Muhammad bin Salman’s Khashoggi Gambit: The Trump Doctrine in Action

The actual Trump Doctrine, which we’ve covered here at Balloon Juice extensively since the President gave his first campaign speech about national-security and foreign policy back in April 2016, is:

America’s allies are taking advantage of our treaty and other obligations in the national security space; America’s allies and peer competitors are ripping the US off through our trade agreements; the US should go it alone if it can’t renegotiate better deals; and only a President Trump could guarantee that the US would be treated fairly – or else. That only a President Trump could guarantee that the US would be treated fairly, whether in national security arrangements or global trade, was simply an extension of one of the major, if not the major theme of his campaign: Donald Trump would be treated fairly or else and only Donald Trump could guarantee that Americans, especially the forgotten men and women as he phrased it, would be treated fairly or else.

That the US will be treated fairly or else, and that only a President Trump could guarantee that happening became the central, unifying theme of his national security and foreign policy approach was actually a stroke of strategic communication genius. A significant amount of the President’s initial strategic communication approach was through tying his primary opponents, the Republican National Committee, and the broadcast and cable news networks in knots about treating him fairly. This included trying to get Megyn Kelly removed from debate moderation after he felt she treated him badly, as well as actually dropping out of a GOP primary debate on Fox News and holding a competing charity event for veterans because he did not like that Fox wouldn’t comply with his demands. And if they failed to do so he’d deal with them harshly. Then candidate Trump threatened his fellow primary opponents and the RNC by making it clear that if he didn’t feel he was being treated fairly by them, then the “or else” would be his running as an independent candidate, thereby splitting the Republican vote for president, and handing the election to the then presumed Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton.

By making this the dominant theme of his national security and foreign policy approach, he was able to make a singular through line for his campaign – “I, Donald Trump, will be treated fairly or else by the GOP, the RNC, and the news media; only I, Donald Trump, can guarantee that you the forgotten men and women of America are treated fairly in regards to both domestic politics and foreign policy; and only I, Donald Trump, can guarantee that the US will be treated fairly or else there will be serious and severe repercussions for the GOP, the RNC, the news media, elected and appointed officials, and America’s allies, partners, and peer competitors”. Here was the simple through line to connect Make America Great Again both domestically and internationally by placing America first. It is also the essence of the real Trump Doctrine: President Trump and by extension the forgotten men and women of America, as well as America itself, will be treated fairly or else.

Muhammad bin Salman’s strategy for the wetwork operation against Jamal Khashoggi is to leverage the Trump Doctrine in order to allow him to get away with having Khashoggi to be vanished by rendition, or as is now reported and most likely to have happened, extra-judicially executed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The Crown Prince, who is popularly known as MBS, like so many other authoritarian and autocratic foreign leaders, has figured out that the President makes his decisions on whether he feels he is being treated fairly. If he feels that he is, then one can pretty much do whatever they want. If he feels that he isn’t, then the President goes on the offensive to deliver the “or else”. MBS believes he can get away with this because the President has publicly made it clear that as long as the Saudis spend money purchasing his properties or at his properties, then he likes them because they are treating him fairly.

At one of his 2015 campaign rallies the President said:

Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.

The Permanent Saudi Mission to the UN is housed in Trump World Tower across the street from the UN. The Kingdom owns the entire 45th floor. The Trump Tower in Chicago is running a profit, as is the Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York, largely because of bookings from the Saudis. Even as almost all the other Trump branded properties posted significant losses, especially his beloved Scottish golf courses. Jared Kushner has also been seeking financing from the Saudis for his personal business interests. At this time it appears that funding stream did not come through. The lack of funding, however, has not kept the Crown Prince from bragging that he has Jared in his pocket, which, once reported, MBS denied.

