When will the Saudis learn that Trump is toxic?

#Diplomacy

Sooner or later, Trump will discard his Gulf allies too

David Hearst's picture
Monday 16 July 2018 10:57 UTC
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If the penny, or cent, has not dropped by now, it never will: Donald Trump presents a greater danger to his allies than he does to his foes. He imperils America as a world power. 

In 48 action-packaged hours, he has threatened to pull out of Nato (telling the organisation's leaders that if they did not meet their two percent spending targets by January, he would "do his own thing"), told German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, that she was "captive to Russia" (in fact, Russian gas meets only nine percent of Germany's needs), and stabbed his current host, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, in the back by telling the Sun that the Brexit deal which split her cabinet and her party will not work, and that her nemesis, Boris Johnson, would make a good prime minister.

At a press conference hours later, he decried the paper's report as "fake news," and said the US-UK relationship is "the highest level of special".

Donald Trump presents a greater danger to his allies than he does to his foes. He imperils America as a world power

With Trump at the helm, demonstrations are superfluous. He is doing a great job wrecking America all by himself.

Don't get me wrong. I am no fan of the institutions on which America depends. I hold no cards for Nato, whose eastern expansion is the primary factor behind the emergence of an aggressive, nationalist Russia. Still less do I support a German-dominated eurozone whose austerity response to the banking crash in 2008 laid waste to significant sections of the southern European economy.

Gulf leaders have gambled that they can buy the service of a man such as this. Their efforts to insert themselves and their plans on the truly blank page of Trump's mind, and that of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, attempting to influence whom he hires and whom he fires, are now a matter of public record.

In successive reports by Middle East Eye, the New York Times, the New Yorkerthe BBC, The Washington Post and the Associated Press, we now know from emails written by the key players of this unholy cabal that Tom Barrack, Trump’s billionaire friend, offered to exchange inside information on top cabinet appointments with Yousef al-Otaiba, the Emirati ambassador to Washington; that the Emiratis successfully lobbied to get Rex Tillerson, when US secretary of state, sacked; that Israeli, Saudi and Emirati officials pushed Trump to strike a bargain with Putin - to trade Iran's presence in Syria in exchange for lifting the sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine.



Trump calls the Sun's report 'fake news' during a press conference at Chequers on Friday (AFP)

All these trades were greased by substantial amounts of money, principally in arms deals. But the money for Trump was never enough. He always came back for more, for Syria, and the latest humiliating demand for Saudi to raise oil production.

Trump's attitude to his donors is contemptuous. "They wouldn't be there except for the United States. They wouldn't last a week. We are protecting them. They have to now step up and pay for what is happening," he told French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking about Saudi Arabia.

This is not a man who repays loyalty. It's a man who tosses his closest mates under a bus, first his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, now his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who is under criminal investigation for alleged bank fraud, campaign finance violations and tax issues. Cohen created a non-disclosure agreement with Stormy Daniels, with whom he facilitated a $130,000 payment to cover an alleged affair with Trump. The White House has denied an affair.

The penny about Trump has dropped with Cohen, who said: "I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone's defence strategy. I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way."

Shared agenda 

It's crystal clear, too, now that all the foreign powers who homed in on Trump, either during his election campaign or afterwards, had an agenda to which the US president was the key.

Correctly reading that America was a power in retreat, they seized on the opportunity to fill the vacuum and attempted to become the dominant regional power themselves.

The war in Yemen, the siege of Qatar, the "deal of the century" which will impose a settlement on the Palestinians without some of their fundamental, and internationally recognised rights, and finally a war against Iran are all part of the same plan, conceived and implemented by the same group of people - Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Israel. 



Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (R) and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (L) in Riyadh last May (AFP)

When I wrote four years ago that Israel's attack on Gaza was by Saudi royal appointment, the Saudi ambassador to the UK, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, replied in Al-Arabiya in person. 

"It is hard to believe that such utter rubbish, such baseless lies, could be written by someone who purports to be an editor of any kind," the prince wrote.

Today, the Saudis do not even attempt to deny their security relationship with Israel, or their hand in a plan which clearly and explicitly denies the Palestinians East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, nor any exercise, however token, of the refugees' right of return - two internationally recognised demands.

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"Be assured," the ambassador wrote in 2014. "We, the people and government of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, will never, ever give up on them, we will never do anything to harm them, we will do all we can to help them in their rightful claim to their own homeland and the return of lands taken illegally from them."

Well, that is exactly the pledge that King Salman and his son, Mohammed, are now betraying.

Helsinki next

Having shaken Nato, insulted Merkel, and put a large spanner in the works of May's Brexit plan, Trump moves on to Helsinki to meet Vladimir Putin. Here you can be assured Trump will be at his most obsequious. 

For Putin, the occasion will present a delicious irony. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the president of the Russian Federation will be striding to shake the hand of the president of the United States as an equal, not someone to be talked down to or preached at.

The wheel of fortune has turned. There must be a Russian Orthodox god in heaven after all, Putin must be thinking.

For the Middle East, the lesson of Trump is obvious. However much you pay him, he will use you for his purposes and then discard you. Merkel has realised this. May has too: this is a man with whom you should sup with a very long spoon.

- David Hearst is editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He was chief foreign leader writer of The Guardian, former Associate Foreign Editor, European Editor, Moscow Bureau Chief, European Correspondent, and Ireland Correspondent. He joined The Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Activists inflate a giant balloon depicting US President Donald Trump during a demonstration against Trump's visit to the UK in Parliament Square in London on 13 July 2018 (AFP)