Who Is Behind Trump’s Links to Arab Princes? A Billionaire Friend

The billionaire financier Tom Barrack was caught in a bind.

.. Mr. Trump’s outspoken hostility to Muslims — epitomized by his call for a ban on Muslim immigrants — was offending the Persian Gulf princes Mr. Barrack had depended on for decades as investors and buyers.

.. Mr. Barrack, a longtime friend who had done business with the ambassador, assured him that Mr. Trump understood the Persian Gulf perspective. “He also has joint ventures in the U.A.E.!” Mr. Barrack wrote in an email on April 26.

.. During the Trump campaign, Mr. Barrack was a top fund-raiser and trusted gatekeeper who opened communications with the Emiratis and Saudis, recommended that the candidate bring on Paul Manafort as campaign manager — and then tried to arrange a secret meeting between Mr. Manafort and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

.. Investigators interviewed him in December but asked questions almost exclusively about Mr. Manafort and his associate Rick Gates

.. he has said he rebuffed offers to become treasury secretary or ambassador to Mexico.

.. He sought a role as a special envoy for Middle East economic development

.. Mr. Barrack’s company, known as Colony NorthStar since a merger last year, has raised more than $7 billion in investments since Mr. Trump won the nomination, and 24 percent of that money has come from the Persian Gulf — all from either the U.A.E. or Saudi Arabia

.. Mr. Barrack played as a matchmaker between Mr. Trump and the Persian Gulf princes.

.. “He is the only person I know who the president speaks to as a peer,” said Roger Stone, a veteran Republican operative who has known both men for decades. “Barrack is to Trump as Bebe Rebozo was to Nixon, which is the best friend,”

.. By 2010, he had acquired $70 million of the debt owed by Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, on his troubled $1.8 billion purchase of a skyscraper at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York. After a call from Mr. Trump, Mr. Barrack was among a group of lenders who agreed to reduce Mr. Kushner’s obligations to keep him out of bankruptcy.

.. Thomas J. Barrack Jr. and Donald J. Trump first met in the 1980s, and Mr. Barrack got the better of the encounters. He negotiated Mr. Trump into overpaying for two famous assets: a one-fifth stake in the New York department store chain Alexander’s in 1985, and the entire Plaza Hotel in 1988. Mr. Trump paid about $410 million for the Plaza and later lost both properties to creditors.

.. But Mr. Barrack nonetheless parlayed the deals into a lasting friendship, in part by flattering Mr. Trump about his skill as a negotiator.

“He played me like a Steinway piano,” Mr. Barrack recounted in a speech at the Republican convention.

.. people who know him well say he still tells new acquaintances that he is truly honored to meet them, cheerfully doling out superlatives like “first-class,” “amazing” and “brilliant.” He invariably tells the story of his own success as a parable about luck and perseverance, never about talent.

.. He grew up speaking Arabic as the son of Lebanese immigrants to Los Angeles

.. Mr. Barrack wrote back that Mr. Trump was “the king of hyperbole.”

.. “We can turn him to prudence,” Mr. Barrack wrote in an email. “He needs a few really smart Arab minds to whom he can confer — u r at the top of that list!”

.. Mr. Barrack had befriended Mr. Manafort in the 1970s, when they were both living in Beirut and working for Saudi interests.

.. Early in 2016, when Mr. Trump faced the prospect of a contested nomination fight at the Republican convention, Mr. Barrack had recommended Mr. Manafort for the job of campaign manager. “The most experienced and lethal of managers” and “a killer,” Mr. Barrack called him in a letter to Mr. Trump.

.. The Saudi prince had tried to reach the Trump campaign through “a midlevel person” at the rival private equity giant Blackstone

.. Mr. Barrack forwarded to the ambassador a message from Mr. Manafort with a “clarification” that modulated Mr. Trump’s call for a Muslim ban.

.. Mr. Barrack informed Ambassador Otaiba that the Trump team had also removed a proposed Republican platform provision inserted to “embarrass” Saudi Arabia. The provision had called for the release of redacted pages about the kingdom in a report on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

.. When those two states imposed an embargo on their neighbor Qatar — home to a major United States air base — Mr. Trump broke with his own administration to throw his weight squarely behind the Saudis and Emiratis.

