I am not going to invest a great deal of time mapping this out because the substance is obvious but details are deliberately obscured. If you are at all serious as a “Kenya Watcher” and are familiar with the basic public news trail on the Trump Organization, it is quite apparent that the net business wealth of the Trumps and the Jared Kushners is simply not at the US dollar value level of the Kenyatta family business empire (assuming as I do that the Trumps are not holding hundreds of millions of dollars of hidden assets overseas).
If you doubt me, work it up and show me that there is real reason to doubt the disparity.
These facts are critical to understanding the realities of the value of the presidency in Kenya and the relatively modest value of the presidency in the United States, even for a politician with perhaps an unprecedented view of the acquisitive opportunities.
If Trump were to get re-elected and get favorable dispensations from the Internal Revenue Service and his private sector creditors, and daughter Ivanka or son Eric were to be elected President in the future, and the Kenyattas fall off the pace somewhat in the next generation, then we can talk about the two families as “dollar peers”. As it stands, Donald Trump is a “first gen president” who had a father and grandfather who made a collective fortune that Donald did not succeed in breaking even with.
As an American I like to hope that a billion dollars still cannot buy everything a billion dollars could buy in Kenya, and that this will still be true even if Donald Trump actually becomes a billionaire someday through his children.
Dan Coats, former U.S. Senator from Indiana, served as Trumps Director of National Security from the beginning of the Administration until resigning last year. His warning came in a New York Times op ed Thursday:
We hear often that the November election is the most consequential in our lifetime. But the importance of the election is not just which candidate or which party wins. Voters also face the question of whether the American democratic experiment, one of the boldest political innovations in human history, will survive.
Our democracy’s enemies, foreign and domestic, want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people; that our public discourse has been perverted by the news media and social networks riddled with prejudice, lies and ill will; that judicial institutions, law enforcement and even national security have been twisted, misused and misdirected to create anxiety and conflict, not justice and social peace.
If those are the results of this tumultuous election year, we are lost, no matter which candidate wins. No American, and certainly no American leader, should want such an outcome. Total destruction and sowing salt in the earth of American democracy is a catastrophe well beyond simple defeat and a poison for generations. An electoral victory on these terms would be no victory at all. The judgment of history, reflecting on the death of enlightened democracy, would be harsh.
The most urgent task American leaders face is to ensure that the election’s results are accepted as legitimate. Electoral legitimacy is the essential linchpin of our entire political culture. We should see the challenge clearly in advance and take immediate action to respond.
The most important part of an effective response is to finally, at long last, forge a genuinely bipartisan effort to save our democracy, rejecting the vicious partisanship that has disabled and destabilized government for too long. If we cannot find common ground now, on this core issue at the very heart of our endangered system, we never will.
Our key goal should be reassurance. We must firmly, unambiguously reassure all Americans that their vote will be counted, that it will matter, that the people’s will expressed through their votes will not be questioned and will be respected and accepted. . . .
As Russian military intelligence officers were releasing hacked Democratic Party emails through WikiLeaks, the report said, the Trump campaign “sought to maximize the impact of those leaks” and “created messaging strategies” around them. The report found that the Trump campaign “publicly undermined” the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia was behind the email hack and “was indifferent to whether it and Wikileaks were furthering a Russian election interference effort.”
The966-page documentdescribesPaul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman who is serving prison time for financial crimes, as “a grave counterintelligence threat” because of his relationship withKonstantin Kilimnik, a business partner in Ukraine who is conclusively described as a “Russian intelligence officer.” Manafort and Kilimnik used encrypted messaging applications and codes to communicate, sometimes telling each other to look at the “tea bag” or the “updated travel schedule” when it was time to check the email account they shared, according to the report, which represents a rare bipartisan consensus on a hotly contested topic.
The report includes new details aboutRoger Stonecommunicating with Trump about Wikileaks and concerns about whether anyone encouragedMichael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer, to lie about Trump’s pursuit of a luxury skyscraper in Moscow during the campaign.
