An ‘imperial president’ compromised by and doing the bidding of Saudi Arabia

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When Congress enacted the War Powers Resolution (also known as the War Powers Resolution of 1973 or the War Powers Act) (50 U.S.C. 1541–1548), a federal law intended to check the president’s power to commit the United States to an armed conflict without the consent of the U.S. Congress, it naively assumed that a vote of the Congress exercising its war powers under the Constitution to reject an armed conflict would be respected and adhered to by the president.

Congress’s experience with Richard Nixon and the “imperial presidency” should have counseled that a future president who embraced the “imperial presidency” would reject the will of Congress and negate its constitutional war powers in pursuit of the expansion of executive power to unilaterally commit the United States to an armed conflict.

This is really the fault of Congress in the post-World War II era for having defaulted on formal declarations of war in favor of resolutions in support of military actions. The last formal declaration of war was for World War II.

Earlier this month, in an historic first, the Congress voted to end U.S. involvement in the civil war in Yemen. With vote to end U.S. involvement in Yemen’s war, House sets up Trump’s second veto:

The House voted Thursday to end U.S. participation in Yemen’s civil war, denouncing the Saudi-led bombing campaign there as worsening an already dire humanitarian crisis and sending the measure to President Trump for his expected veto.

The vote was 247 to 175, with one member voting “present,” and fell largely along party lines. It reflected the division between Democrats and Republicans over how to address Saudi Arabia’s efforts to defeat Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, and their inability to find consensus on confronting Trump’s embrace of Saudi leaders after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The CIA concluded that Khashoggi’s death was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The resolution passed in the Senate last month [on a vote of 54-to-46] with the support of seven Republicans. Thursday’s action in the House marked the first time both chambers have voted to invoke the same war-powers resolution to end U.S. military engagement in a foreign conflict — and is the latest instance of Congress’s challenging Trump’s decisions as commander in chief, though it united Republicans and Democrats far less than similar reproaches concerning the administration’s postures toward Syria, Afghanistan and NATO.

Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post wrote at the time, A historic rebuke, a historic foreign policy debacle:

It was stunning but not surprising that, after losing control of policy toward Saudi Arabia and the support of Congress, he received a unique rebuke: For the first time, both the House and Senate voted to withdraw forces pursuant to a War Powers resolution.

Robbie Gramer and Amy Mackinnon write for Foreign Policy on the bipartisan 247-to-175 vote (16 Republicans joined Democrats, which followed a 54-to-46 vote in the Senate):

While the vote marks a significant political rebuke to Trump, it remains unclear what impact the passing of the resolution will have on the situation in Yemen, where the United Nations is struggling to implement a fragile peace agreement it brokered between the warring parties in December 2018. . . .

The issue centers on the devastating humanitarian toll of the conflict, where nearly half the population, some 14 million people, are on the brink of famine, and some 22 million Yemenis require humanitarian assistance. Yemen is now considered the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, due in part to a deadly bombing campaign by the Saudi coalition that has indiscriminately targeted civilians and reduced to rubble some of the developing county’s vital infrastructure.

Trump’s excessive reliance on Saudi Arabia in lieu of an effective Iran policy in concert with our European allies (which was shattered when Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement) has run into predictable problems. The Saudis do not share our values, to put it mildly, and therefore make for a highly problematic surrogate. Matters became even worse when the president and senior advisers misled Congress and failed to act against Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the grotesque murder of The Post’s Global Opinions contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Gramer and Mackinnon point to Rep. Michael McCaul (Tex.), ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who pointed out that the resolution doesn’t amount to a policy solution to the humanitarian nightmare in Yemen or much of anything else. (“’This resolution does nothing to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. It does nothing to secure justice for the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi. It does not even make real decisions on U.S. security assistance to Saudi Arabia,’ he said.”) And for that the administration has only itself to blame. It’s not Congress’s job to come up with a coherent policy; it’s the executive branch’s. With its vote, Congress is simply issuing what amounts to rebuke of Trump’s coddling of the Saudis.

“It’s a strong vote of no confidence in Trump’s approach, but it will require more attention and focus to bring a real change in policy and peace in Yemen,” Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress tells me.

On Tuesday, President Trump vetoed the express will of Congress, as expected, setting up another constitutional crisis, asserting his “imperial presidency” executive powers. Trump vetoes resolution to end U.S. participation in Yemen’s civil war:

President Trump on Tuesday vetoed a resolution that would have ended U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

“This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” Trump said in a statement.

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The veto means the United States will continue its involvement in Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, waged in the name of holding back Iran’s expansion in the region.

But the Saudi-led effort, which has targeted civilian facilities and prevented aid shipments from getting to Yemenis, has been faulted by human rights organizations for exacerbating what the United Nations has deemed the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.

A senior administration official said that Trump was involved in drafting and editing the language of Tuesday’s veto statement and that he had told senators for some time he was going to issue a veto.

“It should come as a surprise to nobody,” the official said.

Trump viewed the Yemen vote as a rebuke of his administration after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and urged some senators not to go along with it, according to White House and congressional aides.

In February, the White House declines to submit report to Congress on Khashoggi killing:

The Trump administration declined Friday to submit a report to Congress determining whether Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is personally responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Senators had asked for the finding by Friday, with an eye to imposing new human rights sanctions on Saudi Arabia over the journalist’s Oct. 2 killing inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Under the Magnitsky Act, the president has 120 days to respond to a direct request from Congress about possible violations. The request, made Oct. 10 in a letter signed by 11 Democratic and 11 Republican senators, required the administration to make a determination of responsibility for the killing, particularly including involvement by the Saudi royal family, and to act on it by imposing sanctions on responsible individuals.

