Trump the Mob Boss; Trump the Tool

Mike Pompeo flew to Saudi Arabia for instructions, and today he called the drone attacks on the Saudi oil field and processing plant “an act of war” and “an Iranian attack on Arab soil.”

Now, many of us might think that attacks on Arab soil are the Saudi’s problem. As loathe as I am to agree with a conservative, I think Daniel Larison is right:

The U.S. is not obliged to come to Saudi Arabia’s defense. No matter who was responsible for the attack on their oil installation, the U.S. has no business responding with military action. Saudi Arabia is not an ally in any sense of the word. We have no mutual defense treaty with them, and we are not required to come to their aid when they are attacked. In all likelihood, this attack was the result of Saudi Arabia’s ongoing aggression against Yemen, but even if it wasn’t there is no American commitment to fight on their behalf.

But Trump apparently considers Saudi Arabia to be a U.S. ally and has called them that on occasion. And of course that has nothing to do with relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States but between Saudi Arabia and Trump.

But the Saudi royal family does seem to have a special relationship with Trump, who has repeatedly bucked bipartisan congressional majorities to back the Kingdom on topics ranging from its disastrous war in Yemen to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. … And his official explanation of the need for a cozy relationship with the Saudis — that they are a valuable customer for American arms merchants — makes very little sense, though it does cohere with his larger nonsensical views about international trade as a whole.

And …

And while Saudi Arabia does not pay “us” — in the sense of the American people — any kind of fortune, they do seem to pay Donald Trump a fair amount of money.

The manager of Trump’s hotel in New York credited a timely stay by members of the Saudi Crown Prince’s entourage (though not the prince himself) with lifting revenue there by 13 percent in one quarter last year. Lobbying disclosures showed that Saudi lobbyists spent $260,000 at Trump’s hotel in DC back in December 2016 during the transition. Separately, the Kingdom itself spent $190,273 at Trump’s hotel in early 2017.

At The Nation, Jeet Heer writes that Trump is treating foreign policy like a mafia protection racket. This is hardly news. Trump’s bizarre idea that NATO owes the United States money for protecting Europe indicates this is the only way he understands foreign relations — like a protection racket.

Trump also seems to think that the Saudis make him look good. This is from a White House transcript, September 16.

TRUMP: They’ve been a great ally. They spend $400 billion in our country over the last number of years. Four hundred billion dollars. That’s a million and a half jobs. And they’re not ones that, unlike some countries, where they want terms; they want terms and conditions. They want to say, “Can we borrow the money at zero percent for the next 400 years?” No. No. Saudi Arabia pays cash. They’ve helped us out from the standpoint of jobs and all of the other things. And they’ve actually helped us.

I would call and I would say, “Listen, our oil prices, our gasoline, is too high. You got to let more go.” You know that.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: I would call the Crown Prince and I’d say, “You got to help us out. You got to get some more.” And, all of a sudden, the oil starts flowing and the gasoline prices are down. No other President can do that. No other President was able to do that, or maybe they didn’t try. But I’ve done it.

Why Trump was going on about Saudi Arabia with the Crown Prince of Bahrain sitting next to him isn’t clear. But now it appears the Saudis want a favor. And like Enzo the Baker, Trump may think he owes the Godfather …. er, the Saudis, and can’t say no. But this favor is a really big one.

Further, do not lose sight of the fact that it’s only the Trumpies and the Saudis claiming the drone attacks came from Iran. And we should believe them, why? The Houthis have claimed responsibility, and Juan Cole argues that it’s entirely possible the Houthis were indeed the perps.

Back to Jeet Heer:

Saudi Arabia is the nexus between Trump’s personal corruption and his flailing, incoherent foreign policy. As The Washington Post points out, Trump’s response to the latest Middle Eastern crisis has been a divided one because he “is caught between a political imperative to confront Iran—pleasing hawkish Republican supporters and allies Israel and Saudi Arabia—and his own political instincts against foreign intervention and toward cutting a deal.” The uncertainty is whether his desire to please Saudi Arabia, Israel, and hawkish Republicans will override his preference, shown in previous foreign policy disputes, to avoid crossing the line between bluster and open conflict.

Yesterday’s conventional wisdom was that Trump wouldn’t go to war with Iran because his base doesn’t want it.  That may prove to be the winning favor in this mess; that re-election thing is starting to get real. And this may be an issue that voters across the political spectrum will agree on.

Meanwhile, Trump has appointed a new National Security Adviser. If you are in the mood to be frightened to death, read about the new NSA’s friendship with right-wing wackjob Hugh Hewitt.

Robert O’Brien – now the outgoing Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and a longtime corporate lawyer – worked with Hewitt at the Arent Fox law firm and, later, at O’Brien’s own O’Brien Larson firm.

The pair’s friendship extends back years. O’Brien also appears to have benefitted from Hewitt’s praise for their shared, hawkish foreign policy views, while appearing on the conservative talking head’s show dozens of times over the years.

By all accounts, O’Brien (no relation, I’m very sure) is John Bolton without the mustache. Be afraid.