This fifth and final volume from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian election meddling in 2016 arrives soon after Trump’s own intelligence officials have warned that Moscowis revisiting its playbookahead of the 2020 election by trying to undermine Joe Biden.
I highly commend to my friends who are Africanists or African, or Americans who have not been directly involved in the “national security” professions, a short op-ed piece today from Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.):
The immediate policy debate in Washington being addressed is consideration of reductions to AFRICOM to be redeployed in support of the Trump Administration’s National Security Strategy of greater emphasis on “Great Power Competition” relative to “Violent Extremism”/”Global Terrorism” so Adm. Stavridis provides an “ionospheric” look at the Continent and its future in support of his argument.
Adm. Stavridis retired from the Navy in 2013 after an extremely accomplished career. He served as Commander of the U.S. Southern Command from 2006 to 2009, then served as Commander of the European Command and Supreme Allied Commander. The perspective of a recent former SOUTHCOM and EUCOM Commander on AFRICOM is clearly invaluable to understanding that way of seeing the world.
Stavridis graduated from the Naval Academy in 1976 and climbed the ladder as a distinguished Surface Warfare Officer, along with UN/NATO deployments to Bosnia and Haiti in the 1990s. He ultimately commanded the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group “conducting combat operations in the Arabian Gulf in support of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom”.
Along the way, he did his PhD in International Relations at Tufts, along with other graduate degrees from Tufts, and the National and Naval War College. After retirement he served as the Dean of Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. So he is simply put a superstar by background and experience.
Today he is the Operating Executive for The Carlyle Group, the famous global defense-focused equity fund [NASDAQ: CG] and the Chair of the “Board of Counselors” of McClarty Associates, the famous Washington-based global consulting firm [“We know diplomacy; We provide diplomatic solutions”].
By way of disclosure, I retired from 12+ years as a defense industry lawyer working primarily in Navy shipbuilding around the time Stavridis retired from the Navy. I was on unpaid “public service leave” for my East Africa democracy assistance work at the International Republican Institute. So Stavridis’ perspective is all “second nature” for me but will not be intuitive to those from other places and backgrounds.
[Longtime readers or those who otherwise follow Kenyan elections closely might remember that McClarty Associates Vice Chairman John Negroponte was Deputy Secretary of State during the 2007-08 election crisis in Kenya. Negroponte met with representatives of the ODM opposition seeking release of the embargoed USAID-funded International Republican Institute exit poll done with the University of California, San Diego, showing an Odinga win. I learned through FOIA that Kalonzo Musyoka met with Negroponte the same day:
The Kalonzo-Negroponte meeting was the same day as U.S. Senate hearings on the Kenyan election, lobbying by ODM with IRI and Negroponte for release of the USAID/IRI exit poll and that evening’s announcement that IRI found the poll “invalid”. (My FOIA did not result in any documents regarding the ODM-Negroponte meeting.)
From my e-mail to Joel Barkan in 2012:
Kalonzo meeting with Negroponte was in Washington on Feb 7, 08–also included [Kenyan Ambassador] Ogego and a staffer from Kenyan embassy. He said power sharing would be a set back for democracy as Kibaki win was “evident” from review at ECK. Would be willing to step aside as VP for Raila, but the Kenyan people would not support it as it would be “undemocratic”. Kalonzo assured that the violence was now under control, but that the U.S. should continue to call it “ethnic cleansing”. According to Salim Lone interview in Standard back in December ’08 he and ODM delegation met with Negroponte that day to push for release of exit poll before meeting with IRI.
While Donald Trump is not as unpopular in the United States right now as George W. Bush was during the time of my service as East Africa Resident Director for the International Republican Institute in Nairobi, Trump is more popular in Kenya than at home, as Bush was then (Bush was conspicuously popular in the early aftermath of 9-11, won re-election in 2004 and was not highly unpopular until on into his second term; Trump is steadily, but not extremely unpopular in terms of raw approval numbers, per his apparent strategy tied to our Electoral College system, although a slight overall majority would like the Senate to remove him from office in the current impeachment trial).