.. Until recently, Mr. Barrack’s most prominent Gulf customers were neither the Emiratis nor the Saudis — but their bitter rivals the Qataris

.. None of the Gulf investments that Mr. Barrack’s company has brought in since Mr. Trump’s nomination have come from Qatar.

 

The Real Next War in Syria: Iran vs. Israel

Israel and Iran, at the exact same time, seem to be heading for a High Noon shootout in Syria over Iran’s attempts to turn Syria into a forward air base against Israel, something Israel is vowing to never let happen. This is not mere speculation. In the past few weeks — for the first time ever — Israel and Iran have begun quietly trading blows directly, not through proxies, in Syria.

And this quiet phase may be about to end.

.. Israel and Iran are now a hair-trigger away from going to the next level — and if that happens, the U.S. and Russia may find it difficult to stay out.

.. Round one occurred on Feb. 10, when an Iranian drone launched by a Revolutionary Guards Quds Force unit operating out of Syria’s T4 air base, east of Homs in central Syria, was shot down with a missile from an Israeli Apache helicopter that was following it after it penetrated Israeli airspace.

.. “the aircraft was carrying explosives” and that its mission was “an act of sabotage in Israeli territory.”

.. Israeli jets launched a predawn missile raid on the Iranian drone’s T4 home base last Monday. This would have been a huge story — Israel killed seven Iranian Quds Force members, including Col. Mehdi Dehghan, who led the drone unit — but it was largely lost in the global reaction to (and Trump tweets about) President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons two days earlier.

.. the Iranians not only openly announced their embarrassing losses through the semiofficial Fars news agency — they have played down previous indirect casualties from Israeli strikes in Syria — but then publicly vowed to take revenge.

.. Israeli defense officials have let it be known that if the Iranians were to strike back at Israeli targets, Israel may use the opportunity to make a massive counterstrike on Iran’s entire military infrastructure in Syria, where Iran is attempting to establish both a forward air base, as well as a factory for GPS-guided missiles that could hit targets inside Israel with much greater accuracy — inside a 50-meter radius

.. Iran claims it is setting up bases in Syria to protect it from Israel, but Israel has no designs on Syria; it actually prefers the devil it knows there — Assad — over chaos.

.. it has not intervened in the civil war there except to prevent the expansion of Iran’s military infrastructure there or to retaliate for rebel or Syrian shells that fell on Israel’s territory.

.. Tehran’s attempt to build a network of bases and missile factories in Syria — now that it has helped Assad largely crush the uprising against him — appears to be an ego-power play by Iran’s Quds Force leader Suleimani to extend Iran’s grip on key parts of the Sunni Arab world and advance his power struggle with President Hassan Rouhani.

Suleimani’s Quds Force now more or less controls — through proxies — four Arab capitals: Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad and Sana.

.. Iran has actually become the biggest “occupying power” in the Arab world today. But Suleimani may be overplaying his hand, especially if he finds himself in a direct confrontation with Israel in Syria, far from Iran, without air cover.

.. even before this, many average Iranians were publicly asking what in the world is Iran doing spending billions of dollars — which were supposed to go to Iranians as a result of the lifting of sanctions from the Iran nuclear deal — fighting wars in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

.. Iran’s currency is collapsing back home.

.. The rial has lost one-third of its value just this year

.. Israeli military officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin and Suleimani are no longer natural allies. Putin wants and needs a stable Syria where his puppet Bashar Assad can be in control and Russia can maintain a forward naval and air presence and look like a superpower again — on the cheap.

.. Iran’s President Rouhani probably also prefers a stable Syria, where Assad has consolidated his power and that is not a drain on the Iranian budget.

But Suleimani and the Quds Force seem to aspire to greater dominance of the Arab world and putting more pressure on Israel.

Unless Suleimani backs down, you are about to see in Syria an unstoppable force — Iran’s Quds Force — meet an immovable object: Israel.

Thomas Friedman: Everyone Is Going All the Way

It is hard to spend a week in Israel and not come away feeling that Israelis have the wind at their backs.

