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A Slight Republican Revolt in Congress

On Wednesday seven Republican senators helped pass a resolution opposed to President Donald Trump’s support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and it’s expected that today enough Republicans will join the Democrats in voting for a resolution opposed to Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to divert funds for a wall along the southern border. There aren’t enough of these restive Republicans to help the Democrats override the expected presidential vetoes, and most of the party remains willing to go along with anything Trump wants, but Trump should probably be worried about what happens after that.
The only apparent reason for the defections of the seven Republican senators who voted against Trump’s middle east foreign policy and the four announced senators and perhaps as many as six more who will be voting against Trump’s national emergency is that they’re standing on traditional Republican principles. Defying the wishes does not serve the political interests of any Republican politician at the moment, even the ones in the most purplish states and districts, as Trump is more popular with the party at the moment than any longstanding Republican principles. An occasional show of independence from the more broadly unpopular president might prove useful in a general election in a lot of states and districts, but a politician needs his party’s nomination to get there, and an annoyed “tweet” and a disparaging nickname from Trump has already knocked a lot of incumbents from their seats.
The purging of Republicans suspected of less-than-complete loyalty to Trump is one of the reasons the party has such a slim majority in the Senate and the Democrats have such a sizable majority in the House of Representatives, but for now the party is sticking with complete loyalty to Trump. Even so, Trump’s weird indulgence of Saudi Arabia’s worst behavior, and his outrageous power grab of the Congress’ power to appropriate public in pursuit of a damned dumb border wall, are both so antithetical to traditional Republican values that are still a few Republicans left in Congress who have to draw a line somewhere.
America has maintained a close relationship with Saudi Arabia since President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, and put up with a lot of bad behavior through the past many decades of Democratic and Republican administrations alike, but Trump’s effusive affection for the Saudi dictatorship exceeds the post-war bipartisan foreign consensus that was probably too indulgent all along. America also has some carefully-negotiated and strategically important military and economic arrangements with the government of Yemen that Saudi Arabia has been ruthlessly trying to topple, even such stalwart cold warriors as President Ronald Reagan would cut loose allies in the Philippines and South Africa and elsewhere when their human rights abuses became intolerable to a western conscience, and there is something suspiciously weird about Trump’s policy in the region.
Suspicious types such as ourselves will note that Trump has publicly boasted about the millions of dollars of business he does with the Saudis, and seemed to love the lavish red carpet they rolled out for him on his first state trip, and that the son-in-law Trump has charged with bringing about Middle East pace also has an ongoing business relationship with the Saudis, which does seem one apparent explanation. On the other hand, perhaps Trump just likes the Saudis’ style. He happily accepted dictator Mohammed bin Salman’s assurance that he had nothing to do with the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Turkish embassy, but he also accepted Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s assurance that he would never have meddled in America’s election, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s assurances that he felt terrible to hear about the death-by-torture of American Otto Warmbier in one of his torture chambers.
Perhaps there’s some hyper-sophisticated genius to to all of this that such lesser minds as ourselves and all of Trump’s top advisors and appointees and the consensus opinion of the intelligence and foreign policy experts can’t quite discern, but we can’t blame any traditional Republican for voting against it.
There’s all the more traditional Republican reasons, as far as we’re concerned, to vote against that national emergency declaration that Trump openly admitted in front of all the “fake news” cameras he didn’t really need to declare. As always there are serious problems at the border, but somehow the nation has survived and even thrived without a big beautiful border wall or orphaning blameless children and similarly harsh measures, and until recently Republicans were satisfied with that. Back when Democratic presidents were brazenly exceeding their constitutional executive powers Republicans used to rightly object to that, but for now most of them will loyal stand by as Trump usurps the Congress’ constitutional power to appropriate funds and the property rights of the landowners along the southern border who see no need for a big and beautiful and downright dumb wall.
What’s more, Trump is planning to use the national emergency declaration to build the wall with funds that had been appropriated for military spending in various states and districts around the country. Some Republicans will therefore wind up voting against military spending in the states and districts, and at that point the Grand Old Party will have abandoned one of its most cherished principles.
So we’re glad to see there at least a few Republicans left in Congress who aren’t completely loyal to Trump, and we’re especially happy to see that one of them is Kansas’ own Sen. Jerry Moran, who always struck us as a traditionally Republican sort of guy, He’s not up for reelection in this reliably Republican state until after the 2020 presidential election, and the state’s two big export industries aren’t sold on Trump’s protectionism and the churches have some mild discomfort about Trump’s character, and most of Moran’s fellow defectors are similarly well positioned, so perhaps they are making some political calculations.
We surely hope so, as we’d very much like to see some semblance of the traditional Republican party survive Trump.