Muhammad bin Salman is gambling that because the Saudis spend lavishly on the President’s private business interests, and that because the President doesn’t understand the terms of what the Saudis have negotiated in regard to their potential purchases of US military equipment, which are really just a bunch of letters of intent that have yet to be finalized., that the President will provide him with the plausible deniability he needs to get away with having Khashoggi vanished and mist likely extra-judicially executed. Despite the fact that MBS negotiated a huge discount from Jared “The Hidden Genius” Kushner and guarantees that approximately 50% of the weapons would be built in Saudi Arabia, which means that the sale, if it were actually finalized, would not significantly increase US manufacturing or jobs.

Right on schedule this morning the President announced that Saudi King Salman, who is actually just an infirm figure head, stated the Saudis didn’t do anything to Khashoggi, but it could have been rogue killers.

You know, rogue killers who just happened to be traveling on Saudi Arabian diplomatic passports, on Saudi Arabian government jets, one of whom was an autopsy specialist who happened to pack his bone saw, who just happened to be hanging out at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul when Jamal Khashoggi walked in to get his official Saudi marriage documents signed, and who just so happened decided that Khashoggi looked like a good guy to practice a little recreational wetwork and improvisational autopsying on. Which would, I suppose, explain, why the Saudi Arabians had a professional cleaning team in their Istanbul consulate this morning, which left shortly before the Turkish police were allowed to enter the building.

As long as the President places being treated fairly, and specifically his subjective understanding of being personally treated fairly, as the central consideration of US policy, we will see more of this type of behavior from the authoritarians, autocrats, despots, tyrants, neo-nationalists, and neo-fascists that the President finds so admirable. During his 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl, he all but gave Putin a green light, and anyone else who was paying attention and might have similar interests, to keep assassinating people – from political rivals to opposition figures to journalists to defectors from Russia’s intelligence services – as long as they’re not American citizens and the wet work doesn’t take place in the US.

While there is an old political science/international relations axiom that state’s don’t have friends, they have interests, the Trump Doctrine has turned the US into a transactional state. A transactional state being run by the head of an ongoing white collar criminal and organized criminal enterprise. It is no surprise that authoritarians and aspiring authoritarians like Muhammad bin Salman are developing strategies that leverage the treat the President fairly part of the Trump Doctrine to get away with whatever they want in order to avoid the “or else” response.

We are off the looking glass and through the map.

Open thread!

#FacePalm Open Thread: Oval Office Occupant Gives Interview

… to journalistic ninja Olivia Nuzzi, who is young & attractive & must’ve seemed unthreatening. Should’ve checked her previous work, dudes!

NYMag really deserves all the kudos it’s gonna get for “My Private Oval Office Press Conference With Donald Trump, Mike Pence, John Kelly, and Mike Pompeo”

Around 12:20 p.m. on Tuesday, I was on my way out of the White House after a series of meetings in the West Wing. I was reporting on a question that has hung over this administration for months: How has Chief of Staff John Kelly managed to keep his job in spite of convincing and persistent rumors and reports that the president is unhappy with him, and he is unhappy in his job? I stopped to talk to another reporter, and then I began to walk toward the North Gate. As I walked, I noticed I had a missed call from a Washington number I didn’t recognize. It was Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She sounded very serious. She asked me if I had left yet. When I said no, she asked me to come back inside, and when she greeted me, she looked very serious. She implied she wanted me to go with her behind a door. I didn’t understand, maybe didn’t quite hear her. Then, she told me Trump wanted to speak to me.

I walked to the Oval Office. I guessed that the president wanted to disabuse me of any notion that Kelly was about to be fired, or had almost been fired many times before. I was right, but my imagination was too limited. What ensued amounted to a private press conference — featuring a series of special guest stars from the highest echelon of the Trump administration — to try to get me to change my mind.

“I just heard that you were doing a story on … this stuff,” the president said as he came into the Oval Office and sat down at the Resolute Desk. I sat in a chair across from him. Next to me were Sanders and communications director Bill Shine.

