Saudi Arabia plays Trump like a cheap fiddle — Trump sells out to the people who sponsor ISIS

Fareed Zakaria nails it . . . the Saudis played Trump like a fiddle . . . he overthrew US foreign policy and swallowed the Saudi line.


This week’s bombing in Manchester, England, was another gruesome reminder that the threat from radical Islamist terrorism is ongoing. And President Trump’s journey to the Middle East illustrated yet again how the country central to the spread of this terrorism, Saudi Arabia, has managed to evade and deflect any responsibility for it. In fact, Trump has given Saudi Arabia a free pass and a free hand in the region.

The facts are well-known. For five decades, Saudi Arabia has spread its narrow, puritanical and intolerant version of Islam — originally practiced almost nowhere else — across the Muslim world. Osama bin Laden was Saudi, as were 15 of the 19 9/11 terrorists.

And we know, via a leaked email from former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, in recent years the Saudi government, along with Qatar, has been “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to [the Islamic State] and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” Saudi nationals make up the second-largest group of foreign fighters in the Islamic State and, by some accounts, the largest in the terrorist group’s Iraqi operations. The kingdom is in a tacit alliance with al-Qaeda in Yemen.

The Islamic State draws its beliefs from Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi version of Islam. As the former imam of the kingdom’s Grand Mosque said last year, the Islamic State “exploited our own principles, that can be found in our books. . . . We follow the same thought but apply it in a refined way.” Until the Islamic State could write its own textbooks for its schools, it adopted the Saudi curriculum as its own.

Saudi money is now transforming European Islam. Leaked German intelligence reports show that charities “closely connected with government offices” of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait are funding mosques, schools and imams to disseminate a fundamentalist, intolerant version of Islam throughout Germany.

Throughout the campaign, Trump was all about “radical Islamic terrorism” and “radical Islamic terrorists.”  He regularly attacked Hillary Clinton and President Obama for not using either phrase.  However,  President Trump did not use the phrase when he delivered a speech to leaders from Muslim countries in Saudi Arabia.

In Kosovo, the New York Times’ Carlotta Gall describes the process by which a 500-year-old tradition of moderate Islam is being destroyed. “From their bases, the Saudi-trained imams propagated Wahhabism’s tenets: the supremacy of Shariah law as well as ideas of violent jihad and takfirism, which authorizes the killing of Muslims considered heretics for not following its interpretation of Islam. . . . Charitable assistance often had conditions attached. Families were given monthly stipends on the condition that they attended sermons in the mosque and that women and girls wore the veil.”

Saudi Arabia’s government has begun to slow many of its most egregious practices. It is now being run, de facto, by a young, intelligent reformer, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who appears to be refreshingly pragmatic, in the style of Dubai’s visionary leader, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. But so far the Saudi reforms have mostly translated into better economic policy for the kingdom, not a break with its powerful religious establishment.

Trump’s speech on Islam was nuanced and showed empathy for the Muslim victims of jihadist terrorism (who make up as much as 95 percent of the total, by one estimate). He seemed to zero in on the problem when he said, “No discussion of stamping out this threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists . . . safe harbor, financial backing and the social standing needed for recruitment.”

But Trump was talking not of his host, Saudi Arabia, but rather of Iran. Now, to be clear, Iran is a destabilizing force in the Middle East and supports some very bad actors. But it is wildly inaccurate to describe it as the source of jihadist terror. According to an analysis of the Global Terrorism Database by Leif Wenar of King’s College London, more than 94 percent of deaths caused by Islamic terrorism since 2001 were perpetrated by the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other Sunni jihadists. Iran is fighting those groups, not fueling them. Almost every terrorist attack in the West has had some connection to Saudi Arabia. Virtually none has been linked to Iran.

Trump has adopted the Saudi line on terrorism, which deflects any blame from the kingdom and redirects it toward Iran. The Saudis showered Trump’s inexperienced negotiators with attention, arms deals and donations to a World Bank fund that Ivanka Trump is championing. (Candidate Trump wrote in a Facebook post in 2016, “Saudi Arabia and many of the countries that gave vast amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation want women as slaves and to kill gays. Hillary must return all money from such countries!”) In short, the Saudis played Trump. (Jamie Tarabay makes the same point.)

The United States has now signed up for Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy — a relentless series of battles against Shiites and their allies throughout the Middle East. That will enmesh Washington in a never-ending sectarian struggle, fuel regional instability and complicate its ties with countries such as Iraq that want good relations with both sides. But most important, it will do nothing to address the direct and ongoing threat to Americans — jihadist terrorism. I thought that Trump’s foreign policy was going to put America first, not Saudi Arabia.

Russian ambassador told Moscow Jared Kushner wanted a “secret channel” of communications from Trump

In a Friday night news dump, The Washington Post revealed that one of the reasons for the increased scrutiny might be from Jared Kushner speaking to the Russian ambassador about setting up secret communications between President Donald Trump and the Kremlin. To make matters worse, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was in the room at the time.

Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak reported back to Moscow about the request made Dec. 1 or 2 during a meeting at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications. The meeting was not disclosed to the public until March and the White House claimed it wasn’t significant. Those familiar with the investigation said that the FBI considers it to be significant enough to increase its scrutiny into Kushner and his contacts.

Neither meeting was being surveilled, according to officials.

The Post notes that often Russia is known to promote false information to create intentional misinformation and confuse leaders and analysts. However, officials aren’t clear what would have been gained by telling Moscow that Kushner sought the secret channel.

According to The Post, the White House, Flynn’s lawyer and the Russian embassy all refused to comment. Lawmakers are asking that Kushner’s top secret clearance be revoked given the latest findings.

Jared Kushner: Not very bright; very rich; “basically a shithead.”

President Donald Trump has put son-in-law Jared Kushner in charge of several very important initiatives, including bringing peace to the Middle East, ending the opioid crisis, and completely reorganizing the entire executive branch of the federal government.

However, Politico notes that one former Kushner employee believes that he’s not qualified to hold any kind of job, let alone a job with so many potentially world-changing responsibilities.

Harleen Kahlon, who worked briefly as Head of Digital at Kushner’s publication Observer, explains to Politico that she quit working for the young real estate mogul when he blatantly stiffed her on an agreed-upon bonus she had earned for meeting certain traffic metrics. When she went to collect her bonus, Kushner told her he couldn’t pay due to financial constraints and advised her to “take one for the team” and forsake the money she was owed.

The publication also cites a Facebook post that Kahlon wrote last year outlining why Kushner isn’t smart or talented enough to hold any job that he’s not handed by his rich relatives.

“We’re talking about a guy who isn’t particularly bright or hard-working, doesn’t actually know anything, has bought his way into everything ever (with money he got from his criminal father), who is deeply insecure and obsessed with fame (you don’t buy the NYO, marry Ivanka Trump, or constantly talk about the phone calls you get from celebrities if it’s in your nature to ‘shun the spotlight’), and who is basically a shithead,” she wrote.

Trying to convince Trump voters of facts? GIVE IT UP . . . they are not interested in facts.

He promises to take away their healthcare… and they love him.
He promises to cut infrastructure… and they love him.
He promises to cut veterans-benefits… and they love him.
He promises to take away their food-stamps and their Medicaid and the medical services of Planned Parenthood… and they love him.
He endangers national security… and they love him.
Gianforte grabs a journalist by the neck, throws him to the ground and screams while pounding him with his fists… and the next day they elect him.

This is not about facts. This is about propaganda, doctrine, dogma, feelings, emotions.

As long as they think that they personally will be better off, they are for it.
As long as they think that the impending suffering will hit somebody else, they are for it — especially if the “somebody else” has dark skin or speaks with an accent.
As long as the liberals/Democrats are for it, they are against it.
All your so-called “facts” and fancy book-learnin’ does not mean shit to these people.
And if you really want to rile them up against you, tell them that you have scientific evidence to back up your case.

Drop the delusion that these people can be convinced with logical, fact-based arguments. Promises and emotions. That’s the only way to reach them.

Trump’s “base” is shrinking . . . soon to be down to the old guys sitting around McDonald’s each morning

From Five-Thirty-Eight:


A widely held tenet of the current conventional wisdom is that while President Trump might not be popular overall, he has a high floor on his support. Trump’s sizable and enthusiastic base — perhaps 35 to 40 percent of the country — won’t abandon him any time soon, the theory goes, and they don’t necessarily care about some of the controversies that the “mainstream media” treats as game-changing developments.

It’s an entirely reasonable theory. We live in a highly partisan epoch, and voters are usually loyal to politicians from their party. Trump endured a lot of turbulence in the general election but stuck it out to win the Electoral College. The media doesn’t always guess right about which stories will resonate with voters.

But the theory isn’t supported by the evidence. To the contrary, Trump’s base seems to be eroding. There’s been a considerable decline in the number of Americans who strongly approve of Trump, from a peak of around 30 percent in February to just 21 or 22 percent of the electorate now. (The decline in Trump’s strong approval ratings is larger than the overall decline in his approval ratings, in fact.) Far from having unconditional love from his base, Trump has already lost almost a third of his strong support. And voters who strongly disapprove of Trump outnumber those who strongly approve of him by about a 2-to-1 ratio, which could presage an “enthusiasm gap” that works against Trump at the midterms. The data suggests, in particular, that the GOP’s initial attempt (and failure) in March to pass its unpopular health care bill may have cost Trump with his core supporters.

These estimates come from the collection of polls we use for FiveThirtyEight’s approval ratings tracker. Many approval-rating polls give respondents four options: strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove and strongly disapprove. Ordinarily, we only estimate Trump’s overall approval and disapproval. But we went back and collected this more detailed data for all polls for which it was available, and then we reran our approval ratings program to output numbers for all four approval categories instead of the usual two.1 Here are Trump’s strongly approve and somewhat approve ratings from shortly after the start of his term2 through this Tuesday:

After a slight uptick in the first two to three weeks of his term, Trump’s strong approval ratings have headed downward. But it hasn’t been a steady decline. Instead, they fell considerably from about 29 percent on March 6 — when Republicans introduced their health care bill — to around 24 percent on April 1, shortly after the GOP pulled the bill from the House floor. They then remained stable for much of April, before beginning to fall again this month after the reintroduction (and House passage) of the health care bill and after Trump fired FBI director James Comey on May 9. As of Tuesday, just 21.4 percent of Americans strongly approved of Trump’s performance.