Update: At the same time, we have to note a similar situation with China’s Xi Jinping:
Publics in most of the countries surveyedlack confidence in Xi Jinping. His highest ratings come mostly from countries in Africa and the Middle East, including 61% in Nigeria, 58% in Kenya, 52% in South Africa, 44% in Tunisia and 41% in Lebanon. Filipinos and Russians generally voice confidence in the Chinese president as well.
1) the United States has been generally popular in Kenya in part because we have kept closely linked in our policy positions at the Government to Government level while also getting credit for moral support for “the Second Liberation” once the Cold War ended. We have shown a level of diplomatic finesse at a “10,000 foot level” in achieving what we have wanted from the relationship. There are always issues and problems, such as overhang from the perception that we tried to sell a bad election in 2017 and have been too supportive of the Jubilee Administration in the context of bad economic performance, but we manage.
2) the bottom line. We spend a greatly disproportionate amount of foreign assistance dollars in Kenya relative to poorer, less advantaged countries within Africa in the context of poverty relief. We do a lot to help alleviate some of the worst consequences of extreme inequality, corruption and bad policy priorities from Kenya’s governments. Some of this is for obvious foreign policy reasons as part of our diplomacy, some of it is because people prefer to live in Nairobi to Blantyre, say. Some of it is because as a more developed country with a well educated albeit small middle class and some real infrastructure, along with a lot of poverty and other challenges, Kenya is one of the most logistically easy places to do a lot of things within the “assistance” field.
3) Trump solves a couple of things that were tricky for President Obama during his time: because he has not visited Kenya himself and has no obvious personal connection to the region beyond the ubiquitous “friends trying to get rich” he is more generically “American” as opposed to the son of a “Luo tribesman” as propagandists in the US described Obama. Obama faced certain misunderstandings and disappointed expectations, and maybe overcompensated in certain areas. On the “culture war” issues, Trump has returned on abortion to the strong “no” position under Bush and then some, and seems to calibrate mixed messages on sexual minorities rights which was a particular area where my sense is that Obama unsuccessfully “spent” some personal political capital in Kenya in his second term. Trump has emphasized in his campaigns and general messaging his relationships with Americans who are involved with these issues in Kenya such as his impeachment defense counsel Jay Sekulow of the East African Centre for Law and Justice. See “American Center for Law and Justice opens Nairobi branch, campaigning against draft Constitution” from May 2010.
4) Trump has tried numerous times to make large, draconian cuts in foreign assistance, but he has failed in Congress (and Kenya has not experienced any extraordinary and arguably illegal blocks like Ukraine did earlier this year) but all this is “inside baseball”–as long as the money comes the President gets credit symbolically.
5) The Trump Administration has promoted a high degree of personal Trump-Kenyatta interaction both in Washington and at the G-7 and other non-African venues. Kenyatta is very wealthy and comes from family wealth like Trump, and similarly graduated from an private American Northeastern college. Kenyatta is no Zelensky, left to twist for a meeting. Kenyatta may not be exceptionally popular as an individual right now in Kenya, but the obvious benefits to Trump’s image in the minds of Kenyans are not dependent on that kind of specifics.
6) Without getting too “deep in the weeds” I think Trump got a break and the US has benefited from having former Illinois State Senator Kyle McCarter as Trump’s political appointment for Ambassador. Having a career civil servant and experienced diplomat in the position would lead to Trump keeping his distance presumably, but McCarter has little in common with Trump in background, style or personality (nor are his politics as a former elected official from the “Tea Party” wing of the Republican Party all that much like Trump’s unless he has changed his mind about quite a few things). At the same time, his missionary background and status with Trump and the GOP and other organizations give him entre beyond conventional diplomacy. So arguably McCarter is in a unique role to broker between Washington and Kenya and not typical of the type of political appointments we have seen from Trump in other Embassies.
