Washington Watch: Is Trump outsourcing foreign policy to Riyadh?

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo takes part in a meeting with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, September 18, 2019 (photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/POOL/REUTERS)
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo takes part in a meeting with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, September 18, 2019
It didn’t take Donald Trump long to find a new national security advisor. Apparently, it is Mohammad bin Salman, and it looks like he’ll be the one to tell the president how to respond to the swarm of drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities.
If Trump hadn’t pitched John Bolton under the bus, the deposed NSC adviser would be relishing the moment. He’s spent years aching to bomb Iran’s oil fields and forcing regime change. On that MBS heartily agrees.
So does their friend Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s been preoccupied this week with his political survival but has made the Iranian threat a top campaign issue.
But Trump’s outsourcing of US Mideast policy to the government that produced the terrorists who changed America forever on September 11 may ultimately be a huge stab in the back of the Jewish state he claims to love, as well as one more blow to American credibility in the world arena. And it’s hard to see how letting Riyadh call US foreign policy shots can be in this country’s long-term interests.
Don’t look for MBS to give up his day job as the crown prince of Saudi Arabia; maybe he’ll telecommute and keep advising his friend Donald. In return, he may get a presidential pardon for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a writer for another shared enemy, The Washington Post.
Without waiting for proof, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who long shared his rival Bolton’s views on Iran, declared Tehran responsible for the attack, and Trump, who likes to remind all that he is smarter than the generals, declared he was “locked and loaded” and ready to launch as soon as he got the go-ahead from Riyadh.
Trump tweeted, “Waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”
He’s come a long way since the days when he was tweeting “Saudi Arabia should fight their own wars.” But now Barack Obama is gone, and Trump is in the White House making billion-dollar arms deals with MBS. The view is different from inside the Oval Office looking out.
Bibi has been pressing Trump the longest and hardest to rip up the Iran nuclear pact, a goal shared by MBS and Pompeo, but it wasn’t until a few weeks after Bolton was hired that the president acted.
I’m not sorry to see Bolton go. He was too much of a war-monger for me – and maybe for Trump as well – but I applaud his opposition to Trump’s shameful and insensitive invitation to the Afghan Taliban to meet at Camp David on the eve of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Does he not know that the Afghan Taliban were Osama bin Laden’s hosts and protectors as he planned the infamous attack?
PROBABLY NOT. Instead he was most likely blinded by his focus on stage-managing a dramatic move that he could claim as an achievement that would grab media attention and distract from his previous scandal, in this case Sharpie-gate. The Taliban saved him with another suicide bombing.
Bolton may have been the most hawkish of Israel’s supporters in the White House, but Bibi’s circle of friends remains and will most likely be there for the duration. They include first son-in-law Jared Kushner, Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Vice President Mike Pence plus Pompeo at State and Lindsey Graham in the Senate.
Trump’s close personal relationship Netanyahu has played a major role in fortifying the close bilateral relationship along with Sheldon Adelson’s money. The casino mogul is the GOP’s largest donor and his wife is the richest woman in Israel.
But the real foundation of Trump’s support for Israel and the key to his reelection are Evangelical Christians.
Without their votes he’d have to pay for his own plane to fly around visiting his golf courses.
Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci told Jewish Insider that Israeli leaders should understand that Trump is “not your friend. He’s only using you for his own self-interest. And the minute you no longer become useful to him, he will drop you like a hot potato.”
If MBS keeps his day job and Trump hires a fourth at NSC, here’s some advice: Be careful not to tell Trump anything you don’t want to read in his next tweet or have him tell his Russian pals. The Israelis learned that the hard way. He likes to boast about the secrets he knows, even if he doesn’t understand them.
Bolton was Bibi’s staunchest ally in his campaign to block Trump from meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the UN later this month. The PM fears it will be an opening to rapprochement between Washington and Israel’s leading existential threat.
Trump’s chaotic management of a dysfunctional administration sows confusion and consternation at home and – dangerously – abroad, among friends as much as foes. One of the great consistencies of Trump’s foreign policy has been its inconsistency.
Foreign policy-making in the administration is likely to continue to be haphazard, disorganized and impetuous. Trump says he likes to be unpredictable but the way it is working out has severely diminished American’s global influence.
After repeatedly saying for 14 months that he was ready to meet Rouhani with “no preconditions” – a message echoed most recently by Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin – Trump fired off a tweet denying he’d ever said it and accused “The Fake News” of lying. In reality, the man many consider a pathological liar was the only one lying.
It quickly became a moot point when Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi announced, “Such a meeting will not take place.”
Iran knows Trump is anxious to claim another breakthrough ala Kim Jong Un, but the mullahs play a long game and are not in any rush to give Trump another photo-op unless they get something big in return.
As for hiring another national security adviser, Trump may just keep the job for himself. After all, he said, “It’s a great job. It’s a lot of fun to work with Donald Trump. It’s easy because I make all the decisions.”
Who wouldn’t want that?