— Bud Norman

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The Lonesome Death of Jamal Khashoggi

The government of Saudi Arabia now acknowledges that dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside a Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey, but we’re assured by the government of Saudi Arabia that it had nothing to do with it. To hear the Saudi Arabian government tell it, the pudgy and 59-year-old Khashoggi started a fistfight with 15 Saudi Arabian government operatives who had been flown into Turkey for a polite conversation, and that it ended to everyone’s regret.
The story is so blatantly preposterous that even such loyal American friends of the Saudi Arabian government as President Donald Trump are expressing some skepticism, but it probably won’t much. matter. Khashoggi was a legal American resident and a writer for one of America’s most longstanding and prestigious newspapers, and the best evidence suggests that he was mutilated and then murdered and then dismembered on the orders of the Saudi Arabian government, but on the other hand Saudi Arabia has done tens of millions of dollars of business with Trump and hundreds of billions of dollars of business with other American businesses.
All the right-wing talk radio talkers are stressing that Khashoggi had a past relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and was a noisome critic of a Saudi Arabian government so enlightened that it has lately granted some women the right to drive an automobile, as well as a writer for those enemies of both the Saudi Arabian and American people at The Washington Post, and to hear them tell it you’d think the guy had some mutilation and murder and dismemberment coming. Besides, as the President of the United States has frequently noted, he was merely a legal resident rather than a fully-fledged citizens, and his murder wasn’t committed on American soil, and Saudi-American relations are ┬ávery tricky.
The hundreds of billions of dollars of business that America does with the Saudi Arabians can’t be dismissed lightly, and they do indeed play a very complicated role in the exponentially more complicated Middle East foreign policy mess, and we’re open to an argument for the cold-blooded calculation that even the mutilation and murder and dismemberment of a single human being must be weighted against that. Even so, we’d rather the argument was made honestly, and without the apparent disregard for the fate of a fellow human being. Surely America is still great enough relative to Saudi Arabia to insist on such niceties.
Last week Trump got a big response from a Republican rally crowd by recalling how the state’s Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte had committed criminal assault against a reporter shortly before his election to Congress. “Any guy who can do a body slam, that’s my kind of guy,” said Trump, a former professional wrestler himself, followed by uproarious laughter. Even in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s now-acknowledged demise Trump has praised the Saudi prime and dictator Mohammad bin Salman’s “strong control” of his country, and he seems to have a similar affinity for strong men rulers everywhere, including the nutcase North Korean dictator that he told a cheering rally crowd ┬áhe “fell in love with.”
All this international business and politics is indeed damned complicated, and we can’t pretend to know how it should proceed from here, but we’d like to think that the mutilation and murder and dismemberment of a legal American resident and fellow human being should carry some weight in our country’s considerations, even if he did write for The Washington Post.