“The President maintains his discretion to decline to act on congressional committee requests when appropriate,” a senior administration official said in a statement. “The U.S. Government will continue to consult with Congress and work to hold accountable those responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s killing.”

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U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Khashoggi’s killing was premeditated and almost certainly carried out on orders from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudi government claims that the prince, who is the kingdom’s de facto ruler, was not involved. Trump announced in November that he would not downgrade the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, regardless of whether Saudi rulers were culpable.

Discounting his administration’s intelligence findings, Trump has repeatedly pointed to the lack of a single piece of evidence, or a “smoking gun,” that would irrefutably pin blame on the prince.

The administration has said it continues to investigate the killing.

Sure he is. That’s the equivalent of O.J. Simpson saying he is looking for Nicole’s killer while he is out playing golf. He is not serious. Trump has made it clear that he has no intention of ever holding Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accountable for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Trump is a transactional guy.

Trump has deep financial ties to Saudi Arabia. Trump said he has ‘no financial interests in Saudi Arabia.’ But his businesses have made millions from the Saudi government, and the crown prince gave his New York City hotel a huge boost.

The willingness to defend the crown prince and Saudi Arabia despite the CIA’s assessment that Mohammed ordered Khashoggi’s killing raised questions about Trump’s motives and, in particular, his direct ties to the country.

Trump previously dismissed charge that his initial response to the disappearance Khashoggi was affected by any business ties with Saudi Arabia in a tweet in October.

In fact, Trump has long done business with the Saudis:

  • Alwaleed bin-Talal, a member of the royal family purchased the 282-foot yacht “Princess” for $20 million in 1991 after the boat was repossessed from Trump (Trump was nearing bankruptcy at the time) and was part of a group that purchased the financially troubled Plaza Hotel for $325 million in 1995.

  • In 2016, the New York Daily News reported that the Saudi government also purchased the entire 45th floor of the Trump World Tower, for $4.5 million, in June 2001. Given annual fee fares for the building at the time, Trump also was paid $5.7 million by the Saudis between the purchase and 2016, the paper reported.

Trump bragged about his business dealings with the Saudis during a 2015 campaign rally in Mobile, Alabama.

“I get along great with all of them; they buy apartments from me,” Trump said. “They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much!”

The most recent example came last year, as The Washington Post reported in August that a visit from Saudi officials to Trump’s Trump International Hotel in New York City helped boost the hotel’s quarterly revenue by 13% in 2018’s first quarter.

And then there is his idiot son-in-law, the unofficial “Secretary of Everything,” Jared Kushner. SAUDI CROWN PRINCE BOASTED THAT JARED KUSHNER WAS “IN HIS POCKET”:

In late October, Jared Kushner made an unannounced trip to Riyadh, catching some intelligence officials off guard. “The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy,” the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported at the time.

What exactly Kushner and the Saudi royal talked about in Riyadh may be known only to them, but after the meeting, Crown Prince Mohammed told confidants that Kushner had discussed the names of Saudis disloyal to the crown prince, according to three sources who have been in contact with members of the Saudi and Emirati royal families since the crackdown. Kushner, through his attorney’s spokesperson, denies having done so.

* * *

On November 4, a week after Kushner returned to the U.S., the crown prince, known in official Washington by his initials MBS, launched what he called an anti-corruption crackdown. The Saudi government arrested dozens of members of the Saudi royal family and imprisoned them in the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh, which was first reported in English by The Intercept. The Saudi figures named in the President’s Daily Brief were among those rounded up; at least one was reportedly tortured.

* * *

One of the people MBS told about the discussion with Kushner was UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, according to a source who talks frequently to confidants of the Saudi and Emirati rulers. MBS bragged to the Emirati crown prince and others that Kushner was “in his pocket,” the source told The Intercept.

And then there was Trump Jr. and Other Aides Met With Gulf Emissary Offering Help to Win Election:

Erik Prince, the private security contractor and the former head of Blackwater, arranged the meeting, which took place on Aug. 3, 2016. The emissary, George Nader, told Donald Trump Jr. that the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president. The Israeli social media specialist, Joel Zamel, extolled his company’s ability to give an edge to a political campaign; by that time, the firm had already drawn up a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump.

It is unclear whether such a proposal was executed, and the details of who commissioned it remain in dispute. But Donald Trump Jr. responded approvingly, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting, and after those initial offers of help, Mr. Nader was quickly embraced as a close ally by Trump campaign advisers — meeting frequently with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Michael T. Flynn, who became the president’s first national security adviser. At the time, Mr. Nader was also promoting a secret plan to use private contractors to destabilize Iran, the regional nemesis of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

It is unclear whether the Special Counsel’s Russia investigation included an investigation of Trump’s ties to Saudi Arabia and the Unite Arab Emirates. Maybe not. But Trump has been doing their bidding as president, and Congress needs to investigate how Trump has been compromised by his financial ties to and influence peddling from these Middle Eastern countries.

An “imperial president” is defying the will of Congress in supplicant service to a foreign power whose interests are adverse to the interests of the United States. Some dare call that treason.