Category Archives: Donald Trump

Prince Bin Salman Coming to America: of Christian Evangelicals, Muslim Salafists, and the Anti-Christ…….

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I came across a tweet from a frustrated and befuddled man. I wish I could remember his name. He wrote that for years Christian Evangelicals had warned him that the Anti-Christ was coming, that he should be ready for that dark day. He then added that: now that (he thought) the Anti-Christ has arrived (at least in the USA), he is shocked that they have joined him, that they voted for the same Anti-Christ they had warned him about and they continue to strongly support him.
(I wondered what he was talking about, clearly a Democrat).

Which reminds me of the Salafists (or Wahhabis), our Muslim equivalents of these Christian Evangelicals he was talking about. They also face a dilemma now. The Sunni Salafist clerics, and others, in the Persian-American Gulf region are mostly educated in Saudi theological colleges, where they have absorbed the teachings of Shaikh Mohammed Bin Abdul-Wahhab, the founder of Sunni Wahhabism, the official faith of Saudi Arabia. He, of course, based his doctrine on earlier extreme fundamentalists.

Over the years those Gulf Salafists became strong advocates and supporters of the Saudi theological school as well as strong advocates for the policies of the Saudi government, good and bad. That was a natural result of the Saudi establishment being an alliance between the ruling Al Saud dynasty and the strict Wahhabi clerics led by the Al Shaikh family who descend from Bin Abdul-Wahhab. The higher echelons of the Saudi establishment are full of Al Al Shaikh men, the current top religious Mufti is among them. A few times in my earlier posts I have often opined here that Gulf Salafists were essentially a Saudi fifth column in their native countries. Most of them anyway, although I know there are a few exceptions.

Saudi Salafist leaders in exile, almost all of them in the West, are furious about this new social and educational reform movement by MBS. They say it is a plot to end Wahhabism as they know it. It is, after all, threatening to deprive them of their only theological anchor: the Wahhabi clerical establishment in Saudi Arabia. The secular opposition, those not in prison in Riyadh or in Western exile are mostly silent for now, regrouping.

Now the Salafists of the Gulf states are facing a dilemma. The new Saudi strongman, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is trying to move away from strict Wahhabism. He is trying to tap the dormant discontent and excruciating boredom among the huge population of young educated Saudis, male and female, as well as to impress Western policy-makers to his side. He is also doing it out of economic necessity, given this country’s heavy dependence on foreign labor and foreign talent. Given the depleting nature of fossil fuel resources. This position is unusual for a Saudi prince who was not educated in the West, especially in the USA.

Gulf Salafists have for years been cheerleaders, money collectors, as well as volunteers for Al Qaeda and later ISIS (Islamic State), although they have toned it down in recent years because of political pressure by regional governments as well as American efforts. Some of them have even tried to follow the official line and pretend to abandon ISIS, by irrationally claiming that it was a creation of the Iranian mullahs (or was it the Emir of Qatar, as some of their minions seem to claim, although before last year, before-Trump and his Kushner baggage, many of them were claiming that Israel helped create ISIS).

In recent months, as I follow Salafists, and some Gulf Muslim Brotherhood members, on media and social media, I notice the effect of their dilemma. Some of their most outspoken commentators and rabble rousers are silent for now. Uncharacteristically silent. As if shocked by this turn of events in Riyadh, as if they are waiting to see where it leads to. Here they were pushing their own countries, like Kuwait and others, to impose restrictions on social life and on education, along the sectarian model of  Saudi Arabia. Yet now Prince MbS seems to have pulled the rug from under their feet.

I wish him well in his attempts to open up Saudi Arabia and diversify it. I don’t wish him well in his attempts to pull America into his plans for a sectarian war in the Persian Gulf region. He does not need my wishes for his genocidal war on Yemen: it is clearly a hopeless quagmire, a failed war, just as I wrote here about three years ago.

It is now in Donald Trump’s hands: will he be foolish enough to rush into taking sides in a disastrous new sectarian war in our region? Will he take the tempting money, the bait being offered by this Saudi prince (and others in the Gulf) and start a war of choice with Iran? A war that will be a folly, just as this Saudi prince’s war on Yemen has turned out to be……. 

Other relevant posts to enjoy:
Norah O’Donnell Interviews Prince MBS, Sans Pom Poms…..

From Brexit to the Gulf: Saudi Arabia Set to Annex Great Britain ?………

A GENUINE ARAB SPRING LED BY THE REVOLUTIONARY PRINCE OF SAINT VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE

ARABIAN PR AS HISTORY: FRIEDMAN HAS EPIPHANY, JOINS THE REWRITING OF HISTORY OF JIHADISM…..

MIDDLE EAST WARS: ASYMMETRIC MILITARY SPENDING, ASYMMETRIC MILITARY COMPETENCE……

THE SECOND FRUSTRATION OF PRINCE BIN SALMAN: A FIASCO IN QATAR……

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Norah O’Donnell Interviews Prince MBS, Sans Pom Poms…..