“General Kelly’s doing a very good job,” Trump told me. “We have a very good relationship. The White House is running very, very smoothly. We’ve had a big week. We just got a Supreme Court justice on the bench. We have the USMCA, meaning the NAFTA replacement, and many other things. We had a great meeting with North Korea. It was a great meeting. The secretary of State’s coming just in ten minutes.”

He went on, “But I want to tell you a couple of things: the chief is doing a very good job. I’m very happy with him, we have a very good relationship, number one. Number two, I didn’t offer anybody else the job. I didn’t talk to anybody about the job. And I’m not, I’m not looking. Now, look, with time, do people leave? As an example, Nikki Haley told me six months ago, even a year ago — but six months ago, that, you know, she’s been governor, she’s done this, she’s helped us with the campaign, a lot of good things, and you probably saw the conference. It was a very, very positive thing. We have a very positive story going on at the White House. We have a very positive story for the country. We’re doing a great job. We have the greatest economy in the history of our country. We have among the greatest job numbers. Among many groups, we have the greatest job numbers. We have things going on that are phenomenal on trade. China wants to make a deal — I said, you’re not ready yet. But they wanna make a deal, and at some point we might. Iran wants to make a deal. They all wanna make a deal. We have great things going. We have a very smooth-running organization even though it’s never reported that way. So the real story is that. It’s really the real story. When you walk in here, you don’t see chaos. There is no chaos. The media likes to portray chaos. There’s no chaos. I’m leaving for Iowa in a little while. We’re doing something that’s going to be very exciting tonight in Iowa. A big, a big announcement, actually. Doing four rallies this week. I think the rallies have, frankly, built up our poll numbers very greatly. What am I now in Rasmussen? 52?”

The question was directed at Sanders, who confirmed the number. [Note: The Rasmussen poll had Trump at 51 percent.]

“Plus there’s 10 percent, they think, where people don’t respond, unfortunately. I’m not sure if this is nice or not nice, but when they don’t respond, that means it’s an automatic Trump vote. But it’s a 52,” Trump said, “and we’re doing very well in the polls. You see what’s happening with respect to the election, I mean, you know, to the midterms, even though — I know — historically, the president, you don’t tend to do so well in the midterms, but we have, this is a different presidency and this is the greatest economy ever. So, we’ll have to test that. But even the polls are saying that we have really come a long way in the last three weeks. I think we’re gonna do well. And that’s all I have to say. I want to just tell you that I’m very happy with General Kelly and I get along very well with him. We have a very good relationship. And if we didn’t, I wouldn’t stand for it for a minute, and he wouldn’t want it any other way. So it’s just a different narrative than what you were saying. And with that, you’re gonna have to write what you have to write, but the truth is, we have a really smooth-running White House and nothing and nobody has done more in their first two years as president. We’re not even up to the second year.”…

To repeat myself: If your grandpa started rambling like this in public, you’d take away his car keys and checkbook.

The Parameters of the Reopened Kavanaugh Background Investigation Have Been Expanded

On Saturday night I posted this comment in a reply to smintheus who was expressing concerns over the reported constraints on the reopened Kavanaugh background investigation.

1) This, like every other one of these too cute by half maneuvers they pull, is going to blow up in their faces. This actually increases the pressure on Flake, not reduces it. Flake made it clear that the only limit on the investigation was a week, which isn’t actually a problem for the FBI when conducting a priority Special Presidential (Directed Background) Investigation (SPIN). Basically they’re humiliating Flake. That didn’t work out so well for them last week. Flake and Coons are appearing together on 60 Minutes tomorrow night and I guarantee they’ll be asked about this.

2) You wan’t to make Avenatti go away or, at least, chill him out as much as possible. This has just pissed him off more. He’s already scheduled to appear with his client on at least one Sunday show tomorrow. I realize that McGahn has gotten used to dealing with the walking dead that have been the President’s legal team over the past 19 months or so, but Avenatti is in a whole different league than past their primes Dowd and Giuliani and a never was like Sekulow. All they’ve done is waved a big red flag in front of an already angry bull. They seem to have forgotten that he already set the conditions that ended with Michael Cohen pleading guilty in Federal court in an allocution that inames the President as his unindicted co-conspirator.

