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ABSOLUTE SUBMISSION: Trump Bows to Neocon Orthodoxy

Consortium News Exclusive: In his Mideast trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel, President Trump sought some political safe harbor by tacking toward neocon orthodoxy and jettisoning his campaign promises of a more rational strategy, writes Daniel Lazare.

1 Donald Trump Saudi-King

Daniel Lazare
Consortium News

With astounding precision, Donald Trump zeroed in on the worst possible Middle East policy option in his recent trip to Saudi Arabia and made it his own. He rebuffed the efforts of Iran’s newly elected moderate government to open up communications with the West and instead deepened America’s alliances with decrepit autocratic regimes across the Persian Gulf.

Turning up his nose at Iran — a rising young power — he embraced Saudi Arabia, which is plainly on its last legs. It was a remarkable display —  rather like visiting a butcher shop and passing up a fresh steak for one that’s rancid and smelly and buzzing with flies.

Saudi Arabia is not just any tired dictatorship with an abysmal human-rights record but one of the most spectacularly dysfunctional societies in history. It takes in half a billion dollars a day in oil revenue, yet is so profligate that it could run out of money in half a decade. It sits atop 18 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves, yet is so wasteful that, at current rates, it will become a net importer by the year 2030.

Its king travels with a thousand-person retinue wherever he goes while his son, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, plunked down $550 million not long ago when a 440-foot yacht caught his eye in the south of France. Yet this pair of royal kleptocrats dares preach austerity at a time when as much as 25 percent of the population lives on less than $17 a day in trash-strewn Third World slums.

Similarly, Saudi Arabia’s appetite for high-tech weaponry is such that in 2015 it became the largest arms importer in the world. Yet its military is so inept that it is unable to subdue ragtag Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen or even stop them from raiding deep inside Saudi territory and launching regular missile attacks.

The kingdom accuses Iran of sectarianism yet bans all religions other than Islam, arrests Christians for the “crime” of praying and possessing Bibles, equates atheism with terrorism, and has imposed a state of siege on Shi‘ite Muslims in its own Eastern Province. Although a bit restrained of late, its religious police are notorious for roaming the shopping malls and striking out with canes at anyone violating shari‘a law.

As the English novelist Hilary Mantel (of Wolf Hall fame) recalled of the four years she spent in the kingdom with her geologist husband, it was impossible to know what might arouse their ire: “it might be the flashing denim legs of a Filipina girl revealed for a second beneath an abaya gone adrift, or it might be the plate-glass shop front of a business that, as the evening prayer call spiraled through the damp air-conditioned halls, had failed to slam down its metal shutters fast enough. What were the rules? No one knew.” 

Saudi Arabia also denounces terrorism at every turn even though its funding groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS (also known as ISIL and Islamic State) is an open secret. In 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton complained in a diplomatic memo made public by Wikileaks that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” In September 2014, she observed that “Qatar and Saudi Arabia … are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

A few days later, Vice President Joe Biden told a Harvard audience that “the Saudis, the emirates, etc. … were so determined to take down [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war … [that] they poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.” (Quote starts at 53:30.)

Arming the Saudis

Rather than fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda, the Saudis give them money so that they can wage jihad on religious minorities. Yet this is the country that Trump now calls upon to “drive out the terrorists and extremists,” which is as ludicrous as relying on the KKK to drive out racism. It’s also the country that he hopes will serve as the cornerstone of an “Arab NATO” so that he can sell it more jet fighters and Blackhawk helicopters.

But the Saudi military is already top-heavy with such gear while at the same time so short of infantry that it relies on ill-trained Sudanese mercenaries, scores of whom were reportedly killed in a recent battle in the Red Sea province of Midi in Yemen’s north. This is not surprising since no Saudi in his right mind wants to serve as a foot soldier so that the deputy crown prince can buy another yacht. But more such purchases will only add to the military imbalance while adding more fuel to the broader Middle East conflagration.

So how did this god-awful marriage come about? Is it all Trump’s fault? Or have others contributed to the mess? The answer, of course, is the latter.

Every president since Franklin Roosevelt has contributed to the catastrophe. Roosevelt declared Saudi Arabia a U.S. protectorate while Dwight Eisenhower got it into his head that a corrupt desert monarchy would somehow be useful in the fight against Communism. Worried that it might come under Soviet influence, Jimmy Carter commenced a military buildup in the Persian Gulf that, according to a 2009 Princeton University study, has now surpassed the $10-trillion mark.

Ronald Reagan relied on the Saudis to finance arms to the Nicaraguan Contras and to Jonas Savimbi’s pro-apartheid guerrillas in Angola. George H.W. Bush launched a major war to save the Saudis from the evil Saddam Hussein. George W. Bush and Barack Obama covered up the Saudi role in 9/11, while Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton encouraged them and other Gulf monarchies to fund anti-government rebels in Libya and Syria during the Arab Spring. Both Libya and Syria fell to ruin as a consequence as hundreds of millions of dollars flowed to pro-Al Qaeda forces and the flames of Wahhabist terrorism spread ever wider.

Indeed, Donald Trump for a while seemed to augur something different. Rather than praising the kingdom, he denounced it in 2011 as “the world’s biggest funder of terrorism” and asserted, not inaccurately, that it was using “our petro dollars – our very own money – to fund the terrorists that seek to destroy our people while the Saudis rely on us to protect them.” Once on the campaign trail, he upped the ante by declaring that the Saudis “blew up the World Trade Center” and threatened to block their oil if they didn’t do more to fight ISIS…

Continue this story at Consortium News

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