Monday, September 05, 2016

Saudi Influence On The U.S. Government-- Beyond Moose Al-Rashid


I've been sitting around with my attorney trying to figure out how to get the al-Rashid family into court for corrupting American politics. It's worth repeating that a serious Al-Rashid scandal is starting to burn Patrick Murphy and other politicians who have gotten into bed with him. The background that everyone knows is that a close friend of Murphy's, Ibrahim Al-Rashid, an investment broker and the son of one of the most powerful Saudi billionaires, gives immense amounts of money to Patrick, married Patrick's finance director, beat her up and was convicted of battery and drew a sentence of one year's probation. People are less aware that several sons of that Saudi billionaire, Nasser Al-Rashid, one of the Saudi royal family's closet advisors, have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign coffers of some of the most easily corruptible conservative Democrats, particularly Patrick Murphy, of course, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee and on a subcommittee which the Saudi government is very interested, the Department of Defense Intelligence and Overhead Architecture Subcommittee. Some of the money Ibrahim Al-Rashid has given Murphy is legal and some extremely illegal-- and he has also been giving money to congressional crooks Murphy has wanted to funnel money to for his own purposes.

Ibrahim married Murphy's campaign finance director, Morgan Budman, although earlier he had given many thousands of dollars for her and to her relatives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania to contribute to Murphy's campaign, a serious federal offense. He also gave large sums to other people to contribute to Murphy, like his maid,all of which is highly illegal. The legal contributions that Ibrahim gave Murphy amounted to approximately $16,000 directly, $100,000 to Murphy's American Sunrise PAC (run by Murphy's crooked Republican father), $180,000 to the Pelosi-run House Majority PAC, $35,800 to the DCCC, $6,000 to the DSCC and $100,000 to Harry Reid's Senate Majority PAC, specifically earmarked for Murphy's race. (He's also contributed several thousand dollars directly to Reid himself.) Over the weekend-- as a brighter light has been shone on Al-Rashid-- Reid decided to return the $100,000 Senate Majority PAC contribution to Al-Rashid. Murphy claims to have donated his $16,000 to a charity for battered women after Rashid was convicted of beating his wife/Murphy's finance director to within an inch of her life. But Murphy has refused to disgorge the $100,000 made directly to his SuperPAC. Wassermann Schultz, Eric Swalwell, Joe Garcia, Steve Israel, the DCCC, Pelosi and Charlie Crist have also so far refused to get rid of the tainted money.

Murphy cronies, most of whom play fast and loose on the ethics front, who have accepted Ibrahim Al-Rashid's bribes include:
Debbie Wasserman Schultz- $4,800
Eric Swalwell- $10,400
Lois Frankel- $7,500 (of which she returned $2,500)
Joe Garcia- $5,400
Alcee Hastings- $5,000
Charlie Crist- $4,800
Ami Bera- $2,600
Steve Israel- $2,500
Harry Reid- $2,400
Frederica Wilson- $5,200
Ted Deutch- $10,200
Nasser Al-Rashid himself-- the father (also a notorious woman abuser, particularly of Ibrahim's mother who wrote a book about it)-- has given over $1,000,000 to the Clinton Library. Nasser's other sons are in on it as well. This cycle, Mohammed Al-Rashid, who uses the pseudonym "Moose" Al-Rashid, gave two fat checks to Murphy, both on June 2, 2015, one for $2,700 and one for $2,300. Another brother, Salman, also contributes to the same clown-show of candidates in Murphy's orbit:
Patrick Murphy- $10,200
Debbie Wasserman Schultz- $2,400
Ami Bera- $1,000
Steve Israel- $2,500
Ted Deutch- $2,400
Alcee Hastings- $2,400
Charlie Crist- $4,800
And then there's Ramzi, who gave Patrick Murphy another $5,000 in Al-Rashid money. Both before and after she married Ibrahim, Morgan Budman was contributing large amounts of money to the same corrupt Democrats the Al-Rashid family had decided to buy into, especially Murphy, but many of Murphy's cronies as well, especially Wasserman Schultz, Charlie Crist, Ted Deutch and Alcee Hastings. So... now that Harry Reid has given back the $100,000 in tainted money, what about the DSCC, the DCCC, Pelosi's House Majority PAC and all the dirty little corruptionists like Wasserman Schultz and Bera? And what about that $100,000 that went to Murphy's SuperPAC? And will there be a serious investigation into what information the Saudi government wants from House Intelligence Committee member Patrick Murphy that would make them spend so many hundreds of thousands of dollars on his career?