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Norah O’Donnell of 60 Minutes was a lot like one of the journalists from Saudi Al Arabiya Network (or one from an offshore Lebanese network) while interviewing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MbS). I expected Norah to end the interview by standing up and clapping heartily, as a Lebanese interviewer for one Arab network did a couple of months ago. But no real colorful pom poms for CBS.

I can’t wait for the upcoming interview with Vladimir Putin. At least Putin, with all his reported meddling, will not be pushing (almost certainly paying) for the United States to wage another war of choice in the Persian Gulf or elsewhere. They say part of the prince’s mission is to talk Donald Trump into a new blockade and likely into the mother of all quagmires: an unprovoked war of aggression against Iran.

(Anyone remember  Saddam Hussein of Iraq in the 1980s and how progressive & popular we were told he was? He was popular enough to be armed to the teeth by the West, including WMD technology. He invaded Iran, and when that failed he invaded Kuwait. He used chemical weapons extensively against the Kurds and the Iranians, and nobody objected. Very progressive)

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

New Trump Team: Tea Party Men, Chickenhawks, and a Cavalier Rah Rah Economist Ascendant…..

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Trump is going fully hard right now, on cruise control:


Tea Party war hawk Mike Pompeo nominated for top diplomat (oxymoronic). Tillerson was fired with a tweet yesterday as he was flying from Africa, as I mentioned here yesterday……..

Alleged supporter of Enhanced Interrogation/Rendition Gina Haspel to head the CIA……

Larry (Rah Rah Rah) Kudlow as chief Economic Adviser (but he can’t guarantee 4% GDP growth off CNBC programs)…….Here is how cavalierly Kudlow diagnosed the pre-crash economy of 2007: What’s more, the entire market in sub-prime debt is just 1.4 percent of the global equity markets. On any given day, a 1.4 percent drop in world stocks would erase the same amount of value as the collective markdown of all sub-prime-backed bonds to $0. It’s just not that big a deal……”

Possibly chickenhawk/Vietnam evader John Bolton for National Security chief….

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Benyamin Netanyahu as Trump co-nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize…..

Kim Jong Un for ambassador to Pyongyang…… ?
Thomas Friedman as ambassador to the Court of Saint Saud in Riyadh…..?

Anthony Scaramucci is making the cable TV rounds again, whatever that means for now…..

It is Stormy Days at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (pun intended)…….

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Moron Fires Rex Tillerson while in African Exile: Haley and Bolton Sharpen the Knives……

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I wrote the following post late last night, did not publish it. Too late now, but here goes anyway:

“Earlier today, Secretary Tillerson arrived in N’Djamena to meet with Chad’s President Idriss Déby and Foreign Minister @cherif_mz to discuss ways we can work together to counter terrorism, advance peace and security, and promote good governance. ………..” State Dept

“Secretary Tillerson honored those lives who were lost & injured in the 1998 terrorist bombing & emphasized the shared U.S.- commitment to working together to end terrorism at a wreath-laying ceremony at the Park in Nairobi. ….” State Dept

“Secretary Tillerson met with President in on March 9 to affirm the U.S. commitment to our broad partnership with the Government of Djibouti as it addresses regional political, development and security challenges…..” Heather Nauert

Rex Tillerson is in his African exile, with one or two sick days, reported.

Meanwhile back in the rest of the world and Washington DC, Tillerson’s rivals continue to sharpen the knives. Mainly his aspiring successor Nikki Haley (UN ambassador) and co-conspirator the aspiring warmonger and Vietnam draft-dodger John Bolton* are setting the stage for his departure within this year. Just give it a few more weeks or months to make the departure look respectable if hasty. Remember: it was Rex Tillerson who last year reportedly called President Trump a “f-cking moron“.

(*Bolton is reported to have supported the Vietnam War, but declined to enter combat duty, instead enlisting in the National Guard and attending law school after his 1970 graduation. “I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy,”. How about Afghanistan or the Persian Gulf?).

Trump will have his new war cabinet now, ready for new wars, likely in the Middle East. But wars in Muslim lands have a way of traveling back to the West, to Europe and other places. Still, being fired by a moron is always preferable to being fired by an intelligent person

 

Cheers

M Haider Ghuloum

Death of a Beer Salesman: McMaster to Depart White House? …….

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Media reports (more leaks) say NSC chief General H R McMaster is leaving the White House, involuntarily.
According to the book Fire and Fury, Trump never liked him, thought he looked like a beer salesman when he showed up in a large suit for an interview. Or most likely he was bored with the national security details the general delved into.