The US Government has temporarily shelved funding for the proposed Sh. 300 billion Nairobi-Mombasa expressway over cost implications. The construction of the 485-kilometre road to ease perennial traffic snarl-ups was to be done by American engineering firm Bechtel after Kenya and US struck a deal during last year’s meeting between Presidents Donald Trump and Uhuru Kenyatta at the White House.The US ambassador Kyle McCarter, said the US was scrutinising the proposal to establish whether Kenyans would get value for their money. He said the cost was in question at a time when the country is struggling with piling debt.
Responding to queries whether Bechtel had lost the contract to China, McCarter said: “Bechtel did not lose the deal, we are still working on the finance. Kenya has a challenge of debt and we are wary of burdening Kenyans”. “We did not want to sign onto a project whose cost would turn out to be three to four times higher than the actual. We want to ensure there is an honest return on investment for Kenyans before we break ground.”
In 2015, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) — in a feasibility report — indicated that the costly project was viable.McCarter said US zero tolerance for corruption forced them back to the drawing board and would only embark on the project once they are satisfied it guarantees value for money for Kenyans and will not sink the country deeper into debt.
The envoy affirmed US support for the war against corruption and termed the plunder of public coffers an act of outright thievery. “Calling it corruption makes it mystical, like those behind it share the proceeds with the nation. But the truth is that it is simply taking what is not yours and that is thievery,” he said.
The proposed road will be a dual-carriage motorway with four lanes to ease congestion and cut travel time between the two cities from the current 10 to about four hours.It will run parallel to the current Nairobi-Mombasa highway and will help promote trade and movement in Kenya and the neighbouring countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC and South Sudan.
Working documents on the project show that it is expected to start any time after the June budget release.Bechtel estimates that construction of the expressway will create 500 jobs and involve local businesses supplying up to 100,000 tonnes of cement and 40,000 tonnes of steel.
Here is a digest of stories on the project from July 2017 to July 2018:
As a starting point, the US construction giant has already expressed its interest in the forthcoming expansion of the 485-kilometre Mombasa-Nairobi highway into a six-lane dual carriageway.
The US Export Import Bank is strongly pushing Bechtel to secure the contract in an arrangement similar to that of the China Export Import Bank where the Asian bank funds projects contracted to Chinese firms.
“With the support of the US government agencies such as Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Export-Import Bank, we can provide solutions to move this critical project forward quickly with a high standard of quality,” Mr Patterson added.
The entry of Bechtel – along with its financial backing by the US Exim Bank – will complicate matters for Chinese multinationals who have been winning all tenders for projects financed by the China Exim Bank. . . .
US-based engineering firm Bechtel International Inc. has signed a Sh230 billion commercial agreement with the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) for construction of a 473-kilometre Nairobi-Mombasa high-speed expressway.
KeNHA director general Peter Mundinia said the signing of the deal has paved the way for the next stage of mobilisation of financing from export credit agencies in the United States of America.
. . .
It is expected that agencies such as the US Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) will finance the project.
“It is projected under the proposed commercial contract that the 473km highway will be completed in ten sections within the next six years,” Mr Mundinia said.
The first section, from the junction with Namanga Road near Kitengela will have an interchange nearKonza ICT Cityand a spur road to Kyumvi (Machakos Turnoff) on Mombasa Road. This section is anticipated to open to traffic in October 2019. . . .
The US embassy in Kenya has rejected a newspaper’s criticism over a $3bn road contract awarded to Bechtel without competitive bidding.
The embassy said the Nairobi-to-Mombasa expressway had been under discussion for two years, and had been evaluated to ensure Kenyans receive value for their money.
It also rejected press claims that the award was a “thank you” to the US for its political support of the Uhuru Kenyatta government.
