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!








The Text of the Statement Signed by the President and Kim Jong Un at the Singapore Summit

From CNN:

Joint Statement of President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the Singapore Summit

President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held a first, historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018.
President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un conducted a comprehensive, in-depth and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new US-DPRK relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Convinced that the establishment of new US-DPRK relations will contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and of the world, and recognizing that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un state the following:
  1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
  2. The United States and DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
  3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula
  4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
Having acknowledged that the US-DPRK summit — the first in history — was an epochal event of great significance in overcoming decades of tensions and hostilities between the two countries and for the opening up of a new future, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un commit to implement the stipulations in the joint statement fully and expeditiously. The United States and the DPRK commit to hold follow-on negotiations, led by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level DPRK official, at the earliest possible date, to implement the outcomes of the US-DPRK summit.
President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have committed to cooperate for the development of new US-DPRK relations and for the promotion of peace, prosperity, and the security of the Korean Peninsula and of the world.
DONALD J. TRUMP
President of the United States of America
KIM JONG UN
Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
June 12, 2018
Sentosa Island
Singapore

Joe Cirincione provides the analysis:

There is nothing new here in this statement. As I wrote on May 1st (emphasis mine):

When you hear or read Kim or other DPRK officials calling for denuclearization, part of what they mean is for the US to remove the nuclear umbrella that it provides to Japan and the ROK, if not the removal of the US military from the Korean Peninsula. Not giving up the DPRK’s nuclear deterrent. Sue Mi Terry, formerly a senior Korea analyst at the CIA, provides an explanation of what denuclearization means to Kim:

She said it’s significant that Kim spoke not of removing nuclear weapons from North Korea, but rather of the “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” as a whole. That formulation by the Kim government is “not new,” Terry told me, and has been accompanied in the past with demands for measures to preserve the regime’s security such as the signing of a peace treaty to finally end the Korean War, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea, and the end of the U.S.-South Korean military alliance, which in turn would terminate the protection the United States extends to South Korea through its nuclear weapons. Hence, talk of a nuclear-free peninsula despite the fact that South Korea doesn’t have nuclear weapons. (In this respect, Kim was right to assert that he was simply echoing the policies of his father, who was also quoted by Chinese media as committing to the denuclearization of the peninsula even as he persisted in developing the nation’s nuclear-weapons arsenal.)

What Kim is talking about is not what the President or anyone on his team is talking about when they talk about denuclearization. Before US-DPRK negotiations have ever begun we have a fundamental mismatch of what the key term means. This will make negotiating more difficult if there is no agreement to what the key terms mean and key issues actually are. There is little doubt that President Moon knows exactly what Kim means when he talks about denuclearization. Moreover, President Moon is no doubt very clear about the President not wanting to keep US military personnel in the ROK. The President, per his longstanding belief dating back to 1987, sees this as a waste of money and another example of America’s allies and partners taking advantage of it and playing the US for suckers.

While this is all significantly better than threats, escalations, and preparations for war, Kim got what he needed out of this summit and the President really didn’t. Kim’s now met with the President of the United States, which elevates his status internally and makes US allies like Japan very nervous. He got to go out on the town in Singapore after his arrival. The President has still floated the idea of a possible invite for a follow on summit in the US – either at the White House or Mar a Lago. The President has made vague statements of assurances of that an agreement will guarantee Kim’s regime’s survival, as well as significant economic aid. And Kim hasn’t had to do anything he wasn’t going to do anyway in exchange for all of this. Including agreeing to do anything substantial as a result of yesterday’s summit.

The President and his supporters will try to push this as a huge win over the next several months heading into the midterm elections. A sign of initial diplomatic and foreign policy success to compete with and cancel out the coming bad news that will accompany the trade war and counter tariffs that will result from the tariffs that the President had demanded and insists will Make America Great again for the forgotten men and women of America who are forgotten no more. Slowly, however, reality will intrude. Kim will continue to not give an inch; he’ll simply play good Supreme Leader in juxtaposition to playing bad Supreme Leader last year.

Updated at 8:oo AM EDT: (h/t Cheryl Rofer in comments)

The President appears to have caught everyone off guard by stating he’s going to stop further Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational (JIIM) military exercises with our South Korean and Japanese allies.

Optics over substance.

Open thread!

(ETA: I fixed the missing Cirincione tweet that WP ate.)








US-DPRK Summit Part II: The Summiting!!!

As we wait for actual news to come out of the initial bilateral meeting between the President and Kim Jong Un with only interpreters present, just a few thoughts of what to look for as the evening/night here in the US wears on.

