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Benched by Trump, Former Pentagon Watchdog Resigns

Had he not been removed by Trump in April, Fine would have overseen $2 trillion in coronavirus relief spending.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, looks on as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

At the beginning of April, President Donald Trump removed the acting watchdog charged with overseeing the $2 trillion in new coronavirus relief spending, Glenn Fine. Trump also removed Fine as acting Pentagon watchdog. The Trump administration did not give a reason for his removal. On Tuesday, Fine announced his resignation.

His last day will be June 1, according to an email he sent employees, reports Politico.

“The role of Inspectors General is a strength of our system of government,” Fine said. “They provide independent oversight to help improve government operations in a transparent way. They are a vital component of our system of checks and balances, and I am grateful to have been part of that system.”

“After many years in the DoJ and DoD OIGs, I believe the time has come for me to step down and allow others to perform this vital role,” he said. “I wish the men and women of the DoD OIG and the Inspector General Community continued success in these important responsibilities.”

In April, Trump replaced Fine as the Pentagon’s acting inspector general, and Fine returned to his post in the inspector general’s office.

In March, President Donald Trump fired Michael Atkinson from his post as inspector general of the intelligence community; he also replaced Steve Linick as State Department watchdog.

White House sources said in April that Trump would be firing seven inspectors general “in one fell swoop.” Trump said he wanted “his own people in those positions now” and would be firing IGs appointed by either President Obama or a previous administration. So far, those firings haven’t happened.

Democratic lawmakers blamed Trump for Fine’s resignation Tuesday.

“There can be no doubt that this is a direct result of President Trump’s actions,” wrote Chair of the House Oversight Committee Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), in a statement.

The Ukraine whistleblower’s attorney Mark Zaid tweeted,“I hope Fine will publicly speak up.”

Had Fine not been removed by Trump in April, he would have had the authority to conduct multiple layers of oversight over a panel of inspectors general charged with investigating any aspect of the implementation of the $2 trillion in new coronavirus spending.

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Grenell Dumps Trove of Russia, Flynn Docs on Way Out of DNI

One of these documents is 'very significant in understanding how intelligence was manipulated to support' Russia investigation.

Trump's ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell. Credit: photocosmos1/Shutterstock

On his way out the door as acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell declassified a slew of new Russia probe documents, including transcripts of phone calls that then-incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak had in December 2016, Fox News reports.

During the transition to the Trump administration, Flynn’s calls with the former Russian ambassador Kislyak were surveilled, and then information about the calls was leaked. In response to growing public pressure, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., asked Grenell publicly last week to declassify those phone calls.

Grenell did so Tuesday. He also completed the declassification review of other documents that could shed light on the origins of the Russia probe.

According to a senior intelligence official, one of these documents is “very significant in understanding how intelligence was manipulated to support launching the Russia investigation,” reports Fox News.

But whether the public ever gets to see these documents will be up to John Ratcliffe, who was sworn in as Director of National Intelligence on Tuesday.

Grenell previously declassified a list of Obama officials who requested the unmasking of Flynn during the presidential transition period. On the list of high-ranking officials that requested the unmasking were then-Vice President Joe Biden, then-FBI Director James Comey, then-CIA Director John Brennan, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.

Earlier this month, Grenell had cleared more than 6,000 pages of transcripts of interviews from the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation. The transcripts, which Schiff released, showed that top Obama officials had told the Committee they knew of no “empirical evidence” of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election.

Grenell, who was simultaneously serving as U.S. ambassador to Germany,  also declassified more than three dozen previously redacted footnotes from the Department of Justice inspector general’s report that found there were “serious problems” with the dossier sources the intelligence community used during the Russia investigation.

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YouTube Appears to be Auto-Deleting Comments Critical of Chinese Communists

A phrase meaning "communist bandit" and another referring to online censors have disappeared from the platform

(By Uladzik Kryhin/Shutterstock)

There are occasional indications that Google’s relationship with China is sinister rather than merely naive or unprincipled. While the search giant may have abandoned Dragonfly, a censored search engine for the Chinese market, it appears they are bringing PRC-style censorship to its Western products like YouTube.

Wesley Yang tried it and the comment was instantly deleted:

A spokesman provided TAC with the statement that, “This appears to be an error in our enforcement systems and we are investigating,” though the Verge notes these deletions have been criticized for at least six months. The speed at which the comments are being deleted suggests that it is definitely automatic, but whether these words have been added to a blacklist, similar to their domain-level blacklists for their special search products, is still unclear.