— Bud Norman

The Strange Case of Jamal Khashoggi

Over the years we’ve read a lot of improbable cloak-and-dagger novels and watched many fanciful films about international intrigue, but we’ve never come across a story quite so fascinating as the real-life disappearance and almost certain murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Even with unfettered access to the very best findings of America’s crack intelligence agencies President Donald Trump will not say with any certainty what has become of Kashoggi, and we can’t claim to have any better information. but we are far more objective and fairly certain of a few established facts. Khashoggi provably entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2 to deal with paperwork for an upcoming wedding, and so far neither the fiancee who was waiting outside nor the consulate’s constant security cameras nor anyone else can testify that he ever came out. It’s also a verifiable fact that Khashoggi was considered an enemy of the people by the Saudi Arabian government, with no other obvious enemies who might have access to a Saudi Arabian consulate, and although that’s not conclusive proof of anything it’s worth keeping in mind.
So far the government of Turkey is officially coy about its conclusions, but unofficially it’s been leaking a flood of information to various world media that they have audiotape from Khashoggi’s cell phone of his brutal torture and murder and dismemberment, that on the day after Khashoggi’s disappearance their investigators found the consulate both thoroughly scrubbed and freshly painted, and they’ve got the flight records of 15 suspicious Saudis with provably close ties to their government and an autopsy specialist with a bone saw who flew into Istanbul just shortly before Khashoggi’s arrival at the consulate. Turkey’s government is lately almost as Islamist and authoritarian and untrustworthy as Saudi Arabia’s, and has its own complicated geo-political reasons to embarrass Saudi Arabia, but they’ve also got the sort of highly effective domestic security apparatus that could prove such claims, and would be just as happy to embarrass Saudi Arabia with the truth.
By now even such steadfast Trump loyalists as South Carolina’s Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham say that the Saudis look pretty damned guilty, and it would take a pretty imaginative novelist or screenwriter to come up with some other plausible plot twist, but Trump holds out for the possibility that some group of “rogue killers” might have killed Khashoggin in defiance of the Saudi government’s wishes.
;Some of those cloak-and-dagger novels we’ve read and foreign intrigue films we’ve watched had some pretty glaring plot holes, but even dime novels and $10 Hollywood movies could never come up with such a convoluted plot twist as that. Getting a group of “rogue killers” into a Saudi consulate in Istanbul just as an expatriate Saudi journalist and enemy of the Saudi people showed up would be tough enough for the “Mission: Impossible” screenwriters, much less why fellow enemies of the Saudi people would want to kill him, and never the mind the crews of rogue cleaners and painters who showed up in the immediate aftermath to scrub the alleged crime scene clean.
One never really knows, though, so perhaps Trump is right to hold out hope that neither Saudi King Salman bin Abdelaziz Al Saud nor current dictator Prince Mohammad bin Salman had anything do with whatever unpleasantness that might have transpired at a Saudi consulate. Back during the campaign Trump publicly boasted that he got along great with the Saudis because they did tens of millions of dollars of business with him, and they rolled out quite the red carpet for him on his first state visit abroad, and these days Trump can rightly argue that they do billions in business with far bigger American companies and as always play a crucial strategic role in America’s tricky middle-eastern foreign policy. Surely they deserve some benefit of the doubt.
Besides, as Trump as always reminds his interviewers, this Khashoggi guy wasn’t an American citizen, and even if he did get tortured and murdered and dismembered it didn’t happen here, so it arguably isn’t any of America’s business. Khashoggi was a legal American resident, which by law means he’s entitled to same protections of the state as anyone else living here, but what’s that against the millions and billions of dollars in trade that Trump and America get from the Saudis. That Khahshoggi guy also wrote for The Washington Post, long considered a leading light of America’s free press, but these days they’re also deemed enemies of the people.
The biggest mystery at this point is why Trump doesn’t just come right out and say, “Yeah, so what if the Saudis tortured and killed and dismembered this guy?” Khashoggi wasn’t even an American citizen, after all, and he wrote regularly for those enemies of the American people at The Washington Post, so we doubt that many of Trump’s die-hard defenders give much of a damn about what happened to that guy. What happened to that Khashoggi guy might slightly heighten the fervor of Trump’s opponents, but it probably won’t much swell their number.
In any case, this poor Khashoggi guy’s tale seems headed to a more desultory conclusion than any cloak-and-dagger novel we’ve ever read or any foreign intrigue film we’ve ever seen, and we worry that America won’t come out any greater.

— Bud Norman