:

To restore balance and sobriety to its foreign policy, Saudi Arabia needs to calm down, and only the U.S. can provide the assurances to make that possible.​

This gets things exactly backwards. U.S. assurances have encouraged the Saudi government and Mohammed bin Salman in particular to pursue one reckless policy after another in the confidence that Washington’s support will never be withdrawn. U.S. support for the war on Yemen ostensibly began as an effort to “reassure” the Saudis and Emiratis that the U.S. could be relied on. Three and a half years later, we can see what a horrible mistake it was to reassure these reckless clients that they could count on our backing. The U.S. has been endlessly providing assurances to the Saudis and other clients in the region, and they have understandably interpreted this as a blank check to do as they please. There won’t be anything like “balance and sobriety” in Saudi foreign policy until the architects of the current disasters are forced to pay a significant price for their blunders, and the U.S. has considerable leverage to extract that price.

The fatal weakness in Mead’s column is his failure to propose a single action that the U.S. might take that might change Saudi behavior for the better. He says that the Saudi government needs to “calm down,” but never spells out what that means. If they refrain from assassinating critics in their overseas consulates, will that be sufficient to satisfy Mead? Does he think they should stop doing other things? We have no way of knowing, because he doesn’t bother to offer any specific suggestions. He concludes vaguely by saying that Pompeo “must give Saudi authorities the confidence that sober and sensible policies will bring continuing American support for the kingdom’s independence and reform,” but if there are no consequences for pursuing reckless and senseless policies what incentive does Mohammed bin Salman have to change course? Mead’s argument amounts to calling for a slap on the wrist for murder and then getting back to what I’m sure he would call business as usual. It’s the wrong response with feeble supporting arguments to back it up.

Bernnie Federko

TRIBE Member
Audio offers gruesome details of Khashoggi killing, Turkish official says

Jamal Khashoggi’s killers were waiting when he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago, The New York Times reports. They almost immediately began to beat and torture him, eventually cutting off his fingers, and later beheaded and dismembered him, according to details from audio recordings published in the Turkish news media today. A senior Turkish official confirmed the details.

The leaking of such details, on the same day U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was visiting Turkey, reflected an escalation of pressure by the Turkish government on Saudi Arabia and the United States for answers on the fate of Mr. Khashoggi, who wrote for The Washington Post. Top Saudi officials have denied involvement, which they repeated to Mr. Pompeo when he visited the kingdom yesterday.
Watching Pompeo and Trump try to come up with a cover story is pathetic.

Watching Trump try and justify the U.S. relationship with SA is even worse - he's not exactly hiding that he could lose yuge financially if SA and the US break up.

Where's the Benghazi peeps over this shit?
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Watching Pompeo and Trump try to come up with a cover story is pathetic.

Watching Trump try and justify the U.S. relationship with SA is even worse - he's not exactly hiding that he could lose yuge financially if SA and the US break up.

Where's the Benghazi peeps over this shit?
Everyone keeps repeating how "essential" the relationship is but I absolutely think that's status quo bias at work - its essential because people constantly assert that it is - when really it may ultimately be more destructive than treating them as the Pariah State they should be treated as. It seems fairly obvious that the alliance is actually destabilizing the middle east more than it is stabilizing it.

I'm left wondering what the US reaction would be if an American resident with american citizen children who was an active journalist for a major paper was killed at the Iranian consulate in Serbia - and there were grisly details of what they did coming out so all could see how depraved and horrific the act was and we got flight manifests from direct flights from Tehran for 15 people confirmed to be in PRG Revolutionary Guard who we know did the deed.


TRIBE Member
They Got Saudi Arabia Wrong Too

"Thomas Friedman, the bestselling author and long-time New York Times columnist, bought MbS’s story hook, line, and sinker. After jetting to Riyadh for an exclusive interview with the crown prince last November, Friedman wrote about bin Salman as if he was the very best Saudi Arabia had to offer. In one of his more naive dispatches, Friedman described Saudi Arabia as being on the cusp of its own Arab Spring. The rich and entitled royals were finally getting punished for stealing from the state’s coffers. “Not a single Saudi I spoke to here over three days expressed anything other than effusive support for this anticorruption drive,” Friedman observed in his column. Of course, given that the Kingdom is an absolute monarchy and MbS has a reputation as a petulant child, why Friedman expected anything other than glowing assessments from Saudis is puzzling.