  1. The initial bilateral meeting is only the President, Kim, and interpreters. No note takers. This is significant and may lead to completely different read outs of the meeting. With the US presenting a read out that indicates the meeting went one way and the DPRK releasing one that contradicts it. Or, as has been the case so often, the US not releasing a read out until forced to because the other party to the meeting released one that cast the President in a bad light. Or details leaked from within the administration that did the same thing. This is why you never go into one of these meetings without your own interpreter and your own note taker!
  2. It has been reported that the communique has already been written and agreed to. While this isn’t all that uncommon, it will be interesting to see how different the communique is from either or both of the read outs, let alone the leaks, from the initial bilateral meetings or from whatever the President tweets once the summit is over.
  3. Earlier today it was reported that Secretary Mattis was unsure if a reduction of US forces in South Korea is on the agenda for discussion. While I doubt that Secretary Pompeo would have allowed it to be part of the structured discussion in the second meeting, given how the President operates it is one of the potential wild cards that could throw everyone for a loop.
  4. Despite stating otherwise on Friday before leaving for the G7 summit, the President will not be bringing up the DPRK’s human rights issues, so don’t expect that to be addressed in the read outs or the communique.
  5. It was reported last week that Kim’s envoy, Kim Yong Chol, pitched a development opportunity to the President when he met with him last week in the White House. Specifically a casino development project in the DPRK. If this is indeed an accurate report, then the Trump Doctrine, “I will be treated fairly or else”, is in play. (I’ll have more on the Trump Doctrine tomorrow in regard to Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in The Atlantic. The Bottom Line Up Front is that Goldberg has mistaken sloganeering for a strategic narrative.)
  6. Keep in mind that Kim has already gotten what he needed out of this summit. He’s meeting with the President of the United States; he got to go out on the town last night; a possible invite for a follow on summit in the US – either at the White House or Mar a Lago – has been floated by the President; rumored assurances of his regimes survival and significant economic aid. Up to this point Kim hasn’t had to do anything he wasn’t going to do anyway in exchange for all of this.
  7. Watch to see if the schedule is stuck to or if the initial bilateral meeting between the President and Kim runs late.

Stay frosty!

Open thread!








The US IS Now Superfluous To The Future Of The Korean Peninsula Part II

On May 1st I wrote:

I also think that aside from the meeting between Kim and the President, the US is now superfluous to the reality on the ground. And that Kim is manipulating the President into a diplomatic and strategic trap where Kim and the DPRK looks like the good guys here and the President, and by extension the US, look unreasonable and become the bad guys. This would also make Xi and the PRC, as well as Putin – another Kim patron – very, very happy.

Part of the problem is I don’t think the President or anyone on his team really seem to understand where President Moon is coming from. Moon is from the center-left/left of center party in the ROK that seeks an opening with the DPRK. His parents were also refugees from the DPRK to the ROK, so reaching a rapprochement that allows for families to be reunited is very important for him.

Moon clearly wants to reach a new normal on the Korean Peninsula. Kim, in the DPRK, wants what he’s always wanted:

  • the removal of the US, specifically of the US military, from the peninsula
  • the reunification of the peninsula
  • under Kim family control
  • preservation of the Kim family regime

What Kim is talking about is not what the President or anyone on his team is talking about when they talk about denuclearization. Before US-DPRK negotiations have ever begun we have a fundamental mismatch of what the key term means. This will make negotiating more difficult if there is no agreement to what the key terms mean and key issues actually are. There is little doubt that President Moon knows exactly what Kim means when he talks about denuclearization. Moreover, President Moon is no doubt very clear about the President not wanting to keep US military personnel in the ROK. The President, per his longstanding belief dating back to 1987, sees this as a waste of money and another example of America’s allies and partners taking advantage of it and playing the US for suckers.

… the South Koreans know exactly where they stand with the President. So it should not be surprising that President Moon is going to pursue the ROK’s interests and get the best deal he can get with Kim if there is a deal to be had regardless of what happens between the DPRK and the US. Moon has essentially recognized that there are two separate, though somewhat related, diplomatic tracks going on. The first he controls and is bilaterally between the ROK and the DPRK. The second involves the US, is sort of multilateral and at the same time sort of bilateral, and may or may not be anything more than a show.

From the perspective of the DPRK’s Kim, he’s already gotten what he wants from the US: agreement to the meeting. This elevates Kim and the DPRK from pariah status to worthy of direct negotiations with the US and the President. While the President and his team don’t seem to realize this, or if they do, acknowledge it publicly, this is a key concession from the US to the DPRK. And it was provided without Kim having to do much of anything.