On 13 September, the day after the article appeared, the embassytweeted: “US private firms (bound by US anti-corruption laws) investing in Kenya’s future bring jobs, tech transfer and development. This expressway has been under development for two years to bring best value. The US embassy does not and will not give political favours for commercial deals. On Kenyan election 2017, we’ve been and will continue to be strictly neutral.”
Kenyan government officials also defended the Bechtel deal. Peter Mundinia, director general of the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA),saidon 18 September that Bechtel was selected because of its experience of handling large infrastructure projects “over 119 years”.
He added that the Kenyan government had entered into an agreement with the US government in July 2015 whereby US companies would develop key infrastructure projects with US funding.
The US and Kenyan authorities wererespondingto an article in Kenya’sFinancial Standardnewspaper that questioned the way the project was announced and quoted from a Ministry of Transport briefing, carried out before the contract award, which argued the project should be put out to tender as a public–private partnership (PPP).
The Standard highlighted the fact that contract for the 473km A8 expressway between Mombasa and Nairobi wasannouncedthree days before the 8 August general election, and broke with established practice by being made without a Ministry of Transport press conference or an announcement from the president’s office.
Instead, the announcement was made on a Saturday afternoon when government departments are usually closed, and made no mention of the project’s estimated price.
The newspaper drew a comparison with the way the government had awarded the country’s standard gauge railway (SGR) scheme to Chinese contractors before the 2013 general election. In both cases the winner was appointed without putting the work out to competitive tender.
In the SGR case, the choice was determined by the fact that China was making the funding available for the line; in the case of the motorway, the motive was to thank America for an “unspecified service” that the US had done for Kenya, according to unnamed “government insiders” quoted by the Standard.
According to theStandardthere are now concerns within the Kenyan government over the amount of debt the country is taking on. The combined cost of the rail and road link between the country’s main port and the capital is likely to be at least $6.7bn, or almost 10% of the country’s GDP.
The controversy comes at a sensitive time in Kenya after the results of the 8 August election, which recorded a victory for the country’s incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta, were annulled by Kenya’s Supreme Court on 1 September.
The court cited irregularities and illegalities in the transmission of results and ordered the election to be held again within 60 days. It is due to take place on 26 October. Kenya has a history of serious post-election violence.
Almost a year after Kenya signed a deal with US engineering firm Bechtel for construction of a Sh300 billion high-speed expressway between Nairobi and Mombasa, the two parties are yet to agree on how to finance the project despite a series of extremely high-level talks.
On the one hand, the Kenyan government wants the 473-kilometre Nairobi-Mombasa expressway to be completed through the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model where private investors will build and operate the facility for up to 25 years – charging toll fees – to recoup their investments and margins.
The company has therefore urged Kenya to undertake the project under an engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning (EPCC) contract.
Under the EPCC model, a contractor is obliged to deliver a complete facility to a developer who needs only to turn a key to start operating the facility; hence such deals are sometimes referred to as turnkey construction contracts.
But the government, which is concerned about the fast rising public debt, has made its stand clear. . . .
“We will commence detailed discussion on how the financing approach will be undertaken under that project. We will be discussing modalities, financing structuring and the details for us to be clear on how to undertake this project,” Treasury secretary Henry Rotich said on Tuesday.
While I cannot prove the negative from personal knowledge, I think we can be assured that such a gambit–President George W. Bush leaning on Kenya’s President Kibaki using the leverage of American foreign assistance to Kenya to investigate Barack Obama as the potential Democratic nominee in the next US election–did not happen. But absent some sense of “boundaries”, a recognition of a difference between the foreign relations of the United States and the conduct of personal affairs and partisan political campaigns, why not?
