The chat elicited many an enthusiastic presidential soundbite, such as: "Good old army. We love the army." The good cheer came to an abrupt end, however, during the post-teleconference press briefing, when Trump was forced to field a couple of questions about the October murder of US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Asked whether the CIA was in possession of a recording of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman demanding that Khashoggi be silenced, the president responded: "I don't want to talk about it. You have [to] ask them."
And yet, he did manage to talk at length about how, regardless of who ordered the murder, "we have a very strong ally in Saudi Arabia" - which, in addition to helping make America great in many other ways, had apparently also facilitated Trump's self-marketing as the god of cheap gasoline: "I see that yesterday, [in] one of the papers, I was blamed for causing traffic jams because I have the oil prices so low ... let's have some traffic jams."
Also working in the Saudis' favour, according to Trump's analysis, was that "Israel would be in big trouble without Saudi Arabia" - a statement that generated some backlash from Israelis peeved at the suggestion that anyone but Israel was to thank for staving off big trouble in the world.
Incidentally, Trump's Thanksgiving Day allusion to the Saudi-Israeli alliance - a subject that has generally fallen under the category of Things We Absolutely Do Not Talk About - was merely one of a recent string of similar comments.
In an October interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump praised Saudi Arabia as "a very good ally with respect to Iran and with respect to Israel". A presidential statementissued on 20 November - headlined with the exclamation "America First!" - once again addressed the centrality of the Saudi kingdom to "our very important fight against Iran," with support for Saudi Arabia being crucial to "ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region".
Among these interests, we are told, is "our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!" But while this may indeed sound like a noble aim, it is presumably not best achieved with the help of the state that has spent the past 70 years terrorising Palestinians, or the one currently presiding over the terrorisation of Yemen (and that also happened to produce 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers). READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.
In early September, Albanian Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati travelled to Israel to participate in a counterterrorism summit and some nauseating photo ops with an Israeli cast of characters, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom Bushati joked around a bit before getting down to terror-fighting and other business.
Israel, of course, has already conspicuously advertised the hypocrisy of its self-appointment to the counterterrorist vanguard by, inter alia, regularly terrorising Palestinians. Albania's counterterrorism credentials, while less well-known, are also pretty dubious: the Balkan nation currently hosts the headquarters of the Iranian terrorist cult known as the Mojahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, dedicated to violent regime change in Iran.
Delisted as a terrorist organisation in 2012 by the United States - another entity well-versed in the art of terror disguised as counterterror - the MEK is almost comprehensively reviled within Iran on account of its history of allying with Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, as well as numerous other attacks and assassinations on Iranian soil.
The group’s near-total marginalisation notwithstanding, their regime change message is most welcome in Washington - and indeed was so even before the terror delisting.
Between 2013 and 2016, at the behest of the US, several thousand MEK members were relocated from their former base in Iraq to Albania. Now, the MEK presides over a sprawling, heavily fortified camp not far from the Albanian capital of Tirana.
But why Albania? Simply put, it’s not that difficult for the global superpower to twist the arm of a small and often overlooked country that was, until the 1990s, isolated on the world stage, and that is now eager to make up for lost time by ingratiating itself with empire. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.
In mid-October, what has come to be known as the "migrant caravan" departed Honduras for a weeks-long trek through Guatemala and Mexico to the United States.
The size of the caravan has fluctuated, but the United Nations calculated that, as of 22 October, some 7,200 people had joined up - many of them fleeing abysmal contexts of poverty and violence.
While the journey is an arduous one, the decision to travel as a large group mitigates the dangers generally faced by northward-bound migrants, including murder, disappearance, rape, and theft.
Of course, other obstacles still abound - among them US President Donald Trump, who quickly took to Twitter to announce that "criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in" with the caravan and that "I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy [sic]".
On 2 October, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for the Washington Post, entered Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, never to be seen again.
After multiple denials, Saudi Arabia confirmed on 19 October that Khashoggi had been killed inside the building. In a statement on Saudi state television, the country's chief prosecutor said a fight broke out between Khashoggi and "people who met him" in the consulate. The brawl resulted in Khashoggi's death, the prosecutor said.
According to Turkish officials, he was in fact executed and dismembered.
Although formerly a close associate of the Saudi ruling family, Khashoggi had exiled himself last year.
Friedman's trite ideas
Writing before the Saudi admission, New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman quickly took to the pages of his own publication to announce that he was "praying for" Khashoggi, whose abduction or murder by agents of the Saudi government would "be a disaster for MBS [Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman] and a tragedy for Saudi Arabia and all the Arab Gulf countries".
By "disaster," Friedman means a potential decline in Western support for Saudi Arabia and Western investments in the kingdom, although the word might more accurately describe his own career, which has included a far-too-long November 2017 ode to MBS titled "Saudi Arabia's Arab Spring, at Last".