However this happened, it is surely unwelcome news for the company, and will not help them head off the antitrust probe by state attorneys general and the lawsuit reportedly being drafted by the Justice Department. While the question of how accommodating they are to the preferences of the Chinese government does not directly bear on the antitrust question, an investigation could yield information that might confirm the worst fears of Google critics.

There has been speculation for a year or so about the extent to which Google may be infiltrated by China. Alex Stamos, head of security at Facebook, thinks it’s very possible. Three editions of Google’s internal microaggressions newsletter, excerpts of which I reported on for the Daily Caller last year, contained a few incidents that point to substantial pro-PRC sentiment within the company. A Taiwanese flag in one Lego display was vandalized. Protests against Dragonfly were reported as racist—a striking example of social justice rhetoric providing cover for authoritarian regimes, a phenomenon the Australians know well. And this complaint:

“There’s been a recent thread on a Google group about Google entering the China ecosystem. Many Google employees have debated their values and opinions on whether or not we should enter the market. However, there are many others that see China as an oppressed country that do not provide basic human rights to their citizens and are not open to truly hearing the other half of the discourse. When faced with earnest comments from other (predominantly Chinese) coworkers, one particular person had claimed that since they had Chinese friends and in-laws, they understood how morally incorrect it was to engage with the Chinese government in business deals. If someone had prefaced their opinions with ‘I have [race] friends, therefore…’, the community would have been infuriated. Moreover, this person disclosed that they are on the hiring community and are now going to question why people want to join Google now that this information is publicly reported. Claiming to be heavily biased towards an implied race of people makes me deeply uncomfortable about our hiring committee and the fact that this person felt confident enough to announce this in our (internal, but basically) public forum.”

You see what’s going on here, don’t you? According to Google’s own transparency reports, the Chinese government had never made a takedown request on the grounds of hate speech before 2018. In the first half of 2019, hate speech-related takedown requests constituted 29 percent of the 133 made. I suppose it’s possible that the CCP has increased its level of concern for nasty things foreigners are saying about them on platforms one can’t even access in mainland China. But it’s more likely that they’ve figured out an easy way to manipulate useful idiots in the West.

Update: This also seems relevant.

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The Weakness of ‘Maximum Pressure’

An Iranian tanker delivered some gasoline to Venezuela this week, and this is how the report in The New York Times framed the event:

Venezuela needs gasoline and has gold. Iran has oil but needs cash. Both Venezuela and Iran are eager to punch back at the Trump administration. And the U.S. government, distracted by the coronavirus pandemic and having already issued harsh sanctions, is left with few retaliatory options beyond military intervention [bold mine-DL].

The U.S. is already strangling both Venezuela and Iran through economic warfare, so the idea that the U.S. would be “retaliating” against the two countries when they seek to trade with each other is bizarre. Two countries that our government has targeted with cruel and unnecessary sanctions have found a limited way to cooperate in an effort to stave off some of the worst effects of economic war, but somehow in the news reporting this is taken as a transgression that calls for punishment and “retaliation.” The warped and false assumption that the U.S. has the right to do any of this is simply taken for granted. The U.S. has any number of options available here that don’t involve attacking other countries for engaging in commerce, but because they aren’t punitive and militarized they are treated as if they don’t exist. It is no wonder that our foreign policy is always biased in favor of “action” when even supposedly straight news stories present a small oil shipment to an impoverished country as something that demands a U.S. response.

There have been other ludicrous overreactions to the handful of Iranian tankers heading towards Venezuela in the news reporting in the last week. The most comical may have been the Wall Street Journal’s claim that Iran’s trade with Venezuela represents a challenge to the Monroe Doctrine:

Iran’s burgeoning efforts to build a trading and political outpost in Latin America present a challenge to the U.S.’s nearly two-century-old Monroe Doctrine, which opposes international interference in the Western Hemisphere.

The WSJ article misrepresents the Monroe Doctrine and it also fuels the absurd notion that commerce between two much weaker states poses some kind of threat to the U.S. The Monroe Doctrine did not say that other states could not trade with other countries in this hemisphere, and it wasn’t a rejection of other states having normal or even close diplomatic relations with them. It was a statement that affirmed U.S. respect for the sovereignty and independence of our neighbors, and it opposed any attempt by European powers to deprive the new countries in this hemisphere of their independence and form of government. The Monroe Doctrine was above all a declaration of noninterference in the affairs of our neighbors, but for more than a century it has been abused and turned into a license to interfere. If there is anyone violating the Monroe Doctrine in Venezuela right now, it is the U.S. government itself.