In the last two weeks, by virtue of his actions, the crown prince has demonstrated to the entire world his true character: as intolerant of dissent and as obsessed with blind loyalty as every other autocrat in the Arab world. He is a reckless and bumbling amateur who plunged his country into a self-defeating cycle of mistakes, quagmires, and diplomatic imbroglios; an insulated princeling more in line with a mob boss than the squeaky clean anti-corruption crusader he is trying to sell himself as. Tom Friedman and members of the Trump administration may have largely accepted his narrative, but for the rest of us who have watched the total decimation of neighboring Yemen and the near-starvation of 13 million Yemenis, no public relations firm in the world can polish the giant turd the crown prince has laid at his own Kingdom’s doorstep."

Credulous Pundits and Foreign ‘Reformers’

"The bigger problem for our foreign policy debates is that there is a constant demand for such spin on behalf of foreign governments and leaders. There appears to be no real penalty for serving as their cheerleaders. Ten years ago, many of the usual suspects were feting Saakashvili as a great democrat while ignoring his authoritarian tendencies and recklessness, and in another ten years we will be treated to the same excessive praise for some new “reformer” who just happens to have the “right” enemies in some other part of the world. Just as each new insurgency gets reinvented as a “moderate” opposition that deserves U.S. backing, there will always be some up-and-coming political figure that will be remade into a heroic “reformer” because he is sufficiently hostile towards one of his neighbors. This will keep happening as long as the U.S. maintains close ties with clients that have little or nothing to do with U.S. interests and as long as our government takes sides in regional rivalries. The shoddy analysis from pundits is just a symptom of our excessive and unwise entanglements in the conflicts of other nations."

Bernnie Federko

TRIBE Member
The companies who have backed away from Saudi business over Khashoggi

A number of companies and individuals are backing away from doing business with Saudi Arabia until more answers are provided on the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who unnamed Turkish officials believe was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. There is speculation that Khashoggi's disappearance is connected to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

Driving the news: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has announced he will no longer attend Saudi Arabia's Future Investment Initiative (FII), a massive conference colloquially known as "Davos in the Desert" hosted by MBS and the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund.

