Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to think that he has been using his strategically incompetent American counterpart to advance his ends. In fact, Donald Trump has dragged everyone into his reality-TV world, in which sensation, exaggeration, and misinformation all serve his only true goal: to be the center of attention.
But the truth is that neither Democrats nor the media have actually had much success in reining in Trump. As for the Republicans, who control both houses of the US Congress, even once-vocal opponents – such as Senators Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz – now lick Trump’s boots. With Trump having bullied his party into submission, it seems unlikely that his failure to deliver for Putin can be blamed on others.
The more likely explanation for Trump’s betrayal of Putin is that his warm rhetoric was, like everything else that comes out of his mouth, driven by his desire for ratings, not any actual interest in – let alone commitment to – helping the Kremlin. Consider how Trump’s early overtures to another strongman, Chinese President Xi Jinping, gave way to a full-blown trade war against that country, which Trump now portrays as America’s enemy.
.. Of course, the world has come to expect broken promises and capriciousness from Trump. What is surprising is how Putin has misread the situation so badly. How could such a keen observer of the US, whose former career as a spy honed his ability to decipher people’s motives and intentions, fail to recognize the falseness of Trump’s promises?
.. If anyone knows that actions speak louder than words, it is Putin, whose words often include transparent denials of documented wrongdoing, from meddling in the US election to violating treaties. Yet Putin continues to ignore Trump’s actions and seeks for more meetings “to touch base” with the ever-complimentary US president, such as at this month’s World War I centenary in Paris or the G20 summit in Argentina.
Putin seems to think that he has been using the strategically incompetent Trump to advance his ends. In fact, Trump has dragged everyone into his reality-TV world, in which sensation, exaggeration, and misinformation all serve his only true goal: to be the last “survivor” on the island. By the time Putin finally realizes that he has been duped, the world will probably have paid a high price in terms of political stability, strategic security, and environmental damage. And Putin will have to pay it, too.
For President Trump, Saudi Arabia is not just a political ally. It has also been a customer.
Trump’s business relationships with the Saudi government — and rich Saudi business executives — go back to at least the 1990s. In Trump’s hard times, a Saudi prince bought a superyacht and hotel from him. The Saudi government paid him $4.5 million for an apartment near the United Nations.
Business from Saudi-connected customers continued to be important after Trump won the presidency. Saudi lobbyists spent $270,000 last year to reserve rooms at Trump’s hotel in Washington. Just this year, Trump’s hotels in New York and Chicago reported significant upticks in bookings from Saudi visitors.
“Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million,” Trump told a crowd at an Alabama campaign rally in 2015. “Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”
The Trump Organization issued a statement Thursday saying that although it has pursued new hotel deals in Saudi Arabia in the past, it has no current plans to do so.
.. Saudi royalty has been buying from Trump dating to 1995, with some of the deals coming during periods when Trump was in need of cash.
.. In 1991, when Trump was nearly $900 million in debt from failed casino projects, he sold his 281-foot yacht to Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal for $20 million.
.. A few years later, the prince bought a stake in Trump’s Plaza Hotel by agreeing to pay off some of Trump’s debts on the property.
.. Tim O’Brien, a journalist who wrote the 2005 biography “TrumpNation,” said these deals were one-sided — in the prince’s favor. He said Trump was in dire financial straits, so the prince got a good price.
.. But there was no indication, back then, that Saudis wanted to curry favor with Trump by giving him a better deal, O’Brien said. “Talal saw him as a profit center,” he said, “not as somebody who he was cultivating as a future president.”
.. In 2001, Trump sold the 45th floor of his Trump World Tower, in New York, to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for $4.5 million.
.. More recently, Prince Nawaf bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz al-Saud acquired what would become a 10,500-square-foot triplex apartment in a Trump building on the west side of Manhattan. Nawaf sold it in February for $36 million.
.. During Trump’s presidential campaign, he also seemed to be exploring plans to build a hotel in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city, part of an international expansion plan. In August 2015 — two months after he got into the race — Trump established eight new shell companies that included the name “Jeddah.”
.. The names of those corporations — four of which also included the word “hotel” — seemed to indicate Trump was planning a hotel in the city.
.. Since Trump won the presidency, Saudis have been patrons of three of his 11 Trump-branded hotels.
.. In early 2017, a lobbying firm working for the Saudi Embassy reported spending $270,000 on food and lodging at Trump’s hotel in downtown Washington. The rooms were used to house people visiting Washington to lobby against a law that the Saudi government opposed — a law that allows victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue the Saudi government.