Author of “Obamanation” and “Where’s the Birth Certificate” Jerome Corsi in Kenya during my tenure at the International Republican Institute
As part of the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, @USDOL is helping empower women around the world by promoting the development of in-demand skills among women in the workforce, identifying entrepreneurship opportunities, and more. #IWD#IWD2019#WGDPpic.twitter.com/tnQs4ir58c
“The Trump administration continues to empower women economically with the launch of the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity initiative.
“This initiative aims to benefit 50 million women from 2017 to 2025 through economic empowerment efforts and motivates private sector actors – both abroad and at home – to emphasize the critical role women play in creating prosperity. Economic empowerment of women has a significant effect on global growth as women invest in stable societies and promote a world free of child labor and forced labor.
“The U.S. Department of Labor supports the W-GDP initiative through its efforts to promote the development of in-demand skills among women in the workforce, the identification of entrepreneurship opportunities, and the creation of an empowering environment for working women to flourish in the global economy.
“The Department of Labor works every day to ensure a fair global playing field for workers in the U.S. and around the world by enforcing trade commitments and strengthening labor standards.
“As part of this work, the Department of Labor seeks to ensure that the workplace rights of women are enforced – through policy engagement in both bilateral and multilateral contexts, and through negotiations and enforcement of labor protections under U.S. trade agreements that promote women’s empowerment as workers and as entrepreneurs.”
This is a piece reflecting some partly tongue-in-cheek musing on complex and deadly serious larger questions of “who we want to be” in the world, with specific immediate relevance to the Sudan crisis, Libya and Yemen, along with current issues with Iran that I touched on in my last post.
I decided to subordinate the title and add this preface to make sure that it was clear that I hoped to be taken “seriously but not literally”:
If we replaced Turkey with Saudi Arabia in NATO could we acknowledge the Armenian genocide while cutting hypocrisy on current support for religious freedom versus security interests?
There are a few moving pieces here, but stay with me.
First, we have longstanding unfinished business on simply acknowledging historic fact on the Armenian genocide.
This was a basic premise of the Barack Obama presidential campaign in 2008–the whole “hope and change” versus fear and loathing thing. The whole Samantha Power to lead our Mission to the UN thing. Unfortunately, it got Overcome By Events, along with the notion that Obama’s personal background, “story” and manner would allow him to be a sort of “Christian Islamist Whisperer” to realize the hopes reflected in his June 2009 Cairo “remarks to the Muslim world” from Al-Azhar.
Instead, we have let ourselves be embarrassingly bullied by Turkey. See “For Anniversary of Armenian Genocide Obama Calls It an ‘Atrocity’ Instead“, NYTimes, April 24, 2014: (“Although Mr. Obama called the acts against the Armenians genocide as a presidential candidate in 2008 and vowed to do so once he reached the White House, he again chose not to follow through on his promise for fear of offending Turkey, a NATO ally that denies that the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians constituted genocide. Instead, Mr. Obama implied that he still thought it was genocide even if he did not say so directly.”). To what benefit? While we have and will continue to have some interests in common with the regime in Turkey it is clear that Turkey continues to move away from democratic values, including respect for religious freedom and tolerance at the same time they have made it clear that the security relationship is very situational. What might have made sense during the Cold War when confronting the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact during Turkey’s years of secular authoritarianism make less sense under Turkish Islamism now that even Greece has democratized, the Russians dissolved direct control of the various European and Central Asian republics previously colonized and the Warsaw Pact disbanded in accordance with the collapse of the Iron Curtain.
Of the Islamist governments in the region, it is Saudi Arabia with whom we seem to be mutually committed rather than Turkey. Likewise, in the context of NATO if there is one Western government more committed to the Saudis than we are, it is the UK (London), the other party to our “special relationship”. Selling arms to the Saudis is a “national emergency” for the Trump Administration, and keeping the Saudis off the list of countries using child soldiers just now and earlier certifying that the Saudis were serious about trying to miss civilians in their Yemen bombings join our commitment to “knowing” as little as possible about the Khashoggi murder in demonstrating some extraordinary bond. Just as British “national security” trumped law enforcement by the UK on the BAE bribery in the al-Yamamah deals.