It is predictable that two countries that the U.S. is trying to strangle into submission would seek to work together, especially when Iran can’t trade with its neighbors as easily because of pandemic restrictions. Iran and Venezuela had good relations before now, so it is not surprising that they would want to improve those relations as they are cut off from other markets by senseless and destructive U.S. policies. The limited nature of their cooperation should also remind us that neither of them poses a real threat to the U.S. Our government’s obsession with regime change in both places is a function of a very warped foreign policy debate that privileges the preferences of exiles and ideologues over the interests of the United States. Tens of millions of innocent Venezuelans and Iranians are forced to undergo greater hardship and deprivation for the sake of indulging those obsessions. These are shameful and ugly policies, and the sooner they are ended the better off everyone will be.

As if to highlight the absurdity of the administration’s Venezuela and Iran policies, an administration official recently declared that the U.S. would not tolerate Iran’s “continued meddling in Venezuelan affairs.” The U.S. is working to depose the Venezuelan government and replace it with another, but we’re supposed to believe that a few Iranian tankers that Venezuela wants constitute “meddling” in their affairs. The administration’s propagandists are either getting very lazy, or they have started to believe their own fantasies. Nothing could better illustrate the bankruptcy and weakness of the administration’s Venezuela and Iran policies than their public hand-wringing over a few shipments between two states that don’t pose any threat to us.

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Turns Out Saudi Arms Deals Won’t Add a ‘Million’ Jobs to U.S. Economy

They even send jobs overseas, but who's paying attention to details?

US President Donald Trump (R) holds a defense sales chart with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House on March 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week I wrote about how Peter Navarro has not only been President Trump’s point man for his new tough China policy but has been serving longer as an interlocutor for the defense industry in the White House. According to new reports he was able to thwart attempts to stop a lucrative Saudi arms sales in 2017, convincing the president that “thousands of jobs” at defense giant Raytheon would be lost as a result.

More recently, TAC and other outlets have reported that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo might have been the target of an IG investigation into his 2019 role in declaring an “emergency” in order to thwart, again, Congressional attempts to stop $8 billion worth of arms sales to the Saudi Kingdom and the UAE for the purposes of fueling their war against the Houthis in Yemen.

There have been two rationales for these arm sales all along: one, they maintain and/or increase jobs for Americans. Two, they are being used to challenge Iranian influence in the region, as the Houthis are ostensibly backed by Tehran. The Saudis and Emiratis, supported by billions in U.S. weaponry, refueling, and targeting assistance, are really the victims in need of defending here, so the story does.

But two reports this week show how fragile these rationale are and why we should we should remain vigilant in our skepticism, even as 40 million Americans now are out of work.

First, William Hartung at the Center for International Policy has a report out that throws a bit of cold water on President Trump’s claims that the Saudi arms sales that he cooked up with Saudi crown prince  Mohammad bin Salman will create “over a million jobs.” But his letters of intent signed in May 2017 for $110 billion aren’t the same as what is actually authorized by Congress. Hartung estimates that arms sales that have actually gone through since 2017 have likely only created 20,000 to 40,000 new jobs a year among the major defense companies, “or less than one-tenth of President Trump’s highest claims of employment tied to U.S. arms sales to the regime in Riyadh,” writes Hartung.

Furthermore, and this is key, he found that despite the $85.1 billion total arms sales in 2019, 10 percent involved licenses for production overseas, which means that many of the jobs that were created, were overseas, not here. His extensive report is worth a closer look. 

It is difficult to nail down just how many defense jobs were added under Trump since 2016. The Aerospace Industries Association seems to have the most comprehensive numbers, but the last total they posted publicly was that there were 370,084 defense-related design and manufacturing jobs in the U.S. as of 2016. The group has issued workforce studies each year since, but they are only available on request. The New York Times says that “arms industry association” organizations say the number of defense jobs has risen 3.5 percent in the last three years to about 880,000, but “the numbers, the most recent available, do not specify how many were in manufacturing.”

That is not to say that as the arms sales have increased under Trump (according to The Times, $51 billion to $36 billion a year under Obama) there hasn’t been more jobs added. According to this January 2020 Reuters report, for example, top federal contractor Lockheed Martin surged 15 percent to 102,800 jobs since 2016, mostly because of the F-35, according to this report. 