The big picture: Many of the world's largest prospective financial deals involve Saudi Arabia and are predicated on trust in MBS as a reformer. These are the companies and individuals who have pulled out of FII, which will take place Oct. 23-25 in Riyadh:
The New York Times columnist Andrew Sorkin. The Times has pulled its sponsorship of the conference.
The Economist editor-in-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes.
Media mogul Arianna Huffington, who has also resigned her position on the advisory board for the conference.
Patrick Soon-Shiong, owner of the LA Times, per the Daily Beast.
CNN, CNBC, the Financial Times and Bloomberg have all withdrawn as media sponsors.
Japanese media company Nikkei has withdrawn from the event, per CNN.
Viacom CEO Bob Bakish will not attend, per NBC News.
Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and chairman of Case Foundation, tweeted he is putting his "plans on hold" to speak at the conference.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in a statement: "I'm very troubled by the reports to date about Jamal Khashoggi. We are following the situation closely, and unless a substantially different set of facts emerges, I won't be attending the FII conference in Riyadh."
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, per the Financial Times.
J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, Ford chairman Bill Ford, and MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga have all announced they are no longer attending, per CNBC.
Sotheby's CEO Tad Smith, per Bloomberg.
General David Petraeus, chairman of the KKR Global Institute, per Reuters.
Sinovation Ventures CEO Kai-Fu Lee, per CNN.
Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene, per CNBC.
Virgin Hyperloop One's CEO Rob Lloyd, a spokesperson confirmed to Axios.
HSBC CEO John Flint, Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam, and Standard Chartered CEO Bill Winters, per WSJ.
David Bonderman, co-founder and chairman of TPG Capital, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, per CNBC.
President of the New York Stock Exchange Stacey Cunningham, citing scheduling conflict with SEC market data roundtable.
Brad Keywell, co-founder and CEO of Uptake Technologies (also co-founded Groupon).
Billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, who tells Axios he had canceled prior to the Khashoggi situation.
Andy Rubin, co-founder of Android and current CEO of Essential.
U.K. trade secretary Liam Fox, French finance minister Bruno LeMaire, and Dutch finance minister Wopke Hoekstra.
Seth Bannon, founding partner of seed fund Fifty Years.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who was among the latest to announce he would withdraw.
Notable companies and individuals who are still attending FII:
Fox Business told NBC News that its attendance is "under review." Anchor Maria Bartiromo is slated to appear at the conference.
Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser, per CNN.
EDF CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy, per CNN.
Goldman Sachs executive and former White House national security adviser Dina Powell.
Companies and individuals cutting business ties:
Richard Branson, billionaire entrepreneur and founder of Virgin Group, announced Thursday that he will suspend his directorships of two Saudi tourism projects and is suspending talks of a $1 billion investment with the country: "What has reportedly happened in Turkey around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi Government."
Ernest Moniz, former energy secretary under President Obama, is suspending his involvement advising Saudi Arabia on a $500 billion smart city project.
Neelie Kroes, a NEOM board member and former vice president of the European Commission, told the WSJ she would be suspending her role in the project until more is known.
Hollywood agency Endeavor Content is reportedly pulling out of a $400 million investment deal with Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, per the Hollywood Reporter.
BGR Group, a lobbying firm, is no longer working for Saudi Arabia, according to Jeffrey Birnbaum, president of BGR's public relations division, per the The Daily Beast.
Be smart: As Axios' Dan Primack writes, it's "much easier to bail on a conference than it is to unwind complex and lucrative business relationships."
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Everyone keeps repeating how "essential" the relationship is but I absolutely think that's status quo bias at work - its essential because people constantly assert that it is - when really it may ultimately be more destructive than treating them as the Pariah State they should be treated as. It seems fairly obvious that the alliance is actually destabilizing the middle east more than it is stabilizing it.

I'm left wondering what the US reaction would be if an American resident with american citizen children who was an active journalist for a major paper was killed at the Iranian consulate in Serbia - and there were grisly details of what they did coming out so all could see how depraved and horrific the act was and we got flight manifests from direct flights from Tehran for 15 people confirmed to be in PRG Revolutionary Guard who we know did the deed.
The argument is that if the U.S. is going to face another OPEC situation like in the 70's if they stop cozying up to SA. It's kind of a dumb argument to make when the same party that claims this is actively undermining alternative energy sources and environmental legislation that would make the U.S. less dependent on oil.

Actually, I take that second part back - it's not "kind of a dumb argument", it's a fucking stupid position to take.
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Pompeo just got back from Saudi Arabia. A day or two later, the " fight " scenario emerges...2 weeks after his death.
The " fight " scenario sounds like it was hatched from Trump himself. Fucking Ludicrous.

The Saudis should be forced to allow UN Investigators along with medical coroners to examine the body. Refusal, should be met with Global Sanctions that hit them hard.
Problem with that is, you'd probably need a dozen coroners for each piece.

Saudi's are the real Animals, not the Chinese.
Trump is a spineless moron.
Hey remember when people were upset that Obama bowed in a gesture of respect and FOX News lost their shit?

The rest of the world watching the U.S. contort itself in order to appease SA is going to set a really, really bad precedent with their less trustworthy allies. And Israel's gonna definitely step up their leaning on the U.S. after seeing this.
The thing I don't get is why even try this charade? They blew the cover up from the start. The Prince is never going to be trusted after this, regardless if they try to paint his general as the party responsible.

Nobody is actually stupid enough to believe this, are they?
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