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).
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.
another take is that it’s the Plaza Redux, meaning the 1988 real estate debacle in which Trump hastily purchased New York’s Plaza Hotel because it looked like an irresistible trophy, only to be forced to sell it at a loss a few years later as part of a brutal debt restructuring.
.. “Like Reagan, he seems to sense that the nuclear technicalities matter less than the political relationship.”
.. First, Trump isn’t Reagan.
- Reagan generally acted in concert with allies. Trump brazenly acts against them.
- Reagan’s negotiation method: “Trust but verify.” Trump’s self-declared method: “My touch, my feel.”
- Reagan refused to give in to Soviet demands that he abandon the Strategic Defense Initiative. Trump surrendered immediately to Pyongyang’s long-held insistence that the U.S. suspend military exercises with South Korea while getting nothing in return.
- Reagan’s aim was to topple Communist Party rule in Moscow. Trump’s is to preserve it in Pyongyang.
Second, Kim isn’t Gorbachev.
- Gorbachev was born into a family that suffered acutely the horrors of Stalinism. Kim was born into a family that starved its own people.
- Gorbachev rose through the ranks as a technocrat with no background in the regime’s security apparatus. Kim consolidated his rule by murdering his uncle, half brother and various ministers, among other unfortunates.
- Gorbachev came to office intent on easing political repression at home and defusing tensions with the West. Kim spent his first six years doing precisely the opposite.
As Trump himself might say, there’s something going on.
The less honest you are with yourself, the less likely you are to laugh.
.. “There’s a huge correlation showing that people who score high in self-deception laugh less,” Lynch told me. Furthermore, he said, “there’s a pretty robust correlation between self-deception and an inflated ego, or unwarranted high self-esteem. Some of the self-deception is telling yourself that you’re greater, more powerful, smarter than you are.”.. It’s a lot harder to laugh when you don’t recognize absurdity. Think of how much Trump must have had to lie to himself, perhaps even unconsciously, in order to convince millions that Obama was born in Kenya.. (By the way, the liars-laugh-less formulation doesn’t work in reverse: People who don’t laugh aren’t necessarily self-deceptive or narcissistic at all... some people don’t laugh out of low self-esteem. “Self-deception,” Lynch estimates, “explains about 20 percent of why people don’t laugh.” Besides, if we didn’t tell ourselves little white lies, he adds, “we wouldn’t get out of the bed in the morning.”).. “Superficially, the problem that torments Trump is trade. But his language—they ‘beat’ us and ‘laugh’ at us—provokes the emotional power of shame,”.. “all about shame—avoiding it himself, and inflicting it on others.”.. As his biographer, I see it in his struggle to satisfy a strict and demanding father and his banishment, at age 13, to a military academy in Upstate New York where, Trump has said, he was subject to violence at the hands of Army veterans who staffed the school... Trump was major-shamed again, D’Antonio writes, “when he lost his Trump Airline and the Plaza Hotel and became a symbol of failure in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Out of this defeat he fashioned a comeback that saw him become richer and more famous than ever.”.. At the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, for example, President Obama coolly humiliated the birther-in-chief, getting the crowd and soon the whole world to laugh at him, while Trump sat there stone-faced. In all likelihood, that experience motivated him to finally make a real run for the presidency... As best we can tell, Trump’s whole psychological dynamic might be explained as a serial encounter with public shame over his fear of inadequacy... Like Dostoevsky’s The Gambler, Trump likes the thrill of getting so close to being exposed and still winning—until, of course, he finally loses, which may be what he really wants.. “laughter relieves shame.” Laughing, especially at oneself, “is one of the main ways in which shame can be dissipated or released.”