In addition, according to  Defense One, defense companies are actually adding thousands of jobs during Coronavirus, thanks in part to the Pentagon’s shift to Asia. Reporter Marcus Weisgerber suggests it likely has to do with the $76 billion in classified projects he wrote about in October, which would include secret aircraft, space, and missile projects. Whether escalating a new war, on top of the ones we’re still enmeshed in in the Middle East, is worth it, is certainly up for debate (as Ryan Girdusky has pointed out here at TAC, there are plenty of non-war sectors Trump could be focusing taxpayer resources right now to help boost the economy, but hasn’t yet). One wonders too, how much of the companies’ rosy employment forecasts are for shareholder benefit, and how much is steeped in real hiring.

Secondly, CNN  is reporting today that the U.S. government is clearing the way for new arms sales to the UAE after its own investigation into reports that our weapons were falling into the hands of Al Qaeda-linked extremists. This would mean that in our continued insistence to support the Gulf State monarchies in their regional war against the Houthis in Yemen, we have essential armed militants linked to Al Qaeda, the very extremists behind the 9/11 attacks on America.  CNN’s own report last year was exhaustive, and so compelling the State Department put further sales on hold. 

Nonetheless, the war machine is not to be stopped (and no doubt Navarro is already assembling the jobs rationale). According to CNN Friday: 

While the probe concluded earlier this year, its findings have not been made public. But multiple government officials on both sides of the aisle and within the administration told CNN that the UAE has now been cleared.

The State Department has told some leaders in Congress that it is “satisfied no actual transfers were made,” and has “made sure the UAE fully appreciates the letter of their agreements” with the US, another source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN.

With that assurance, the lawmakers gave their blessing to a new proposed sale of US military hardware to the UAE, the source said.

It is time to stop taking the jobs and geo-political rationales at face value. Yemen is a cholera-infested crater thanks to our bombs, but despite that, the UAE has backed out and the Saudis are begging for a cease fire because they’ve gotten their butts handed to them by the much under-armed Houthis. Meanwhile we see thousands of defense manufacturing jobs going overseas and the actual defense jobs attached to these controversial arms sales much lower than advertised. Keep your eyes open and support members of Congress who are actually asking the right questions.

 

 

 

 

 

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Podcast: Right Now Episode 3, Conspiracy Theories, School Prayer, and Rep. Jim Banks on China

The congressman from Indiana joins Right Now

On this edition of Right Now, Rep. Jim Banks joins the hosts to talk about what’s being done to confront China. Also, the Atlantic’s conspiracy series and which ones your hosts unironically believe. In the intro, hydroxychloroquine and school prayer.

19:15: Interview with Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) on China
42:55: The Atlantic’s new series on conspiracy theories

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Podcast: Empire Has No Clothes Episode 3, With Ben Denison

TAC talks regime change follies and the Bay of Piglets.

On the latest edition of “Empire Has No Clothes,” Matt, Kelley, and Daniel speak to Ben Denison of the Notre Dame International Security Center about regime change and why it’s failed almost every time it’s been tried. They also talk with TAC reporter Barbara Boland about the Bay of Piglets fiasco in Venezuela and whether our government knew.

Listen to the episode in the player below, or click the links beneath it to subscribe using your favorite podcast app. If you like what you hear, please give us a rating or review on iTunes or Stitcher, which will really help us climb the rankings, allowing more people to find the show.

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Trump Gives Another Gift to Hard-liners with Open Skies Exit

It is an unforced error and voluntary self-blinding.

Russian President Vladimir Putin By Harold Escalona/shutterstock And President Trump By Drop of Light/Shutterstock

The president has given hard-liners another gift with his decision to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty:

President Trump has decided to withdraw from another major arms control accord, according to senior administration officials, and will inform Russia on Friday that the United States is pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty, negotiated three decades ago to allow nations to fly over each other’s territory with elaborate sensor equipment to assure they are not preparing for military action.

Withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty is a serious mistake in its own right, and it portends the death of New START next year. The president has made no secret of his disdain for arms control and nonproliferation agreements, and leaving Open Skies will be the third such agreement that Trump has quit since taking office. The decision to exit the latest treaty is proof that the president’s antipathy to arms control was not just the result of Bolton’s malign influence. It also comes from the president’s own blinkered, zero-sum view of all diplomatic agreements. Hard-liners in the Senate, such as Tom Cotton, have been beating the drum against the Open Skies Treaty in particular, so the the decision this week is also a victory for them.

John Bolton was predictably thrilled with the news:

The only moments in arms control history that Bolton celebrates are the moments when important treaties are killed. He may no longer be in government, but Bolton’s agenda is still thriving and defining Trump’s foreign policy in many respects.

