Here’s a Radical Solution to Trump’s Saudi Murder Mess

Mohammed bin Salman Trump White House

Mr. Bone Saw

The disappearance and likely torture-murder of Jamal Khashoggi is Trump’s biggest international crisis since engaging in brinkmanship with North Korea, and he has made a huge mess of it. By backing Saudi Arabia’s ludicrous evolving explanations for how an American permanent resident and Washington Post journalist walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and vanished, Trump aggressively undermines journalists all over the world and America’s claim to leadership in the free world.

Related Story: What Did Trump Admin Know about Saudi Killing of Journalist and When Did They Know it?

Trump has obvious conflicts of interest in this case. Trump’s ties to Saudi royalty go back decades, as Business Insider reports. In 1991, he sold a $20 million yacht to a Saudi prince. In 2001, Trump rented out an entire floor of Trump tower to the Saudi royal court.

More recently, the Saudis have spent a fortune at his hotels since he became president. It is believed that the Saudis spent a great deal on his inauguration. After announcing his candidacy, Trump set up several shell companies in Saudi Arabia.

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It’s worth noting that Trump’s ongoing violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause are more than a technicality. They got a man killed. Saudi Crown Prince “MBS” for Mohammed bin Salman (or Mr. Bone Saw?) would not have been so brazen as to whack an American journalist if he didn’t believe he had the White House in his pocket.

Turning Tricks

On an immediate level we can thank Trump’s blatant corruption for this problem. But on a deeper level, Trump is preserving the status quo. Official Washington has embraced the House of Saud since World War II as a key element of its international security architecture. The Saudis keep crude oil flowing and the United States sends cutting edge weapons systems to the Kingdom. According to data compiled by the Pentagon, Saudi Arabia has spent almost $90 billion on US defense contracts since 1950, the largest purchaser in the world by a large margin. The US imports nearly 10 million barrels of Saudi crude per day, comprising about 10% of the Kingdom’s total export volume. This arrangement keeps the balance of power in the Middle East, and especially balances against Iran.

That, at least, is the surface logic of the relationship. And it may have had a lot of truth to it in past decades. However, nowadays, Washington is a brothel of influence. That’s the nicest way to put it. The Saudis have spent tens of millions of dollars on lobbying and PR firms to curry favor in Washington, where you can get whatever you can pay for. They’re not the only country doing this, but they’re one of the most aggressive with their cash. So, as Mr. Bone Saw rapidly consolidated power in Riyadh, he also paid a small fortune to peddle the tale inside the Beltway that he was a “reformer.”

The most obvious example of this is how Mr. Bone Saw gave women the “right to drive” then imprisoned the top activists of the women’s rights movements in the Kingdom. In retrospect, this whole thing was an obvious PR operation for Western consumption. With one hand, Mr. Bone Saw gave Washington cover to publicly back his regime because it’s “reforming.” With the other hand, he strangled the people he had allegedly liberated.

Congress had to have been aware of this, and they were fine with it as long as it looked kosher from a distance.

Jamal Khashoggi had the audacity to speak the truth about this situation. And Mr. Bone Saw reacted as a thuggish mafia don by allegedly having the man sawed to pieces. The Saudi Prince didn’t do himself any favors, though. Khashoggi’s message has become far more powerful through his death than it was while he was alive.

Grand Strategery

So, the argument for selling weapons to Saudi Arabia is that they are a deterrent to Iran. The theocracy in Tehran is ascendant in the region and needs to be contained, the thinking goes. But nothing gave Iran more power in the region than George W. Bush’s decision to flick Saddam Hussein off the board. Tehran flooded the resulting power vacuum. Baghdad is now a virtual satrap of a new Persian empire. Barack Obama and Europe confronted this reality and struck a deal to live with Iran by putting a lid on its nuclear program. Trump then tore up America’s involvement in the Iran nuclear deal.

So, the fact is, no country has destabilized the Middle East and given Iran room to expand more than the United States. Do we really know what we’re doing there?

But the more horrifying fact is that the weapons we sell to Saudi Arabia are not being used as a “deterrent” at all. Saudi Arabia is committing genocide in neighboring Yemen, a weak and poor country incapable of defending itself from the Kingdom wielding American weapons. The indiscriminate bombing has massacred tens of thousands of civilians. It has created a dire situation of widespread plague and famine that threatens millions of lives.

The US is complicit in these war crimes. In August, Saudi forces launched a guided bomb that shredded a school bus bumping along a dusty road in Yemen. The blast slaughtered dozens of children. Lockheed Martin produced the bomb, which means that American workers assembled it at a plant in California, Texas, or Georgia. And the Pentagon approved its sale to Saudi Arabia.

Such incidents have been happening regularly in Yemen for years.