All of this is even more evident today with the President withdrawing from the scheduled June summit in Singapore. President Moon as well as the members of his government, have now seen that even if they try to work within the Trump Doctrine and treat the President fairly in order avoid the “or else”, they’re still likely to get the “or else”. The South Koreans gave the President a number of largely symbolic* concessions in the renegotiated trade agreement in order to pursue the “treat fairly” track of the Trump Doctrine. Instead they’ve gotten the “or else” response. The President has repeatedly stated that he wants to pull all US forces out of the ROK because the South Koreans are ripping us off in terms of trade, he cancelled the more controversial for the DPRK portion of the air warfare exercise with the ROK to keep Kim locked into the summit he just cancelled, and he’s now cancelled the summit because the North Koreans replied as in a very predictable way to the Vice President’s and the National Security Advisor’s threatening invocation of how the US dealt with Muamar Qadafi after he gave up his limited nuclear weapons capability.

At this point Moon has tried the “treat fairly” track of the Trump Doctrine and gotten little positive result. In fact he’s largely gotten the “or else” response. Especially as it has been reported that Moon was “blindsided” by this morning’s announcement.

South Korea’s government seemed blindsided by Trump’s announcement.

“We are attempting to make sense of what, precisely, President Trump means,” said government spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom.

Shortly before midnight in Seoul, South Korea’s president called an emergency meeting to discuss Trump’s decision, summoning his chief of staff, national security adviser, foreign minister, unification minister and intelligence chief to the presidential Blue House.

As a result he has every incentive to simply continue to bilaterally negotiate with Kim to achieve Moon’s and Moon’s government’s understanding of the ROK’s national interest. By impulsively deciding to grant Kim a summit based and now impulsively pulling out of that summit because of some tough talk, the President seems to think that his maximum pressure campaign got him the opportunity for the summit and can now simply be reimposed and once again achieve positive goals. The problem, of course, is there is no evidence that the President’s maximum pressure approach actually contributed to or set the conditions for Kim to pursue a bilateral US-DPRK summit, which is something Kim, his father, and his grandfather have been trying to achieve for decades.

Here’s a link to the live feed of the President’s forthcoming remarks on his withdrawing from the summit with Kim.

Kim has largely already gotten what he wanted. He got the President to agree to meet with him. He got two photo ops with Secretary of State Pompeo. He got the President to call him an honorable man. And he got the President to call this off, making the US look like the mercurial, erratic, and unreliable obstacle to peace. It is important to remember that there are a whole bunch of foreign reporters in the DPRK right now because they were there to observe and report on the destruction of the DPRK nuclear test facility. If we’re very lucky, Kim won’t decide that he too can play the “or else” game as well and scarf these folks up as hostages to use as bargaining chips.

Updated at 12:20 PM EDT

The President has opened his remarks by threatening the DPRK with a military response. For whatever reason, between the President’s positive remarks about the summit in his pre recorded interview with Fox and Friends this AM, his issuing the withdrawal letter, and this press statement, he’s decided to go straight to belligerent. And despite what he’s saying in terms of greatly enhancing our military, the US does not currently have the operational capacity to fight a war on the Korean peninsula. Or anywhere else for that matter.

Updated at 12:35 PM EDT:

Not only did the President not give Moon a heads up, he also decided to blindside the DPRK too!

Open thread!

* The trade concessions that the ROK made are largely symbolic as they apply to types of goods that the US does not currently sell in the ROK and has no intention of doing so for the foreseeable future.








I Will Be Treated Fairly Or Else: Lesley Stahl Explains The Application Of The Trump Doctrine To The News Media

The President has had a long and largely unpleasant relationship with the news media since he declared his candidacy. As in he’s been unpleasant to the news media. A good chunk of this was set early on with his penning of reporters in at his campaigns and using them as foils, as well as his successful attempts to roll the cable, network, and print news media into treating him “fairly” or receiving an “or else”. He pulled this early and successfully in the primary season with Fox News when he demanded that Megyn Kelly be pulled from her moderator duties. When Fox refused, he scheduled a competing event.

At last night’s Deadline Club awards dinner, Lesley Stahl provided a very detailed explanation of how the President has applied the Trump Doctrine of “I will be treated fairly or else” to the news media. Talking Points Memo has the transcript:

“At one point he started to attack the press. And it’s just me and my boss and him, in— He has a huge office. And he’s attacking the press. And there were no cameras. There was nothing going on, and I said, ‘You know, that is getting tired. Why are you doing this? You’re doing it over and over, and it’s boring, and it’s time to end that. You’ve won the nomination (sic). Why do you keep hammering at this?’

“And he said, ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”

Here’s the video, which is set to start at the 21:23 mark with her stating what the President told her regarding how he treats the media and why:

Whether the Trump Doctrine is the result of just gut instinct or forethought doesn’t matter. Here we have a first person recounting of the President explaining it in regard to how he deals with the news media. Eventually his supporters are going to get tired of screaming “lugenpresse” at the penned in reporters at his rallies. Or telling them to get out of their country like the lovely gentleman below. Eventually one or more will actually attack and most likely kill a reporter. I certainly hope the news media has thought out how it is going to respond when that happens. Hope, however, is not a strategy.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.