  • They’ve built an awesome high-tech industry
  • Regionally, the Arabs and Palestinians have never been weaker
  • Israel has never had a more unquestioningly friendly United States.
  • Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, asking Israel for nothing in return. The Arab states barely made a peep.

this wind has whetted the appetite of Israel’s settlers and ruling Likud Party to go to extremes

.. the “Likud Party unanimously urged legislators in a nonbinding resolution … to effectively annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, land that Palestinians want for a future state.”

.. Sure, the world would scream “apartheid,” but Israeli rightists shrug that the world will get used to it.

  • Nikki Haley will cover for Israel at the U.N.
  • Sheldon Adelson will keep Trump and the G.O.P. in line.
  • And the Arab regimes, which need Israel to counter Iran, will look the other away.

They think they can annex the West Bank without giving Palestinians citizenship; they’ll just let the Palestinians vote in their own elections.

.. May 17, 1983  .. Israel (backed by the U.S.) imposed virtually all its security demands on a weak Lebanese government, including a framework for normalizing trade and diplomacy.

.. “Going All The Way: Christian Warlords, Israeli Adventurers and the War in Lebanon.”

I always loved that title — going all the way. It’s a recurring theme out here, and it almost always ends with a “Thelma and Louise” moment — partners driving over a cliff — and so it did with Israel in 1983.

.. everywhere I look today I see people going all the way.

  • I see Republicans trashing two of our most sacred institutions — the F.B.I. and the Justice Department — because these agencies won’t bend to Trump’s will.
  • I see Iran controlling four Arab capitals: Damascus, Sana, Baghdad and Beirut.
  • I see Hamas still more interested in building tunnels in Gaza to kill Israelis than schools to strengthen Palestinian society.
  • I see the crown prince of Saudi Arabia with one hand undertaking hugely important steps —
    • moderating Saudi Islam,
    • letting women drive and
    • opening Saudi society culturally to the world
  • and, with the other hand,
    • abducting the prime minister of Lebanon,
    • buying ridiculously expensive paintings and
    • seizing businesses in the name of combating corruption
  • I see the Taliban killing 103 people in Kabul by packing an ambulancewith explosives and driving it into a crowd.
  • I see Houthis, Yemeni warlords, Iranians, Saudis and the U.A.E. all tearing Yemen apart in the name of God knows what.

  • I see Turkey’s president silencing every critical journalist in his country.

  • I see the Egyptian and Russian presidents eliminating all serious rivals in their upcoming elections.

  • I see Bibi Netanyahu trying to derail a corruption investigation by weakening Israel’s justice system, free media and civil society — just like Trump and for the same purposes: to weaken constraints on his arbitrary use of political power.

  • I see an American president threatening to tear up, or actually tearing up, global agreements he doesn’t like —

    • the Iran nuclear deal,

    • Nafta,

    • the Trans-Pacific Partnership,

    • the Paris climate accord and

    • aid to Palestinians and Pakistanis —

  • but without any clear plan or alternative for the morning after that will improve on the status quo.

  • Worst of all, I see an America — the world’s strongest guardian of truth, science and democratic norms — now led by a serial liar and norms destroyer, giving license to everyone else to ask, why can’t I?

Can anything stop this epidemic of going all the way? Yes: Mother Nature, human nature and markets. They’ll all push back when no one else will.

.. How so?

Gaza has limited hours of electricity each day.

Result: Gaza’s already inadequate sewage plants are often offline, and waste goes untreated straight into the Mediterranean.

Then the prevailing current washes Gaza’s poop north, where it clogs Israel’s big desalination plant in Ashkelon — which provides 15 percent of Israel’s drinking water

.. In both 2016 and 2017, the Ashkelon plant had to close to clean Gaza’s crud out of its filters. It’s Mother Nature’s way of reminding both that if they try to go all the way, if they shun a healthy interdependence, she’ll poison them both.

.. then out of nowhere Iranians back home start protesting against Suleimani’s overreach; they’re tired of seeing their money spent on Gaza and Syria — not on Iranians. And, just as suddenly, the biggest internet meme in Iran becomes an Iranian woman ripping off her veil and holding it upon the end of a stick.

.. And if you don’t think markets have a way of curing excesses, you didn’t read the top story in The Times.