Back in late March, Max Fisher, writing for Vox asked some salient questions about how Saudi Arabia captured our government and why the American foreign policy establishment has aligned itself with an ultra-conservative dictatorship that often acts counter to US values and interests. He never got around to Murphy.

When Obama criticized Saudi Arabia's treatment of women and its practice of promoting fundamentalism abroad and suggested the Saudis would have to learn to "share" the Middle East with its adversary, Iran, the DC foreign policy establishment-- much of which is as paid off by the Saudis as Patrick Murphy is-- went ape-shit.

Whereas Obama's material support for a disastrous Saudi-led war had drawn little protest in Washington, his words of muted criticism for Saudi Arabia provoked days of sustained outrage. His comments were denounced as "play[ing] the blame game"; "betraying a grievous misunderstanding of what it means to be the world’s No. 1"; "the mark of a careless and clumsy amateur"; "turn[ing] allies overboard"; "overweening arrogance"; blaming others for his own failures; comparable to Donald Trump; and so on.

The moment was just the latest manifestation of something strange about Washington's foreign policy community: It is deeply, viscerally committed to defending and advocating for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a country whose authoritarian government, ultra-conservative values, and extremist-promoting foreign policy would seem like an unusual passion project for American foreign policy professionals.

That advocacy has consequences. Though Saudi Arabia often acts counter to US interests, for example by working against US policy in the Middle East and by funding extremists, the US still provides direct support for Saudi actions that undermine the regional stability America desires, for example by backing the Yemen war against Americans' better judgment.

The Obama administration decided on its own to support that war, and for reasons beyond how it would play on Massachusetts Avenue. But that decision, like so many before it, was informed by a culture in Washington that encourages nearly any action in support of Saudi Arabia and punishes any aberration.

Why is this? What explains the Washington consensus in favor of Wahhabist autocrats who often act counter to American values and interests?

Some in the Obama administration, based on what they told The Atlantic (and on my own conversations with administration officials), seem to believe the answer is money: that Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Arab states have purchased loyalty and influence.

But the truth may be subtler than that-- and say as much about innate Washington biases as about any foreign-bought influence.

When I asked members of the DC-based foreign policy community what was driving this, they described an establishment whose preexisting worldview-- a natural preference for the status quo and the familiar, a mythology of welcomed American hegemony-- naturally aligns with Saudi Arabia's. But they also pointed to ways in which Gulf money, in recent years, has come to distort Washington's conversations about the Middle East. (All asked to speak anonymously, given the subject's sensitivity.)

Everyone I spoke to emphasized that the pro-Saudi views expressed in Washington are earnestly held; no one is ordered by foreign funders to express a certain viewpoint. Rather, they described a subtler role, in which money amplifies preexisting norms and habits that favor a pro-Saudi consensus, deepening a bias that would exist in the absence of that money but would not be quite as strongly held or widely expressed.

All agreed that this bias, whatever its causes, is a serious problem for Washington, hindering the United States' ability to understand, and navigate, a rapidly changing Middle East. And in a town where everything is debated, it's one of the few things that most people would rather not discuss.

...The New York Times, that year, published an investigation on foreign government funding at think tanks, which the paper found had risen dramatically. It identified millions in donations going to many of Washington's most influential institutions, which were "producing policy papers, hosting forums and organizing private briefings for senior United States government officials that typically align with the foreign governments’ agendas."