All this reminds me of Bill Clinton and his first CIA director, James Woolsey. Apparently Bill did not care much for Woolsey either, avoided seeing him if he could. One day a small private airplane crashed into the White House lawn, and the inside joke was that it was probably a desperate James Woolsey trying to see the president.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Politics and Pricey Hook-Ups: from Rome to Exclusive Golf Resorts of America……

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In Italy, they have no dominant political position like a US president. The biggest mouth in town, in Rome, used to be Silvio Berlusconi. He is trying to make a political comeback now through the highly (and perennially) volatile Italian political scene.
Berlusconi is in many ways like other European politicians. He is not a GOP/Tea Party American-style right-winger, nor is he a rabid believer in deregulation and corporatism (no leading European politician is). He sees an opportunity after the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Very likely he hopes to hook up with Trump, exchange notes and memoirs about the techniques of business, governance, and pricey not-so-discreet hook-ups……

That leaves out the Le Pen women in France (both mother and daughter)………

Cheers
M Haider Ghuloum

Fire and Fury of Steve Bannon and Hope Hicks and the Trumps ……….

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just finished reading the book Fire and Fury, about the dysfunction, internal squabbles, and mutual backstabbings of the first year of the Trump White House. The author is not exactly a Theodore White, but then these are not Teddy White days, and the book’s focus was on the post-election rather than the campaign.

It took me a few days because I usually read several books at the same time, a habit from undergraduate university days. Here is my brief take, succinctly put: 

Beyond all the headlines and the cacophony which focused on Donald Trump and his inadequacies and consequent insecurities. The picture drawn in the book, at least the picture I saw, was one of a bunch of  self-serving extremely disloyal players. Everyone of the White House staff seems to be in the game for themselves, everyone focuses on their own role and its continuation.

Nobody gave priority to “serving” Trump and what is good for his tenure. That includes his own immediate family who took offices in the West Wing. That includes his New York in-laws. Everyone seems to have forgotten political convictions and principles and what Trump promised the voters. One young lady who apparently had some ‘boy trouble’, Hope Hicks, was/is probably loyal to the Trumps.

But there was one more other significant exception: one person who did not seem, from the author’s depiction, to be looking after personal gain and the one who did not play the sycophant. Perhaps the most ideological, most zealous person among them all.

Oddly that is the one person whom much of the media focused on and incessantly reviled during his brief tenure in the West Wing: Steve Bannon.

(P.S.: funniest thing in the book? Was the part about NSC candidate General H R McMaster showing up in a large suit and Trump thinking he looked like a ‘beer salesman‘)

Cheers

M H Ghuloum

Iran at a Brezhnev Crossroad: an Aging Revolution, a Younger Unhappy Population, a Sistani Alternative…….

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On the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted this:
” @khamenei_ir
Dear prideful nation of #Iran! The greatness of your gatherings today, which, according to precise calculations, was more populated and morepassionate than previous years, was a resolute response to the enemies and oath-breakers….”
“Relying on their distorted false perceptions of Iran and Iranians, the enemies had spent all their propaganda efforts on trying to turn this year’s revolution celebration frigid or probably anti-revolution. You’ve exhibited the livelihood & dynamism of the revolution in practice…..”
Feb 11, 2018

This year’s anniversary of the last of the great popular revolutions of the twentieth century has been surrounded with interesting domestic developments. We know what happened with the other two revolutions, in Russia and China. In Russia they openly gave up on the ideology; in China they still pretend that the Communist system of Chairman Mao exists, but only as a means to legitimize one-party rule of a new oligarchy. In Iran, Ali Khamenei is trying to keep the flames of the old aging revolution alive. Did I leave out Cuba?

In a nation that is younger and wants more freedoms, more accountability, in an age of spreading social media and access to opinion. What to do?
Violent repression, for example Egyptian Sisi style, will not work anymore in Iran. During the recent protests a few weeks ago, many of the security forces were noticeably sympathetic to the protests. More subtle forms of protest continue. There will be more periodic protests; for years now people have been testing the limits of the freedoms allowed. And these limits have also expanded.

There has been gradual and incremental but unannounced openness by the regime, forced by the people. Giving in more publicly and at once will eventually open the floodgates to more encroachment of the feared global culture, and more demands for more openness and more freedoms.

What to do? Perhaps a Chinese solution? But the Chinese regime is now agnostic: politically Communist in the name of the one ruling party; economically and socially capitalistic and oligarchic to boot.

The Iranian ayatollahs pride themselves on some kind of “purity”, along the model of the old stubborn Soviet regime in the Brezhnev era, when all the revolutionary thrill was gone from the younger generation. But Iran is not a Soviet-style closed system: freedom of travel and emigration has never been curtailed. Social media thrive, as do international satellite television. Expatriate non-political Iranian exiles are freely allowed back into the country. All that has allowed a sort of safety valve but also created demands for more.