.. Watch out for

  1. the market,
  2. Mother Nature and
  3. human nature.

.. One is the relentless product of chemistry, biology and physics; one is the balance between greed and fear; and the third is the eternal human quest for freedom and dignity. In the end, they’ll shape the future more than any leader or party who tries going all the way.

Erik Prince: Trump’s ‘Instincts Are Good’ on Iran, but ‘He Gets Dragged Back by Some of His Advisers’

Erik Prince joined SiriusXM host Alex Marlow on Friday’s Breitbart News Daily to talk about the Iran nuclear deal, chances that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps will be designated a terrorist organization

.. Prince said failing to apply such a designation to the IRGC would be “ludicrous.”

“These guys have been killing Americans, specifically, since soon after they were formed in the early 1980s,” he pointed out.

  • “The Marine barracks in Beirut, 243 Americans in 1983; kidnapped, tortured, videotaped it,
  • the CIA station chief in Beirut in the 1980s;
  • blew up the U.S. embassy there,
  • Khobar Towers, and then even
  • the last ten years that the U.S. was in Iraq.”

.. All of the explosive formed penetrators, it’s a very very nasty roadside bomb,” he elaborated on Iraq. “It’s not an improvised explosive. It’s very much a manufactured explosive, designed to cut through even the very expensive armor on an Abrams tank. Literally, the IRGC is responsible for killing and maiming hundreds, if not thousands, of American soldiers in Iraq.”

.. “And we still don’t designate these guys a terrorist organization. Why? Because they’re worried that this terrorist organization might actually reciprocate and carry out a terrorist attack against America. It’s ludicrous,” he said.

.. “As part of this nuclear deal, they were supposed to make all nuclear facilities open to inspection. They’re cheating on that. They are continuing to develop their ballistic missile technology.”

“You also have to realize that Iran and North Korea, when it comes to nuclear weapons development, are totally in sync and in parallel,” he added. “When the North Koreans crank off a nuke underground, the Iranians are there observing it, and they’ve provided considerable funding for it.”

.. as recently as October 1, 12 days ago, an American soldier was killed in Iraq by an explosive formed penetrator. They have been sticking it to us since 1979 and will continue to do so. What’s announced today will not really reject the Iranian nuclear deal. It will dump it back on Congress, which really won’t do anything on it,” he predicted.

.. “What Congress should have done – what Senator Corker should have forced – is that when the Obama administration pushed the Iran nuclear deal, they should have forced a vote in the Senate,” he said. “If we’re going to treat it like a treaty, vote it up or down like a treaty.

.. If the president went with his initial instincts on this stuff, he’d be hitting it out of the park,” said Prince, who had proposed a plan to President Trump for using private security forces instead of more military personnel in Afghanistan. “Some of these very Establishment foreign policy advisers are giving advice indiscernible from what they’d be giving Hillary Clinton. It’s taken him off track.”

.. Prince described Iran as “a society that puts a thousand stitches into a square inch in a Persian rug.

They understand methodical. They are very patient, and very deliberate, and they continue to move the ball in their direction, as this so-called nuclear deal did.

.. “As part of the Obama nuclear deal with Iran, there are supposed to be complete inspections, but secret nuclear sites scattered about the country – it’s a very large country, a lot of remote, rugged terrain – certainly those aren’t being inspected,” he said.

.. “If we make deals with people who are actively trying to kill us, who continue to call the United States the Great Satan, that hasn’t changed. They continue to kill Americans, as recently as October 1. They are not our friends, far from it. If we’re not careful, they will continue to eat our lunch, one bite at a time,” he warned.

.. but will not “sanction the entire IRGC as a terrorist organization.”

“Those are the guys that are driving this nuclear program,” he said. “If you sanction the entire IRGC, you can then go after all of their front companies and money-making apparatus, which trades through the world, through West Africa, money laundering for the drug cartels to front businesses in Europe and elsewhere in the Middle East. You can start to crimp off their financing.”

.. “If you don’t do that, if you don’t call a terrorist a terrorist, you can’t really take action against them,”

.. Prince humorously identified it as the “bureaucratic SITS method: Show Interest, Then Stall.”