Quitting the treaty is a blow to our allies and other partners in Europe. They pleaded with the Trump administration not to do this, and they were ignored. While they remain parties to the treaty, many of them lack the capabilities to conduct the overflights to gather intelligence on Russian movements, so they will be in the dark along with the U.S. The treaty has had value as a stabilizing factor in relations between the U.S. and Russia, and it has made Europe more secure. Throwing the treaty away puts the U.S. and our allies at a disadvantage, and it introduces new uncertainty into the relationship with Moscow. For all of the president’s feigned interest in better relations with Russia, he has consistently acted in a way guaranteed to ratchet up tensions and increase distrust. Complaints about Russian noncompliance are just a pretext for scrapping a treaty that hard-liners have never liked. If they were really concerned about Russian noncompliance in one small area of their country, they would not be advocating for leaving the treaty and denying the U.S. the ability to conduct overflights over the rest of it. The restrictions that Russia has put in place around Kaliningrad are not serious enough to justify giving up on the treaty as a whole:

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said the dispute about overflights near Kaliningrad does not warrant abandoning the agreement.

“Concerns about Russian compliance with the accord, though serious, are resolvable, pertain to political disputes between Russia and some of its neighbors, and do not rise to the level of a material breach that would merit US withdrawal from the treaty,” Kimball said.

He pointed out that even though Russia has imposed a 500 kilometer flight limit over Kaliningrad in contravention of the treaty, “a treaty flight by Estonia, Lithuania, and the United States in February over Kaliningrad flew for more than 500 kilometers for the first time since Moscow imposed the sublimit in 2014, according to an April 8 report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant.”

The only way to resolve these concerns successfully is to stay in the treaty. Once the U.S. is out of the treaty, it will be in no position to fix anything. It is an unforced error and voluntary self-blinding. The treaty is worth keeping, and abandoning it makes no sense.

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Saudi Arabia Threatens Democrats: We’ll Support You

Our great and glorious ally is staring at a bleak future. But are they really prepared to ditch Trump?

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) attends a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 29, 2019. (YURI KADOBNOV/AFP via Getty Images)

Our great and glorious ally Saudi Arabia has fallen on hard times. The coronavirus has arrived in the desert kingdom, prompting its government to take emergency measures and sending its economy into a tailspin. Vision 2030, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious plan to turn his country into Tomorrowland, has either, depending on who you check, hit a speed bump or crashed headlong into a wall.

Perhaps most ominous of all, though, the recent Saudi-Russian economic war, which at one point turned the price of oil negative, has sparked unrest in the Saudi heartland, by which we mean the GOP. As Daniel Larison has pointed out, Senator Ted Cruz, normally prostrate in front of the Saudis, criticized them publicly in recent weeks. He wasn’t alone: other GOP senators, many from oil-rich states, threatened to impose tariffs and sanctions on Riyadh. And according to Reuters, Donald Trump called the crown prince himself and threatened to withdraw military support unless the price war ended. The message was summed up by one American official: “We are defending your industry while you’re destroying ours.”

And doesn’t that just sum up the entire U.S.-Saudi relationship.

That relationship has now arguably hit its lowest point ever. And while there’s gloomy news on both sides, at least we can say that we now know the market value of a glowing orb: three years of unquestioning fealty. In all seriousness, Trump does deserve credit for finally chewing out the royals, however belated his stand might have been. And while the Saudis have since ended their price war, GOP dissent reportedly has Riyadh reconsidering their interventions in American politics. Here’s Ali al-Ahmed at UPI:

The Saudi government recently engaged two new firms to strengthen ties with the Democratic establishment. Meanwhile, its existing army of lobbyists has turned their focus to blue state leaders. FARA filings show that Democratic heavyweights at Saudi Arabia’s lobbyists of record, Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Shreck and Hogan Lovells, have been mounting a full-on assault to appeal for support from party luminaries.

A couple takeaways from this. First, it’s striking how the Saudi approach to global affairs differs from the American one. While we flop around the Middle East searching for a democratic spark, Riyadh ruthlessly pursues its own interests. While we remain trapped in the template of Cold War alliances and enmities, Riyadh turns on a dime to adjust to circumstances. Saudi Arabia has been bilking the United States for years, extracting every dollar and troop it can while offering comparably little in return. And given how gullible we seem to be, it’s hard to blame them.