By comparison, 45 percent of Americans strongly approved of President Obama’s performance as of April 2009, although Obama’s strong approval numbers would fall considerably over the course of his term — to the mid-to-high 20s by the midterms and to the high teens by 2014.

The share of Americans who somewhat approve of Trump’s performance has actually increased slightly, however, from about 16 percent in early February to 17.9 percent as of Tuesday. In part, this probably reflects voters who once strongly approved of Trump and who have now downgraded him to the somewhat approve category. (Trump’s strongly approve and somewhat approve numbers have been inversely correlated so far, meaning that as one has risen, the other has tended to fall.) A potential problem for Trump is that in the event of continued White House turmoil, the next step for these somewhat approve voters would be to move toward disapproval of the president.

The number of Americans who strongly disapprove of Trump has sharply risen since early in his term, meanwhile, from the mid-30s in early February to 44.1 percent as of Tuesday. In most surveys, Trump’s strongly disapprove rating exceeds his overall approval rating, in fact.

The bulk of the increase in Trump’s strong disapproval ratings came early in his term, over the course of late January and early February. It’s possible that this was partly a reaction to Trump’s initial travel ban on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, which was the biggest news of Trump’s first few weeks in office. But presidential disapproval often rises in the first month or so of a president’s tenure as voters who initially give a new president the benefit of the doubt find things to dislike in his performance.

Meanwhile, the share of Americans who somewhat disapprove of Trump has been small and fairly steady throughout his term, usually averaging around 10 or 11 percent. It was 11.6 percent as of Tuesday.

During last year’s presidential primaries, Trump received about 14 million votes out of a total of 62 million cast between the two parties, which works out to 23 percent of the total. So perhaps it’s not a coincidence that 20 to 25 percent of the country still strongly supports Trump; they were with him from the start.

But 20 to 25 percent isn’t all that large a base — obviously not enough to win general elections on its own. Instead, Trump won the White House because most Republicans who initially supported another GOP candidate in the primary wound up backing him in the November election. Trump has always had his share of reluctant supporters, and their ranks have been growing as the number of strong supporters has decreased. If those reluctant Trump supporters shift to being reluctant opponents instead, he’ll be in a lot of trouble,3 with consequences ranging from a midterm wave against Republicans to an increased likelihood of impeachment.

So while there’s risk to Democrats in underestimating Trump’s resiliency, there’s an equal or perhaps greater risk to Republicans in thinking Trump’s immune from political gravity.

If you look beneath the surface of Trump’s approval ratings, you find not hidden strength but greater weakness than the topline numbers imply.

Why does Trump surround himself with criminals?

Heather Rinkus, the guest reception manager at Trump’s “Winter White House” and wife of a twice-convicted felon, is in Italy with Trump’s logistics team and has been outfitted with a government-issued phone and email.

A top Mar-a-Lago employee is also working for the government to help prepare for President Trump’s visit to Taormina, Italy, for the G-7 Summit — an unconventional arrangement that further blurs the line between the president’s business empire and the White House.

Heather Rinkus, the guest reception manager at Trump’s “Winter White House,” is working with the president’s advance and logistics team, while Trump’s exclusive club, Mar-a-Lago, closes for the summer. She has an official White House email and government-issued phone, two sources familiar with Rinkus’s trip told BuzzFeed News.

An administration source confirmed to BuzzFeed News on Wednesday that Rinkus was officially listed as an advance associate for the Taormina leg of the trip and had government-issued blackberry and email.

She is married to a twice-convicted felon, Ari Rinkus, who is known to brag about his wife’s access to the president as he trawls for investors and pursues government contracts on behalf of a foreign company, BuzzFeed News previously detailed.

Neither the White House nor the Trump Organization returned multiple requests for comment. They also did not answer a list of questions regarding Heather Rinkus’s role, including who is paying for her government work — taxpayers or Mar-a-Lago — or if Rinkus had resigned from Mar-a-Lago. (Asked about Heather Rinkus, a Mar-a-Lago employee, who answered the main phone line at the club, said Rinkus was traveling abroad for two to three weeks and would be back afterward.)


Read more:

Trump’s record of scandal and criminal activity cataloged in one place

The breadth of Trump’s controversies is truly huge, ranging from allegations of mafia ties to unscrupulous business dealings, and from racial discrimination to alleged marital rape. They stretch over more than four decades, from the mid-1970s to the present day. To catalogue the full sweep of allegations would require thousands of words and lump together the trivial with the truly scandalous. Including business deals that have simply failed, without any hint of impropriety, would require thousands more. This is a snapshot of some of the most interesting and largest of those scandals.

Read the details here.