.. the general manager at Trump’s hotel on Manhattan’s Central Park West
.. One major reason, General Manager Prince A. Sanders wrote: “a last-minute visit to New York by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”
Sanders told the investors that the Trump hotel’s Saudi guests did not include Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself because the hotel did not have a suite large enough to suit him. But, he said, “due to our close industry relationships, we were able to accommodate many of the accompanying travelers.”
.. Saudi bookings at Trump Chicago had gone from 81 “room-nights” in the first half of 2016 to 218 in the first half of this year — an increase of 169 percent. (In the same time frame, bookings from Saudi Arabia’s rival Qatar increased 1,633 percent, from three “room-nights” to 52).
Neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Pompeo provided any new insights into what had happened to Mr. Khashoggi. But with his comment about presumed guilt, Mr. Trump drew a parallel to the sexual assault accusations made against his newest Supreme Court justice, Brett M. Kavanaugh.
Mr. Trump’s reference to the bitter confirmation battle over Justice Kavanaugh was telling. In that case, he initially took a restrained tone, observing that the judge’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, appeared credible in her testimony before the Senate about an alleged sexual assault.
But over time, as the furor threatened to irreparably tarnish his nominee, Mr. Trump discarded restraint. He complained that Justice Kavanaugh had been unfairly accused, raised questions about Dr. Blasey’s account, and even mocked her at a rally.
In the case of Mr. Khashoggi, Mr. Trump first expressed concern about the allegations and warned of severe consequences if the Saudi government were found responsible. But after days of unconvincing denials from the Saudis and growing evidence that Crown Prince Mohammed or his family may have been involved, Mr. Trump is shifting to a tone of defiance.
.. Prince Mohammed, Mr. Trump said, “totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish consulate.”
.. Asked if the Saudis told him whether Mr. Khashoggi was alive, Mr. Pompeo declined to answer. “I don’t want to talk about any of the facts,” he said. “They didn’t want to either, in that they want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way.”
.. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters in Ankara on Tuesday that investigators who searched the consulate on Monday and Tuesday were looking into “toxic materials, and those materials being removed by painting them over.”
.. Turkish news outlets, citing unnamed sources, have reported that Mr. Khashoggi was drugged, and that parts of the consulate and the nearby consul’s residence were repainted after the journalist’s disappearance.
.. Mr. Trump has vowed “severe punishment” if a Saudi hand is confirmed in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, but has said he does not want the case to affect arms sales that create American jobs.
.. The Saudi version of the story will probably be that officials intended to interrogate and abduct Mr. Khashoggi, spiriting him back to Saudi Arabia, but that they botched the job, killing him instead, the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because Saudi officials had yet to talk publicly about their plans.
.. For two weeks, Saudi leaders, including both the king and the crown prince, have denied that their country had anything to do with Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and have said that they did not know where he was. Saudi officials have insisted that he left the consulate, safe and free, the same day he entered it, although they have offered no supporting evidence.
But by Monday night, it appeared that the Trump administration and Turkey’s leaders were leaving room for a new version of events: Mr. Trump said after speaking with King Salman that perhaps “rogue killers” had been involved.
At their meeting on Tuesday, Mr. Pompeo “thanked the king for his commitment to supporting a thorough, transparent and timely investigation of Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance,”
.. “We are strong and old allies,” the crown prince said in English, in brief remarks as the meeting began. “We face our challenges together.”
.. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, still plans to attend a Saudi investment forum next week, even as several American businesses and lobbyists have distanced themselves from the country.
The lawmaker who is likely to lose the most in this mess is Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, a red-state Democrat in a tough re-election race against Representative Kevin Cramer, who suggested that he’d vote for Justice Kavanaugh even if he had sexually assaulted Dr. Blasey.
.. Amy Chua, a professor at Yale Law School, became a target of social media scorn when The Guardian reported she told students that it was “not an accident” that Kavanaugh’s clerks “looked like models.” But that didn’t really spur a close look at Justice Kavanaugh’s hiring practices. Instead, Ms. Chua bore the brunt of the firestorm.
.. Ms. Chua and Lisa Blatt, a feminist attorney, have faced enormous pressure to denounce him, with reputational consequences that their male counterparts are unlikely to face.
.. A bigger man than Justice Kavanaugh would have apologized to Renate Schroeder Dolphin for turning her into a high school joke.
A more responsible Senate Judiciary Committee would have taken their claims seriously and demanded a thorough, fair investigation.
And all of us could direct the same energy and opprobrium that we level at moderate women at the men who prejudged the outcome of this process and proceeded accordingly.