Our relationship with the Saudis predates the formation of NATO and a time of recognition of reality vis-a-vis Turkey may be the time to more formally recognize what the Saudi alliance has now come to be.
By recognizing the Armenian genocide while formally including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in mutual defense obligations, we can show that we disapprove historically of the purging of Christian and other minority religious populations while making clear that our own security as we see it in an immediate sense is our first and foremost priority and that we do not object to exclusivist and repressive Islamist governments that are willing to cooperate militarily and on national security. (And this could be another opportunity for President Trump to cooperate with Kim Kardashian on a policy initiative, as in some criminal justice reforms.)
Amidst the continuing turmoil and instability that touches many parts of the Middle East, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) maintain a fierce rivalry vying for regional and Islamic dominance. Both countries factor prominently into U.S. regional goals and interests as Iran (since its Islamic Revolution in 1979) serves as the preeminent regional threat and adversary to the U.S. while the KSA, in many ways, serves as the centerpiece of U.S. efforts to counter and degrade Iranian influence in the region. As the region’s premiere Islamic rivals, internal social, economic, and political movements within the KSA and the IRI inherently shape and inform U.S. actions and efforts aimed at undermining hostile (IRI) objectives while supporting friendly (KSA) initiatives. U.S. President Trump, for instance, was quick to voice support in early 2018 for protesters in Iran railing against (among other things) perceived regime inaction and contribution to the stagnant Iranian economy. Alternatively, Trump preserved U.S. support to the KSA even after allegations of KSA government involvement in the killing of a prominent and outspoken journalist. Such dynamics underscore how the inner-workings of regional rivals create venues and opportunities for the advancement of U.S. interests confronting regional threats by applying pressure and defining alliances using different elements of national power.
In 2016, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, known as “MBS,” unveiled an ambitious and grandiose plan for economic, cultural, and social change in the Kingdom. In response to a worldwide decline in oil prices that drastically shrunk Saudi cash reserves and simultaneously highlighted the precarious state of the Kingdom’s oil-dependent economy, MBS released “Vision2030”- a sweeping program of reform that aimed to create a vibrant society, build a thriving economy, and establish a culture of ambition within the Kingdom. Motivating these ideas was a desire to increase the privatization of the economy and make Saudi society attractive to foreign investment to diversify the economy and decrease its dependence on oil. Whether explicitly or implicitly, the mechanisms of change that drive the execution of MBS’ Vision2030 rest on the extent to which Western values (namely free-market principles and social liberalism) can be inculcated into a historically conservative and closed society. Given the magnitude of Vision2030’s scope, targeting all of Saudi society, the ideology involved in its execution (incorporating Western values), and the KSA’s geopolitical status as a key U.S. ally against Iranian foreign policy objectives, the implementation and execution of Vision2030 cannot fail but to have far-reaching impacts on both Middle Eastern regional stability in general and U.S. efforts confronting Iran in particular.
In terms of aid, the Trump Administration deserves credit for stepping up some overdue help and attention to minority religious communities beleaguered in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and the rise of al-Queda in Iraq/ISIS. At the same time, they have turned a harder, colder shoulder to accepting immigrants while embracing the exponents of Wahabist ideological expansionism who have done so much harm to pluralism and tolerance even in areas where it once thrived.
1. The basic rationale would be a version of the thinking in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2001-03: sanctions do not work forever, we have been in a low grade conflict mode for years against an intransigent regime that is not going to change its mind about willingness to use terror, a desire to threaten regional interests and aspirations for extended regional influence and a refusal to loosen domestic repression to allow any opportunity for “organic normalization”. Ultimately proliferation happens and the regime will get nuclear weapons in addition to the other WMDs it has had/is developing. At the same time, the repression assures a domestic mass constituency for liberalization.