Not that Friedman wasn't a Saudi fan even before the allegedly reform-driven MBS ushered in springtime; previous Friedmanian soundbites come to mind, like: "The problem with Saudi Arabia is not that it has too little democracy. It's that it has too much," and "Of course, we must protect the Saudis".
Now, Friedman tells us, the elimination of Khashoggi would be "an unfathomable violation of norms of human decency, worse not in numbers but in principle than even the Yemen war" - a rather abominable statement given the ongoing bombardment and starvation of that country by a Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition backed by the US and UK.
In August, for example, the coalition dropped a 500-pound bomb on a Yemeni school bus, massacring 40 children. Granted, none of them were employed by the Washington Post.
CNN reported that the bomb in question was manufactured by that pillar of the US military-industrial complex known as Lockheed Martin, an unsurprising revelation in light of the $110 bn US-Saudi defence deal conjured up by Donald Trump last year in Riyadh.
And it's arrangements like these that help ensure that most victims of Saudi Arabia won't be given the time of day, much less various weeks of sustained media coverage. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.
A recent New York Post article reports that the ultra-rich of the Hamptons - an elite swathe of territory on New York's Long Island - are converting their properties into luxury fortresses in order "to hide from MS-13", the Mara Salvatrucha gang.
MS-13 have been described by USA Today as the "favourite villain" of President Donald Trump, who has delighted in referring to the gang's members as "animals".
The Post details the various security options available, for gigantic sums, to guard against the MS-13 "spectre". Fortunately for the Hamptonites, there's still plenty of room for entertainment, with panic rooms"doubling as home theatres, wine cellars or even gun vaults".
Billionaire John Catsimatidis is quoted endearingly: "I sleep with a gun underneath my pillow: a Walther PPK/S, the same one James Bond carried".
Never mind that vast socioeconomic inequality is, you know, a driving forcebehind crime in the first place. But the beauty of capitalism is that there are always loads of profitable non-solutions to exacerbate problems under the guise of fixing them.
As the president of a company that installs bullet-proof windows and doors tells the Post: "We get business when there is a tremendous amount of fear being generated".
Enter President Trump, whose goal in life is to turn the US itself into one giant fortified gun vault. In May of this year, the White House issued a brief dispatchtitled "What You Need To Know About The Violent Animals Of MS-13", in which the word "animals" was utilised no fewer than nine times - lest there be any doubt as to its spontaneous political correctness in official discourse. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.
In a typically farcical performance at the United Nations General Assembly on 27 September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the opportunity to update the world on the alleged activities of his favourite cross-border nemesis: Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
According to Netanyahu’s visual aid - a conspicuously marked diagram - Hezbollah is currently presiding over three secret sites near Beirut’s international airport where, under orders from Tehran, regular old missiles are being converted into precision-guided ones. In other words: the airport and whatever humans might find themselves in the overcrowded vicinity are fair game in any impending conflict.
In response to the allegations, Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil accompanied an array of foreign diplomats and journalists on a tour of the supposed missile sites, emphasising his view that Israel is simply seeking to “justify another aggression” against Lebanon - a valid assessment, given Israel’s track record of invading, bombarding and occupying its northern neighbour.
The tour took place on 1 October, and, as expected, produced no evidence of the missile conversion process.
That same day, the Israeli military tweeted its own opinion that “#Hezbollah has a long history of covering up inconvenient truths and then parading foreign officials around” - a rather brazen claim from a country that has spent the past seven decades covering up the fact that it happens to be founded on a policy of ethnic cleansing and slaughter. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.
In November 2012, former British Prime Minister David Cameron descended upon the Gulf for a visit aimed at - among other things - selling a bunch of Typhoon fighter jets to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In response to concerns about the dismal human rights records of the territories in question, Cameron offered the following reassurance: “[W]e do believe that countries have a right to self-defence, and we do believe that Britain has important defence industries that employ over 300,000 people, so that sort of business is completely legitimate and right.”
This sort of logical leap would become even trickier a couple of years later, when the UK supported the slaughter-fest in Yemen presided over by a Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition. As for the whole business of defence, this, it turns out, is one significant aspect of an extensive and complex UK-Gulf relationship that must be defended at all costs.
In a newly released book entitled AngloArabia: Why Gulf Wealth Matters to Britain, David Wearing - a teaching fellow in international relations at Royal Holloway, University of London - sets out to methodically document the nature and function of these ties.
So much for “legitimacy” and “self-defence”.
Case in point: the Arab uprisings of 2010-11, which included a panorama of brutal repression in Bahrain - that lovable kingdom and devoted ally described by Britain’s Royal United Services Institute as a "substitute for an aircraft carrier permanently stationed in the Gulf".
Overall, reports Wearing, “the data show that the British government’s response to the new wave of demands for democracy region-wide was to continue a sharp increase in arms supplies to its key authoritarian allies”. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.
In August, the Spanish government issued a decree paving the way to exhume the remains of fascist dictator Francisco Franco from their current place of honour in the Valley of the Fallen, a massively creepy monument north of Madrid.