Since the end of World War II, the US has championed the international system that granted America global hegemony, helped it win the Cold War, and ushered in the “unipolar moment.” The three key pillars of this system are (1) oil production in the Middle East, (2) global finance in North America and the democracies protected by America in Europe and Asia, and (3) weapons sales to allies from the bloodiest tinpot dictator to the most bourgeois social democracy. This routine has been so ingrained for the past 70 years that the oil, finance and weapons industries arguably run the American government more than the government regulates them.

But America is long overdue for a grand rethinking of its strategic posture in the world. In the next few decades, the American-led tripartite oil/weapons/finance system IS DEFINITELY GOING TO DIE. How do I know that for certain?, you may ask.

Climate Change

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released an alarming report on October 8th. It concluded that the world has warmed by 1°C (1.8°F) since the beginning of the industrial revolution. This change is caused primarily by human societies pumping carbon waste into the atmosphere. The report warns that the world has only 12 years remaining to act to reduce global carbon consumption in order to prevent the planet from warming more than 1.5°C (2.7°F). In order to do this, the human species would have to reduce its carbon consumption by 45% by 2030. If we fail to, the earth will likely warm by 2°C (3.6°F). The difference in outcomes from half a degree is enormous.

According to The Guardian,

Sea-level rise would affect 10 million more people by 2100 if the half-degree extra warming brought a forecast 10cm additional pressure on coastlines. The number affected would increase substantially in the following centuries due to locked-in ice melt.

Oceans are already suffering from elevated acidity and lower levels of oxygen as a result of climate change. One model shows marine fisheries would lose 3m tonnes at 2C, twice the decline at 1.5C.

Sea ice-free summers in the Arctic, which is warming two to three times faster than the world average, would come once every 100 years at 1.5C, but every 10 years with half a degree more of global warming.

At 1.5°C, climate change will be bad, but manageable. If we allow the earth to warm by 2°C, it will begin to spiral out of control. Try to imagine what the world will look like starting in the middle of this century if we fail to arrest this process. Coastal cities around the world will be flooded. Agriculture will collapse, fisheries will die off. Regular extreme heat waves will roast tens of millions of people, causing thousands of deaths per year. Desert and tropical areas will become uninhabitable and semi-arid regions will become deserts. Drought will be near-constant in some areas. Other areas will be ravaged by super storms and floods. The earth will be aflame with massive wildfires every year. Countries will go to war over water access. Some rebellions will overthrow governments and others will be brutally crushed. Famine and disease will run rampant. All told, there will be more human beings fleeing some cataclysm than at any time in history.

Humans have been burning carbon into the atmosphere for about a quarter of a millennium. In that time, the earth has warmed by one degree Celsius. So it may seem like we have time to figure this out. But, in fact, half of all the carbon dioxide that humanity has ever burned was consumed in the last 25 years. Americans consume the most per capita, followed by Europeans. The industrial growth in China and India is also contributing to this sudden output. Just 100 companies account for over 70% of all carbon exhaust. These companies are fossil fuels giants like Exxon Mobil, Saudi Aramco and Russia’s Gazprom.

If we ignore this problem and leave it for leaders to figure out in future decades, the earth could warm by as much as three or even four degrees Celsius by the end of this century. New York Magazine spells out that nightmare scenario,

At three degrees, southern Europe will be in permanent drought. The average drought in Central America would last 19 months and in the Caribbean 21 months. In northern Africa, the figure is 60 months — five years. The areas burned each year by wildfires would double in the Mediterranean and sextuple in the United States. Beyond the sea-level rise, which will already be swallowing cities from Miami Beach to Jakarta, damages just from river flooding will grow 30-fold in Bangladesh, 20-fold in India, and as much as 60-fold in the U.K. This is three degrees — better than we’d do if all the nations of the world honored their Paris commitments, which none of them are. Practically speaking, barring those dramatic tech deus ex machinas, this seems to me about as positive a realistic outcome as it is rational to expect.

At four degrees, there would be eight million cases of dengue fever each year in Latin America alone. Global grain yields could fall by as much as 50 percent, producing annual or close-to-annual food crises. The global economy would be more than 30 percent smaller than it would be without climate change, and we would see at least half again as much conflict and warfare as we do today. Possibly more. Our current trajectory, remember, takes us higher still, and while there are many reasons to think we will bend that curve soon — the plummeting cost of renewable energy, the growing global consensus about phasing out coal — it is worth remembering that, whatever you may have heard about the green revolution and the price of solar, at present, global carbon emissions are still growing.

A New World Order

The UNHCR estimates that there are currently 68.5 million refugees in the world today. That’s the highest number since the aftermath of World War II. And that uptick of refugees has caused normal political paradigms to go haywire across the globe, ushering in a generation of demagogues onto the world stage. But if we allow the globe to warm, we’re not going to get more wise, rational and stable when there are hundreds of millions of refugees around the world. We will go mad. Governments will collapse in a heap of rubble in a shockwave felt across the planet in only a few decades.