2. In my perch in the defense industry in 2003 (working on Navy shipbuilding on the Gulf Coast) I was unpersuaded personally that the Bush Administration had made its case for the Iraq invasion. It seemed to me that we did not know enough about the situation to know what would happen next after we invaded, especially in the context of the Sunni/Shiite and other divisions within the country. It seemed too risky, too much of a “Hail Mary” so to speak, given what was argued by the Administration’s public diplomacy such as the Colin Powell speech at the UN and domestic speeches in the US, Congressional debates and such about the alleged threat.
3. At that time I was a lifelong Republican, and was by reputation somewhat connected in the Party, although I was not active in partisan politics while I was a lawyer in the shipyard (starting in 2000) because it seemed unrealistic to participate as a citizen “free agent” while being a lawyer with the dominant local industry as opposed to my previous work as a student and lawyer in private practice. I had voted for George W. Bush as the Republican nominee in 2000 although he was not a top choice for the nomination because I thought he was thin on experience and got the top of the field through preemptive fundraising clout rather than comparative merit. Ironically I had been reassured about Bush’s limited experience by Cheney’s performance in the campaign, even though I was unenthused about having essentially an all-Dallas ticket and Cheney’s role in asserting himself as running mate. I did not have an understanding of how contradictory Cheney’s own views were from the messages Bush presented in the campaign. All this is to say that I was not going to automatically support a war because Bush was proposing it–the most salient reason in Washington–but I should have been highly susceptible to being persuaded and they did not succeed in persuading me.
4. I will also note that there were countervailing influences over a period of time. Several years before the start of Fox News I got married and became active again in church having drifted during school years and then we had our first child. Even during the Bill Clinton/Ken Starr years I probably spent more time in church than with cable television, a major fork in the road and ultimately countercultural. The al Qaeda USS Cole bombing hit shortly after I started in shipbuilding and the Cole was brought to our yard for the repair/reconstruction so I was very aware of al Qaeda before being in Washington on business on 9-11. Then I went home and carried on. Yes, things had “changed” but the basic issues, challenges and choices remained.
5. As an orthodox non-fundamentalist Protestant who was not a daily consumer of Fox News, I did not feel a call to cast aside my formative moral orientation of restraint for peace and embrace some new doctrine of “pre-emptive war”.
6. Nonetheless, in the run up to Iraq I continued to read and study and learn but did not actually do anything to act on my lack of persuasion that we should invade.
7. While I was not in a position of influence, ultimately I have concluded that we went to war because hundreds or thousands of people in or around Washington who did know or should have known better went along with it anyway. And in doing so we made collectively as a country a most consequential foreign policy mistake and a moral misjudgment.
8. So now today I want to warn that going to war with Iran as a preemptive policy choice rather than a bona fide necessity would gravely set back our recovery from the 2003 miscalculation in Iraq and jeopardize the hopes of Iraqis for a better future. It would potentially arrogate to ourselves a role and responsibility in Iran that we simply are not prepared for, morally or otherwise. It would potentially kill who knows how many people not given a choice in the matter. And it would sap hope of standing up to outside counter-democratic forces (Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Egypt, Russia and China) in the immediate Sudan crisis which presents an important positive longterm opportunity for us to be who we say we want to be. It would have related impact in Somalia and throughout the Horn of Africa and to an unpredictable extent well beyond on the Continent. We already lack adequate diplomatic bandwidth to do as much as what we could with our “Prosper Africa” policy and are notionally planning military drawdowns even though AFRICOM has seen substantial degradation in overall security versus Islamist terrorist groups during its ten year existence. AFRICOM has yet to become the “different type of combatant command” that it was planned to be in substantial part because of the inevitable institutional inertia associated with a “permanent war” footing in the Middle East and South Asia. Likewise war with Iran could increase Iranian-supported terrorist activity in East and West Africa. And we all know that Donald Trump does not have the experience or moral gravitas to take these decisions.