The Times investigation detailed several incidents in which donations from foreign governments had seemed to directly influence think tank behavior:
Saleem Ali, a former visiting scholar at the Brookings center in Qatar, said he had been told not to write critically of the Qatari government.

Emails between the Center for Global Development and the Norwegian government seemed to indicate a quid pro quo in which Norway would "donate" to CGD, which in turn would help persuade US government officials to increase funding for global forest protection efforts by $250 million.

The Japanese government gave to CSIS, which now sponsors Japanese officials as "visiting scholars" who are granted access to US government officials by way of CSIS events and preexisting relationships.

The United Arab Emirates, also a CSIS donor, got its ambassador to the US invited to participate on a public panel alongside then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey, whom the ambassador grilled about US commitments to the UAE.
...[E]veryone I spoke to was careful to point out that this pro-Saudi status quo bias would exist even in the absence of foreign funding. But they saw Gulf money as amplifying that trend, perhaps significantly, along with the voices that just happened to echo the pro-Saudi conventional wisdom.

"It would not completely disappear in the absence of that money," one of the Washington experts told me. "People earnestly believe that the American interest is best served by maintaining the status quo, supporting Israel, containing Iran."

This status quo order was probably never going to last, and began disintegrating in 2011 with the Arab Spring, which saw Islamist and populist politics rising as the reliable old dictatorships fell. The familiar old order began to disappear. And that order had served few better than it did for the United States and Saudi Arabia.

For many Middle East hands in Washington, who have presided over this status quo throughout their professional lives, this change is unsettling, and has sparked an understandable desire to hold on to whatever remains of the old order.

"Democracy's become a bad word again," one expert told me. "It's all about stability. And the Saudis are equated with stability."

Because the US-Saudi alliance was always a central pillar to American strategy, preserving the alliance is sometimes treated as synonymous with preserving the pro-American order.

..."There's a broad consensus in wanting things to be the way they were before," one DC-based Middle East expert said.

"That means the US alliance with Israel and with Gulf states to contain Iran, fight terrorism, and keep the oil flowing," the expert went on. "That's been US foreign policy for 50 years. Obama is trying to do different things. So what you're seeing is a pro-Saudi position that's also the foreign policy establishment position."

Because the old order was so aligned with Saudi interests, Washington's status quo bias is expressed as a pro-Saudi bias. When the foreign policy community calls for maintaining the old alliance structure, isolating Iran, and staving off Islamist movements, these are all core Saudi interests.

But, more than that, the Saudis and other Gulf states tend to describe the world, and America's place in it, in terms that many members of Washington's foreign policy community badly want to hear.

I am often asked why Washington's foreign policy consensus can seem unusually inclined to interventionism and other assertive foreign policy positions, and why, compared with other policy fields, it is relatively bereft of more libertarian-minded scholars.

To me, the answer has always seemed obvious: You are more drawn to the study and practice of American foreign policy if you believe that American involvement abroad is generally a force for good.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states share this belief. They explicitly desire American hegemony over their region because it serves their interests, helping to maintain their rule at home and their outsize influence abroad. When you speak to officials from those countries, they sound practically like Ronald Reagan, describing American power projection in the world as necessary and indeed welcome.

"I think I believe in American power more than Obama does," Jordan's King Abdullah II is quoted as saying in the Atlantic's story.

This is a common view among American allies, who have come to rely on American security reassurances, who know that the United States has an enormous budget and military that can help solve their problems for them, and who, for years, have been listening to Americans tell them that the United States will and should be in charge.

For American foreign policy professionals who share this belief, their attitudes are rooted in idealism and optimism about the role of US power, along with a self-affirming belief in the intrinsic good of American hegemony. For Gulf states, it is a matter of cold, strategic self-interest-- American power is not just useful for them, but perhaps necessary for propping up their own regimes, which are often anachronistic autocracies and enjoy far more regional power than they would otherwise.