So, for the past 70 years, selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and buying its oil has been a linchpin of America’s national security. But soon it won’t be, because one of two things is going to happen. Either, we are going to dramatically decrease how much oil we consume and transition to clean energy economy. Or we are going to continue consuming oil at an accelerating rate, and there will be so many refugees on the move in the world that human civilization will begin to collapse. Those are our choices. There is no way around this choice.

Any definition of American national security that ignores these facts is dangerously shortsighted.

So, I propose this. We begin planning for a post-oil future. The US should begin divesting from fossil fuels and investing in alternative energy innovation on a scale at least as great as its World War II mobilization. This would accomplish several things at once. It would create good jobs in the United States. It would reduce America’s carbon footprint. It would show the world that America can be a leader of ideas and innovation again. The US should then use the clean energy technology it develops and sell it to foreign countries the way it currently sells weapons. In a world rapidly warming, clean energy contracts should soon be a way to lock in trade deals and develop alliances.

I realize that this is not going to happen with our current government. But that’s why we need everyone to vote in every election from now on. The survival of our democracy, our planet, and human civilization all depend on it.

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is a warning to the world. The rulers in Riyadh and Washington are both engaging in brutal and corrupt tactics to buttress the system that America has relied on for 70 years. But that system needs to die. If it doesn’t, Khashoggi’s untimely death will be only one of hundreds of millions before the end of this century.

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Featured image via White House photo 

This is How the Russians Got to Lindsey Graham

Lindsey Graham

Lindsey Graham is on a rampage. A Grahampage?

The senior Republican Senator from South Carolina has swiftly transformed from Robin to the Batman of the late John “conscience of the Senate” McCain into a barking mad defender of Donald Trump’s policy goals. His slide from Trump critic to Trump lackey has been happening quietly for a while. Graham, who once called Trump a “jackass,” has become one of his closest foreign policy advisers. As rumors of war with North Korea began rumbling before the June opening to the Hermit Kingdom, Graham was one of the most hawkish confidants whispering in Trump’s ear, according to Bob Woodward.

But the weird Trump-Graham bromance goes beyond foreign policy. The rumble in the Senate over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court has made it unmistakable.

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During the September 27th Senate Judiciary Committee hearings to gather testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, Graham went berserk in defending Trump’s nominee and attacking Democratic colleagues.

Then, on October 2nd, Graham really went nuclear, threatening a yawning breach of democratic norms if Kavanaugh’s nomination fails:

“I believe Judge Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the Supreme Court very soon,” Graham said. “However, if his nomination were to fall short, I would encourage President Trump to re-nominate Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. It would — in effect — be appealing the Senate’s verdict directly to the American people.”

Of course, Graham knows that Republicans have a good shot of keeping the Senate, despite a forecast “blue wave” in the House, just because of how daunting the Senate map is for Democrats. Forcing the issue again right before the election would electrify the race and likely get more Republicans to come to the polls. So it’s disingenuous to say that this would be putting it to the American people. Up until the Merrick Garland nomination, the norm has been that the American people decided how their representatives nominated judges in the previous election, not the next election.

This power play Graham suggests would be an unprecedented failure of the Constitution’s checks and balances–just so Trump can take another swing with his highly tainted nominee.

Graham’s behavior in the Senate hearings, and this “encouragement” to Trump to attack the Constitution and ramrod his deeply flawed judge through point to the possibility that Graham is not merely an adviser to the White House. He’s acting as Trump’s mouthpiece in the Senate. Both his and Kavanaugh’s angry tones were positively Trumpian. They seemed to be emulating the president in his viciousness of style, tone and substance. And this suggestion to renominate Kavanaugh sounds like something that Trump cooked up. Did Graham offer to put his name on it before floating it as a trial balloon to give Trump cover?

Clearly, Graham is in Trump’s pocket. So how did he get there?

Some have suggested that Russia has kompromat on Graham. I don’t deny that’s possible. But there is information in the public record that shows a blatant financial conduit from the Kremlin and Russian oligarchs to Graham’s coffers.

The single largest donor to Lindsey Graham’s doomed 2016 presidential run was Access Industries. The company paid $800,000 to Graham’s “Security is Strength” PAC and $32,000 to Graham’s campaign. Most of the other donors were conservative groups, banks, hedge funds, and defense contractors, all typical fare. But Access Industries was unique, and it was his number one supporter.

