Trump's Billionaire Pal Tom Barrack Defends Saudis' Peculiar Institution: Journalist Murder
Trump's billionaire pal Tom Barrack has THOUGHTS on Saudi Arabia. After his star turn organizing the most expensive presidential inauguration ever PERIOD -- so expensive that there are now four pending criminal investigations to figure out how the hell they managed to spend $107 million -- Tom Barrack is here to tell you filthy colonialists to butt right out of the Kingdom, thankyouverymuch.
Not for nothing, but the killing of Jamal Khashoggi did not take place "in Saudi Arabia." In fact, the Saudi government lured the Washington Post reporter to its consulate in Istanbul, where a team of assassins Skyped in to let their bosses back home listen in while they murdered him and dismembered his body. Which is totally fine, see, because America has high rates of incarceration and gun violence. So, we're good, right?
Gulf News's Ed Clowes reported:
Speaking on stage at the Milken Institute MENA Summit in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, Barrack was asked by CNN's Becky Anderson about the reputational damage to Saudi Arabia over the Jamal Khashoggi killing.
In response, he joked: "As long as you don't make me a guest at the Ritz."
HAW HAW, get it? It's funny because after Jared Kushner and MBS had that fun sleepover party where they stayed up all night playing truth or dare and talking about Mo's enemies list, the Saudi Prince rounded up hundreds of his political opponents and jailed them in the Ritz Carlton Riyadh where his goons pulled out their fingernails until they agreed to sign over billions in assets to the Saudi state. Oh, Tom, you're such a card!
Barrack then went on to defend moral relativism, because what even is ATROCITY? If it's racist to object to the hijab, it must also be racist to object to a ban on women driving. Murdering dissidents is Saudi Arabia's peculiar institution, and you bigots should just mind your own business.
"The atrocities in any ... country are dictated by the rule of law," he continued. "So for us to dictate what we think is the moral code there, when we have a young man and regime that is trying to push themselves into 2030, I think is a mistake."
And anyway, isn't the big bad West really to blame for all the Middle East's problems? A hundred years ago, a handful of white dudes drew a bunch of straight lines on the map because they couldn't be bothered to understand tribal and ethnic divisions, so how even can Americans claim to understand whether it is okay to bomb and starve Yemeni civilians?
"The problem that has happened with the Khashoggi incident," he said, "is the same problem with the West misunderstanding the east that has existed since Sykes-Picot."
"So, the West is confused, it doesn't understand the rule of law in the kingdom, it doesn't understand what succession in the kingdom is, it doesn't understand how there can be a dilemma with a population that has 60 per cent of people under the age of 20."
He later added that the West had always been confused about the Middle East.
"The corrupt hand of the West has been the primary instigator in the kingdom, and in the resource curse across the region forever."
Now, we are not unsympathetic to the fact that colonialism and its unwinding was disastrous for the Middle East (although, to be fair, the predecessor to the British Empire was the Ottoman Empire, not democratic self-rule). But it's fucking rich to be lectured on the evils of Western influence by a guy who made his billions dealing with the very monarchies that arose in the power vacuum that sucked the English out of the desert and the oil out of the ground. Not to put too fine a point on it, without American patronage, there would be no Crown Prince Mohammed of the House of Saud. If we are "confused" about the realities in that part of the world, the petro-dictators who run the place are not. After watching Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh be overthrown by western-backed forces after he attempted to nationalize his country's oil production, they got the message -- THE SPICE MUST FLOW.
Who doesn't love a lecture on "the resource curse" from a guy who has enriched himself as a middleman in the "resource" business? Really, it's like getting a lecture on the moral depravity of drug use from the dealer selling you an 8-ball after he knocked off all the rest of the guys muscling in on his turf.
ProPublica got its hands on an internal memo from Barrack's company Colony Capital Management -- yes, really -- written by that Rick Gates on all the ways they were going to exploit their contacts in the Trump administration to rake in the cash.
"'Contact' — 'Cultivation' — 'Conversion' should be the mantra and objective of Colony NorthStar's international program in DC and internationally," the memo said. No other firms "can currently match the relationships or resources that we possess," it added.
The memo outlines a "strategic plan" for Colony, which now has $44 billion under management, to ramp up its operations in Washington and open an office there. It envisions "setting up roundtables between Ambassadors and members of the Administration to cultivate relationships" in areas including infrastructure and plans to "tie into international bilateral meetings already occurring with key members of the Trump Administration. This would include taking a leadership role in forming the events, the participants, and the agenda."
Before the election, Barrack had been a bridge between the campaign and Gulf rulers alarmed by Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric. The New York Times reported:
"Confusion about your friend Donald Trump is VERY high," Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba of the United Arab Emirates emailed back when Mr. Barrack tried to introduce the candidate, in a message not previously reported. Mr. Trump's image, the ambassador warned, "has many people extremely worried."
Not deterred, 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.
And it looks like Barrack knew what he was doing, since his fund has picked up $7 billion in investments since the election, 24 percent of which came from Saudi Arabia or the UAE. By sheer coincidence, Colony executives met three times with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, notably at an April 14, 2017, meeting that "included the ambassadors of Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia." From ProPublica:
In early 2017, Gates and Barrack identified an investment idea based on the Trump administration's emerging Middle East policy. Barrack threw his weight behind a proposal to spread nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia, and considered buying a stake in U.S. reactor manufacturer Westinghouse, he told ProPublica in 2017. That plan stalled.
Yes, in fact that was the same deal sought by dirty, dirty Michael Flynn!
And now the Trump administration flatly refuses to consider sanctioning our Saudi besties, even going so far as to deny the unanimous intelligence reports concluding that MBS ordered the hit on Jamal Khashoggi.
But please, Mr. Barrack, from your totally unbiased, morally unconflicted perch, tell us more about how we couldn't possibly understand what's going on in the Middle East. We're all ears!
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.