Just as they completely misplayed their hand over and over and over again last week, they’ve decided to get a head start on doing so next week.

As I’ve written here several times, there is a lot of time between now and next Friday. And then there will be a lot of time between the initial procedural vote by the whole Senate and when they hold the final vote 72 hours later. Every time these morons have a chance to actually help themselves by not making things worse, their instinct is to make things worse.

NBC News has now confirmed earlier reporting by The New York Times that while the one week time constraint remains, the other parameters that limited who the FBI may interview, as well as the overall scope of the background investigation,

The real reason for this is that Senator Jeff Flake made it public in a televised interview this morning that a pro-forma, limited reopened background would not serve the needs of the country.

The removal of the constraints on the scope of the investigation are all about trying to ensure that Senator Flake can get to yes in his support for Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. And because Senator Flake is providing top cover for Senators Murkowski and Collins, and possibly Senators Manchin and Heitkamp, the White House and Senator McConnell are going to do everything possible to get him to move to yes.

This is also why Senator McConnell just concluded a Majority Leader’s floor speech excoriating the Democratic senators, and specifically Senator Feinstein, over how Dr. Blasey’s accusations against Judge Kavanaugh were handled. Senator McConnell has now publicly staked out that his official position is that this whole thing is a conspiracy among and between Senator Feinstein, the other Democratic Senators, including Senator Schumer the minority leader, Dr. Blasey’s attorney who was recommended by someone on Senator Feinstein’s staff. And why he’s asserting that there will be a vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination this week.

With the constraints on the scope of the FBI’s reopened background investigation, the only vote the Senate may be able to take this week would be the initial procedural vote sometime on Friday to move to the final vote 72 hours laters, which would be Monday.

Time is not Judge Kavanaugh’s friend right now. Nor Senator McConnell’s or the President’s. With the removal of the constraints on the scope lifted, and former classmates of Judge Kavanaugh’s coming out of the woodwork about his drinking problems in college, pressure is going to grow on Senator Flake in regard to the statement he made on 60 Minutes last night that if Judge Kavanaugh lied during his confirmation hearings, including the hearing last week, that his nomination must be voted down.

One final, important point: the FBI does not want to be left holding the bag on this! Regardless of the actual partisan political registrations/affiliations and/or ideological preferences of the leadership at the FBI, right now the FBI is hoping that the Democrats take at least the House, if not also the Senate, in the midterm elections next month. They are hoping this happens so that they can get some institutional top cover from Congress to both remove and check the political pressure that the President and his surrogates in Congress have been placing on the FBI because of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation. The last thing the FBI’s leadership wants right now is to replace angry, conspiratorial Republicans running the House and/or the Senate with angry Democrats that are going to shred them over a White House and Senate majority GOP leadership constrained and therefore botched background investigation into Judge Kavanaugh. That’s why there were repeated leaks about this over the weekend. As I’ve written here repeatedly: the US Intelligence Community will leak when it is in its strategic interest to do so. These leaks were in the FBI’s strategic interest and they accomplished the objective. They got the constraints on the scope removed.

Open thread!

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing with Dr. Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh Live Feed Part VI


Open thread!

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing with Dr. Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh Live Feed Part V

This’ll be the last one of these I’m putting up as I have to head out in a few minutes. Live feed is below.

Open thread!

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing with Dr. Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh Live Feed Part IV

Here’s a fresh post and comment thread for Judge Kavanaugh’s turn to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Open thread!

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing with Dr. Blasey and Judge Kavanaugh Live Feed Part III

Here’s a third open thread for the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing with Dr. Blasey and, eventually, with Judge Kavanaugh.

Open thread!