Second, while the Gulf has seen plenty of strategic grandmasters, Mohammed bin Salman clearly isn’t one of them. His lobbying of Democrats is less a sign of cunning than of desperation. It was the Democratic Party, after all, that inaugurated the Iran deal, which the Saudis viewed as an ultimate betrayal. Barack Obama in the last year of his presidency even had the audacity to issue a few mouse squeaks of concern over the war in Yemen. All that meant that when Trump arrived, the Kingdom viewed him as their salvation. Now they’re turning frantically to his opponents. It may be that after butchering a Washington journalist, slaughtering Yemeni civilians with American bombs, aggressing pointlessly against Iran and Qatar, and continuing to spread Wahhabist fanaticism, one’s options do begin to run out.

Then again, maybe not. Two weeks ago, Trump and Saudi King Salman reportedly spoke by phone and committed to a continuing defense partnership. In international affairs, “partnerships” are very often master-servant relationships, and the question now is whether the United States is finally prepared to switch into the master role. Either way, given the Saudis’ record, the Democrats should probably view their offers of support as a threat.

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Bibi is Totally Sweating the Prospect of a Biden Win

Under a power sharing agreement, the Israeli PM must get U.S. (Trump) approval before he can annex the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister B. Netanyahu Credit:Ververidis Vasilis /shutterstock

Trump’s success in the U.S. never rested on the political fate of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They are fierce allies and even friends—probably the closest one Trump has among other heads of state—but Netanyahu’s rise and fall and rise again in the recent national elections probably did not keep the U.S. president up at night, wiping his brow at the thought of Benny Gantz besting Bibi and licking the Likud Party for good.

The same cannot be said for Benjamin Netanyahu. He really needs Trump to win this Fall. The U.S. president and his administration—particularly Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Ambassador David Friedman (who tested negative for COVID by the way) and son-in-law Jared Kushner—have provided back-up for all of his tough policies on Palestine every step of the way. The moving of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? Check. Withdrawing U.S. aid to Palestinian refugees as a way to keep their right of return off the table in future peace talks? Check. Recognizing the Golan Heights as an Israeli territory and naming a settlement there “Trump Heights”? Check. Breaking with international law and saying the Jewish settlements (nearly 430,000 settlers as of 2018) in the West Bank aren’t illegal? Check.

The Trump administration has helped paved the way for Bibi to come through on his ultimate campaign promise: annexing wide swaths of the West Bank and likely putting the final nail in the coffin of any hoped for two-state solution. It did this, primarily, by endorsing annexation in the so-called White House “peace proposal” back in January. 

Now that Bibi has worked out a power sharing agreement with Gantz (clearly getting the upper hand) and was sworn in again as prime minister Sunday (one week before he stands trial for corruption) he is now sweating out how he will get his prize legislation through before November. According to the power sharing deal, he can seek a government vote to annex 30 percent of the West Bank as early as July 1, as long as he has the full endorsement of the U.S. 

If for whatever reason he can’t get that vote before November, he risks facing a Biden Administration and Biden just publicly warned against the annexation in a speech given in a virtual fundraiser. Israel needs to stop the threats of annexation and stop settlement activity because it will choke off any hope of peace. Today neither (Israel’s) present government or the Palestinians want to take steps thanks to President Trump’s unilateralism,” he told an audience of Jewish Democrats hosting the event this week. 

He added that the Trump administration has “just been unequivocal on anything that (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) does and has been equivocating on the importance of this two-state solution.” Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., must’ve been using those words as rocket fuel, as he was reportedly on a lobbying tear this week, urging the White House and GOP lawmakers to act fast on backing Netanyahu’s annexation plan. “He said that it should be done, and the quicker the better,” an official told The Jerusalem Post this week. “He did not necessarily mention any connection to the upcoming elections.” Right.

The majority of Americans endorse a two-state solution, but Trump has been known to pull the “anti-Israel” card against his opponents to win political points. This could become a wedge issue if Biden pushes it. Evangelical Republicans, especially, support Trump’s moves in Israel and Netanyahu’s policies in general. But really, Netanyahu needs Trump more than Trump needs him. You’d never see Trump producing campaign ads like this using Netanyahu to sell himself or plastering both of their visages on billboards overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue.

Most importantly, Trump now has the power over a vote that “would alter Israel’s character forever.” Whether he gets to execute it, or even will, is not certain, but that it is even a question—a foreign government having the power to shape the future of another country (or really, two) is a stunning revelation in itself. That the direction it takes hinges on who wins our dysfunctional duopolistic cage match in November makes it even more frightening. 

 

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