Rouhani is trying some short-term solutions. But that would only underline the need for a longer-term deal between the people and their government. The weak point is the position of the Supreme Leader. Chairman Mao is dead in China, but Ayatollah Khamenei is an unelected veto-holder. He is in a way selected by an elected assembly created to gate-keep access to power. But even so, he shares power with various other centers of power: the elected president of the republic (Rouhani), the elected and contentious parliament that takes its powers very seriously, other various senior clerics (more senior than Khamenei).

Then there is the ultimate theological marja’iya (last recourse in Shi’a theological matters) located in Najaf (Iraq). Najaf, where Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani is located, is like the Rome for Shi’a Muslims.

Ali Sistani does not support the idea of rule by the clergy, nor do many others, possibly most Shi’as. It is unlikely that this political ideology chasm between Najaf and Tehran/Qom will ever be closed on Tahran’s terms. If there is a closing, it will be Tehran and Qom moving closer to the Najaf school of thought in governing. A largely Islamic but diverse state with elected civilian non-clerical rule. That was the case in Iran under Mossadegh until August 1953, when his overthrow was engineered by Western intelligence agencies (CIA and British intelligence).

Iran has had at least one case of a Gorbachev in the past four decades. Khatami was paralysed by a conservative parliament, and the Supreme Leader. Rouhani may manage things better, but he has only a couple of years left of his presidency.

Meanwhile, the people, especially in the cities, will continue to chip away at the restrictions imposed by the clerics. The trend towards more openness will continue and accelerate; unless Donald Trump is talked by the hawks in the US Senate/Congress and by the Israeli likud and a couple of despotic Arab kings to start a new war. That will immediately lead to consolidation in Tehran. It happened before when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq started the eight-year war. He lost, but so did the people of Iran.

Oh, and forget about the regime change nonsense being peddled by frustrated hawks and chickenhawks in the USA. Remember: the 1953 Western intervention led to the current situation…….

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Iran Nuclear Deal: Is Europe Going Back to its Historic ‘Plan B’ of Appeasing a Bully?……..

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“It looks as though Britain, France, and Germany have decided to appease President Donald Trump to discourage him from withdrawing the United States from the July 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA). “After meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May… and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said they had agreed to set up a working group of experts on fixing flaws in the landmark 2015 agreement that President Trump has warned he will walk away from this spring unless adjustments are made to his liking.” (PBS)….. “France’s foreign minister said on Sunday he would visit Iran on March 5 to discuss its ballistic missile program and the nuclear deal agreed with world powers in 2015.” (Reuters)…. “Germany is lobbying among European allies to agree new sanctions against Iran …………”

So, there are some early signs of fissure. Weak signs so far, but ominous. Are the Europeans, sans Russia, going back on their own commitment to the nuclear deal (JCPOA)? Are they going to unwittingly nickle and dime it to death by chipping away at its credibility? Are they going to yield, gradually, to the new loud-mouth bully in the White House?
Are they falling back on their perennial Plan B  when facing pressure from bullies? Are they going back to their own old pattern of appeasement of bullies who threaten war?

Appeasement eventually leads to what it was hoped to prevent, just as it did in Europe decades ago. The war the Europeans have tried to avoid.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Trump Economics, Friedman Economics: the Oligarchy, the Swamp, and the Cesspool…….

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And the beat goes on……
This time I’ll keep my feet on solid ground
Now I understand myself when I’m down
Like the sweet sound of hip music
There’ll always be something new
To keep the tables turning
Hey, this super song
There’ll never be an ending…
And the beat goes on……”    
The Whispers

Betting Against Trump Was a Market-Beater. The companies the president disparaged have done much better than those he favored. Remember when President Donald Trump would call out a company by name, causing its stock price to gyrate madly, whacking a few billions off its market value with just one offhanded tweet? ……. Looking back on this one year later is revealing. From the November 2016 election until when we looked at it January 2017, the Oligarch Index was thoroughly trouncing the Drain the Swamp Index, 15.8 percent to 3.5 percent. Trump hadn’t even been sworn in, yet he was already making his heft felt in the marketplace. Things change…….”

So the famous bi-partisan, lobbyist-driven, Washington Swamp beat the Trump-favored Oligarchy in terms of market performance, at least for the first year. During the past year, the Oligarchy started quickly to morph into what it has always had the potential to be: a Cesspool……….

But still the Oligarchy is not done: it has at least three more years, potentially seven more years. The Swamp will expand and get more odorous for now, become more of a new oligarchy Cesspool. Until the next bubble created by deregulation and natural greed and hubris bursts. Then look out for all the flying “stuff“. Then the new need for “government” help and “regulation”. Back to 2008 and 2009, and……
Perhaps hopefully a more-lasting New Deal (after all, Milton Friedman is dead, along with his brilliant but misguided mind and his Nobel)……….

And the Beat Goes On…..

Cheers
M Haider Ghuloum