The dictator's family members have been given until September 15 to select a new resting place for him; otherwise, the state will decide. The transfer will, theoretically, take place later this year.
The English-language edition of Spain's El Pais newspaper quotes Franco's grandchildren as complaining that the decree constitutes an "act of retrospective revenge without precedent in the civilised world".
Indeed, it would be most uncivilised to disturb the embalmed body of the man responsible for terrorising Spainfor much of the last century.
After all, only half a million people are estimated to have perished in the civil war of 1936-39 that brought Franco to power, where he remained until his death in 1975.
On top of that, a mere 114,000or so were disappeared during the war and ensuing dictatorship, many of them executed by Francoist death squads and deposited in mass graves that have yet to be excavated.
The Valley of the Fallen, incidentally, was itself built by the forced labour of political prisoners held by the fascist regime. It also houses the bones of more than 33,000 unidentified victims of the civil war.
Other perks of Franco's enlightened rule included the practice of trafficking in newborns, which continued after the dictator's death and - according to some observers - resulted inhundreds of thousandsof stolen Spanish babies.
In August, Georgia Today - an English-language newspaper of the eponymous former Soviet republic - featured a verbose analysis headlined “Georgia as ‘the Israel of the Caucasus’ - a Concept Worth Considering?”
Following numerous twists and turns - including a quote from late Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, noting that “if we have to [choose] between being dead and pitied, and being alive with a bad image, we would rather be alive and have the bad image” - the article appears to conclude that there are many prospects for “further developing the Georgia-US bilateral relationships”.
Successful development, we are left to assume, would ideally propel the wannabe NATO member into a special relationship akin to that enjoyed between the US and its favourite Israeli partner in crime. In other words, the whole “Israel of the Caucasus” concept is definitely worth considering.
Not that the concept is really anything new. Rewind for a moment to 2008 and the five-day war between Georgia and Russia that began when Georgia attacked breakaway South Ossetia. The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah, noting Israel’s intimate involvement in the war-making venture on account of “hundreds of millions of dollars in arms and combat training” to Georgia over previous years, speculated that the Georgian government may have been endeavouring to “play the role of the ‘Israel of the Caucasus’ - a loyal servant of US ambitions in that region”.
Among these ambitions was the “broader US scheme to encircle Russia”, while the training services provided by the real Israel to the Caucasian one were said to involve “officers from Israel’s Shin Bet secret service - which has for decades carried out extrajudicial executions and torture of Palestinians in the occupied territories”, as well as the Israeli police and major Israeli arms companies. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.
Back in 2010, New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman descended briefly upon Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, where he “took part in a ‘qat chew’” with Yemeni officials, businessmen, and other elites.
Qat, Friedman explained to his uninitiated readership, was “the mildly hallucinogenic leaf drug that Yemeni men stuff in their cheek after work.” Though Friedman himself “quit after fifteen minutes,” he still managed to devise the following “new rule of thumb” for US involvement in the country: “For every Predator missile we fire at an Al Qaeda target here, we should help Yemen build fifty new modern schools that teach science and math and critical thinking — to boys and girls.” This magical “ratio of targeted killings to targeted kindergartens” was, Friedman felt, America’s best bet “to prevent Yemen from becoming an Al Qaeda breeding ground.”
Fast forward to August 2018, and the concept of targeted kindergartens has acquired rather more sinister connotations following the recent slaughter of at least forty Yemeni children on a school bus. The perpetrators: the US-backed, Saudi-led coalition that, since 2015, has been terrorizing Yemen in the name of fighting terror. Among the coalition partners is the United Arab Emirates, glitzy land of ski slope–equipped malls, modern-day slavery, and love affairs with Blackwater founder Erik Prince. Additional coalition backing is provided by the UK and other friendly Europeans.
On August 17, CNN reported that the munition responsible for the school bus massacre was a five-hundred-pound “laser-guided MK 82 bomb made by Lockheed Martin,” pillar of the US military-industrial complex. The bomb’s provenance is not enormously surprising given the $110 billion US-Saudi defense deal to which Donald Trump gave birth last year in Riyadh.
Shortly after the airstrike on the bus, a journalist asked US defense secretary James Mattis for his thoughts on the US role in the conflict in Yemen given that such operations are conducted “with US training, US targeting information, US weapons.”
The transcript of Mattis’s response, which appears on the Defense Department website, includes such insights as: “There, I would tell you that we do help them plan what we call — what kind of targeting? I’m trying to trying of the right word.”
Whatever the word was, Mattis remained of the opinion that “we are not engaged in the civil war” and that “we will help to prevent, you know, the killing of innocent people.”
Of course, anyone familiar with the United States’ track record will be aware that protecting innocents is never really the name of the game. In addition to out-and-out killing sprees, more subtle modes of human elimination also come to mind — as when reports in 1996 that half a million Iraqi children had died because of US sanctions elicited the assessment from then-US ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright: “We think the price is worth it.” READ MORE AT JACOBIN.