.. “They are desperately trying to secure the Shia Crescent that goes from Iran all the way to Lebanon, where they can continue to arm Hezbollah, their surrogate there, with larger and larger rockets to dominate Israel, and Jordan for that matter. They’re continuing to advance in their dominance in Yemen and elsewhere.”

.. “We don’t have a beef with the Iranian people, believe me,” Prince added. “The Iranian people want to be Western. They want to have freedom, and drink beer, and listen to rock and roll. They are effectively led by a government that looks more and more like the SS in Nazi Germany – an Iranian Shia fascist government that is far from elected, that imposes itself on every aspect of the Iranian citizen’s life, to the detriment of what should be a very proud and very prosperous country.”

.. Turning to Afghanistan, Prince said President Trump’s decision to send another 4,000 U.S. troops is “unlikely to move the needle.”

.. “When Secretary Mattis traveled to Afghanistan just a couple of weeks ago for an update, he landed in Kabul, and he has to get on a helicopter to fly one mile across the town to where the U.S. base is. He can’t get in a vehicle to drive, just like any person from the U.S. Embassy operating there has to take a helicopter from the Kabul airport into downtown, because it’s not safe to drive,” he observed.

.. “And within two hours of Secretary Mattis landing, 40 rockets hit Kabul airport, in a five-hour firefight to try to secure the airport again,” he added. “This is not what winning looks like.”

.. “I was there on the ball when the president said in his inaugural speech, ‘We’re going to drive Islamic terrorism off the face of the Earth.’ I don’t think he intended that means the terrorists are driving captured U.S. vehicles across the Afghan terrain,” said Prince.

Just What Is Trump Trying to Do in Syria?

One week after the missile strike, we still don’t know what it was meant to accomplish.

Effective signaling in foreign policy and warfare is both vital and no simple matter, as every president discovers.

.. In the annals of pinprick strikes, Trump’s Tomahawk attack now stands as the pinprickiest.

.. That strike was undertaken in response to the discovery of an Iraqi plot to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush during a visit to Kuwait.

.. Iraq never again attempted to kill a U.S. president, and, indeed, never supported another terrorist attack against Americans

.. the Russians notified the Syrians, who reportedly moved their most important aircraft elsewhere before the strike. The very next day, Syrian airplanes were once again flying from the base to hit rebel targets.

.. from the perspective of international politics, the fact that the airstrip was in the use the next day was not negligible.

.. This attack possibly even eroded the chemical weapons taboo by convincing any would-be transgressors that the worst they could expect would be the loss of a small number of inessential aircraft after an advance warning—in other words, a slap on the wrist.

The clearest signal of all would have required a serious punitive attack on the regime itself, a step whose legality would be open to question and that would risk a dangerous escalation with Russia.

.. The fact that Trump chose the least aggressive option available suggests that the principal audience for the strikes was not in Damascus or Moscow, but in the United States.

.. So was the strike political kabuki

.. Sean Spicer suggested in a news briefing Monday that there was now open-ended U.S. commitment to intervene to stop the killing of civilians.

.. Rex Tillerson added to the confusion by issuing his own series of conflicting signals.

.. the era of Assad family rule was coming to an end—an assessment at odds with most military analysts’ views

.. H.R. McMaster .. suggested that the administration had embraced the goal of regime change in Syria

.. Nikki Haley won the sweepstakes by enunciating war aims more far-reaching than McMaster’s: It is a U.S. priority, she said, “to get the Iranian influence out” of Syria

.. historic conduit to the Shiite community in Lebanon.

.. Trump’s own rhetoric has both echoed and contradicted Haley, as he said on April 11 that “we’re not going into Syria” after asserting just days before that “we have a vital strategic interest in Syria.”

.. boasts of his unpredictability while showing no ability to think one step ahead.

 

MCC helps reduce tensions with LOST sheep

Now it’s worse. Syrians vie with Lebanese for seasonal and day labor jobs. Prices for everything are higher because of increased demand, but Syrians are more likely to get the support of nongovernmental organizations.

Not surprisingly, a number of Lebanese who were struggling to provide for their families before the Syrians arrived are more than a little annoyed that making a living is even harder now.