The point is that both groups share a worldview that privileges, to an unusual degree, the assertion of American power and that fears the consequences of American inaction.

This worldview, for Americans, is rooted as much in foreign policy doctrine as it is in something of mythology. In our mythos, hegemony over the Middle East is fondly but falsely remembered as more stable, more welcome, and more durable than it actually was or is. American power projection in the Middle East, whose track record has been mixed at best, is considered not just a useful tool but an intrinsic good in itself.

In that mythology, the American unipolar moment after the Cold War was peaceful not because of the absence of great-power conflict or proxy warfare, but for the far more idealistic and appealing reason that the assertion of American power is inherently virtuous and stabilizing. In this view, the root cause of any problem in the world must therefore be an absence of American power projection, and the solution, therefore, is always more American power.

For decades, American foreign policy makers have been trying to convince US allies, including those in the Gulf, to buy into this mythology. Many did, and grew to rely on the consequences of that worldview. Now those in the Gulf are spending heavily to persuade Washington of its own mythology. Many people in Washington, ever willing to hear their own wisdom repeated back to them, including and perhaps especially when that wisdom appears falsified by reality, are listening.
So while Sayyid Trumpanzee and Hillary argue about who the Saudis have bribed more effectively, Mark Karlin dug into the increasingly dysfunctional U.S.-Saudi relationship yesterday at Truthout with Medea Benjamin author of Kingdom of the Unjust, who defines the relationship in terms of how "both economies are key players in a global capitalist economy propelled by planet-destroying fossil fuels and weapons. Whether the US version with a multiparty system with elections, or the Saudi version of a theocratic monarchy, both economies are in the hands of elites who benefit at the expense of the people and planet... It is not in the interests of the Saudi or US public to have an economy so reliant on oil and weapons, but these huge sectors have powerful lobbies that distort our policies. And now that the Saudis have used their huge profits from oil sales to invest in the US economy, they can-- and have-- blackmailed the US government. When Congress was voting to give US victims of the 9/11 attacks the right to sue the Saudi government in US courts, the Saudis threatened to withdraw $750 billion from the US treasury and other assets."
Karlin: You report as corroborated, what has been circulating as speculative news for some time, that Saudi Arabia and Israel have been unofficially developing at least a modest intelligence, military and strategic relationship of sorts. What is behind this rather chilling development for the Palestinians in particular?

Benjamin: On the surface, it would seem that Saudi Arabia and Israel would be the worst of enemies, as the two nations have no diplomatic relations and the Saudis have traditionally been strong supporters of the Palestinians. But beneath the surface, these two old adversaries actually have a lot in common, and many feel that the Saudis have turned their backs on the Palestinians by forging closer ties with Israel.

Both nations supported the military coup in Egypt, with the Saudis providing billions of dollars to General el-Sisi's government. The coup has been disastrous for the Palestinians, as General el-Sisi, on Israel's insistence, closed the Egypt/Gaza border, which was the only way most Palestinians were able to transit.

But the major bond between the Saudi and Israeli rulers is their mutual hatred of Iran. Both view Iran as an existential threat and fear Iran's growing influence in the region. They both opposed the Iran nuclear deal and are determined to stop the United States from getting any closer to Iran. This is dangerous for the entire region since any political solutions will have to involve bringing all key players in the region together, including Iran.

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At 6:25 PM, Anonymous Exit 135 said...

Department of Defense Intelligence and Overhead Architecture Subcommittee

"This subcommittee is responsible for oversight of the policies, programs, activities, and budgets of the National Reconnaissance Program, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Program, the General Defense Intelligence Program (Defense Intelligence Agency), and Department of Defense activities that are funded through the Military Intelligence Program."

Republicans Democrats
Chairman: Rep. Joe Heck Ranking Member: Rep. Terri Sewell
Rep. Jeff Miller Rep.Eric Swalwell
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Rep. Patrick Murphy
Rep. Michael Turner Rep. Joaquin Castro
Rep. Brad Wenstrup
Rep. Chris Stewart


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