Access Industries is a multinational conglomerate focused on “natural resources and chemicals, media and telecommunications, technology and e-commerce, and real estate sectors worldwide,” according to Bloomberg. It is privately owned by its founder, Leonard “Len” Blavatnik, who was born a Russian citizen in Soviet Ukraine. He lives in London and his company is based in New York City. According to Forbes, he is worth $17.8 billion, making him the third richest person in the UK and the 27th richest person in the world.

Blavatnik is deeply tied to the Russian oligarchy and top-level power structure in at least two ways that connect to the story of how Russia helped Trump become president.

In 2013, Blavatnik made $7 billion selling his share in Russian-UK joint petroleum company, TNK-BP. The buyer was Rosneft. That was after Russia, under the Vladimir Putin regime, nationalized Rosneft, making it a Russian state-owned asset. When the purchase was completed, Putin essentially became the wealthiest and most powerful oil baron in the world.

So, Blavatnik made Putin super-powerful, Putin paid Blavatnik a cool 7 billion, and Blavatnik paid Lindsey Graham $832,000 while he ran for president against Trump. Were they covering all their bases by funding multiple candidates? Or was Graham merely a foil? Meant to crowd out the field to give Trump breathing room and then bow out once Trump took off? Was the enmity between Trump and Graham during the election all an act?

The second connection is through Blavatnik’s media holdings. Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Blavatnik and his fellow billionaire friend Viktor Vekselberg formed an investment group called Renova. Renova then joined with Alfa Group to form a conglomerate called AAR Ventures.

Alfa Group is a holding company privately owned by Russian and Israeli billionaire, Mikhail Fridman. Christopher Steele’s infamous MI6 dossier on Trump featured Fridman prominently. In 2017, Fortune argued that the dossier was believable because,

“The dossier paints a picture of a long-standing symbiotic relationship between Alfa Group and the Russian leader. More recently, the dossier claims, Alfa owners Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven have provided Putin with valuable information through their own network of business contacts in the U.S., valued particularly because of the conflicting signals Putin was getting from his diplomats and spies regarding the success of the alleged operation.”

Fridman’s “business contacts in the U.S.” could include Blavatnik, since Access Industries is based in New York.

In 2016, Slate reported on how investigators looked through Trump’s internet servers to find evidence that he had been hacked by Russia. Instead they found an odd electronic relationship. One server set up by Trump in 2009 would only allow communications from a small number of other servers.

“The irregular pattern of server lookups actually resembled the pattern of human conversation—conversations that began during office hours in New York and continued during office hours in Moscow. It dawned on the researchers that this wasn’t an attack, but a sustained relationship between a server registered to the Trump Organization and two servers registered to an entity called Alfa Bank [owned by Alfa Group].”

So Blavatnik’s support for Graham is a potential conduit of influence that would tie Graham to a Russian Trump-supporter who was possibly carrying on discussions with Trump that were meant to be secret.

Fridman also owns a controlling share of VimpelCom. That Russian telecommunications company has large-scale operations in Ukraine. It was in rapid decline when fighting broke out between Ukraine and Russia. However, VimpelCom survived, because it was bailed out with a huge investment made in 2014 by Renaissance Technologies.

American billionaire Robert Mercer owns Renaissance Technologies. He also owns the company formerly known as Cambridge Analytica. That is the notorious data company that illicitly acquired Facebook data on millions of users and used it to manipulate both the UK’s Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential election. Mercer is also an owner of Breitbart and suggested to Trump that he hire rabid white nationalist Stephen Bannon in the opening days of his presidency.

To recap, the largest donation that Graham received in 2016 was from Blavatnik, who connects him to the Kremlin. Blavatnik’s money connects him to a Russian oligarch who was apparently pinging Trump’s secret server. It also connects him to the Russian-UK-American illegal data analytics and social media propaganda operation that helped get Trump elected. Far from being a legitimate Trump critic, Graham has been one of the offshoots of this democracy-strangling vine of corrupt influence from the very beginning.

Graham’s ferocious defense of Kavanaugh needs to be viewed in this light. Trump nominated Kavanaugh originally because of Kavanaugh’s history as a partisan hatchet man, and his expansive view of a Republican president’s executive power. But it could be that Trump isn’t the only one who wants a Supreme Court vote in his pocket because he’s worried about what the Mueller investigation might find. Lindsey Graham might have something to hide, too.

It has been speculated that Graham is “angling” to be the next Attorney General of the United States if and when Trump fires Jeff Sessions. In August, Graham seemed to telegraph his blessing for Trump to replace Sessions. He said that any new attorney general would have to let “Mueller … finish his job without political interference.” If Trump moves toward replacing Sessions, we should be very skeptical that this is what Graham actually believes.

This website is funded entirely by the generosity of patrons. Please click here to support Marc Belisle’s honest ad-free analysis of the threats against American democracy. 

Featured image via CNN YouTube screencapture