Leaked RNC Poll Reveals the Midterms Are All About Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)

 

Leaked RNC Poll Reveals the Midterms Are All About Trump

The internal report was conducted last month for the Republican National Committee by the polling firm Public Opinion Strategies.

President Donald Trump speaks on Monday before boarding Marine One from the White House’s South Lawn in Washington.

PHOTOGRAPHER: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

President Donald Trump told the Associated Press on Tuesday that he won’t be to blame if the GOP loses big on Nov. 6, but a private Republican Party survey leaked to Bloomberg Business week concludes that he will. The internal report, conducted last month for the Republican National Committee by the polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, states explicitly that “research indicates the determining factor in this election is how voters feel about President Trump.” A representative for the RNC declined to comment.

The conclusion of a poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies
The conclusion of a poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies

In a sense, Trump doesn’t really disagree with the survey’s finding that the election will be all about him, so long as the outcome is positive for Republicans. In the interview, he said he senses that voter enthusiasm rivals what it was in 2016, when Republicans swept into power by winning control of the White House and Congress. “I think I’m helping people,” Trump said. “I don’t believe anybody’s ever had this kind of impact.”

But the president’s conditional braggadocio contains an out clause. “It’s a tough year,” he told the AP. “The midterms are very tough for anybody the opposite of president—for whatever reason, nobody has been able to say.”

The cover of a polling report conducted by Public Opinion Strategies.
The cover of a polling report conducted by Public Opinion Strategies.

It’s true that midterms are generally tough on a president’s party, but it’s no mystery why that is. The out party typically thrives because midterms are viewed as a referendum on the president. A Bookings Institution study found that in 18 of the past 20 midterm elections, the president’s party lost an average of 33 House seats.

There’s little reason to think this year will be different. A new survey from Morning Consult find that Trump’s approval rating is a meager 43 percent, while 52 percent disapprove of his performance. The same survey also suggests that voters find it increasingly difficult to distinguish between Trump and Republican members of Congress.

That could turn out to be a positive for Republican Senate candidates challenging incumbent Democrats in states that went for Trump, such as North Dakota and Missouri. But if Republicans lose the House, the party’s own polling suggests Trump will deserve the lion’s share of the blame, whether he cares to accept it or not.

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Trump’s Russia Admission Is No Mere Scandal. It’s a Betrayal.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BLOOMBERG NEWS AGENCY)

 

Trump’s Russia Admission Is No Mere Scandal. It’s a Betrayal.

Accepting help “to get information on an opponent” was an ugly and unpatriotic act.

So much for national loyalty.

Photographer: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

During a presidential campaign, accepting help from Russia “to get information on an opponent” is an ugly and unpatriotic act. It casts contempt on the countless people who have put their lives on the line for our republic and the principles for which it stands.

In 2007 and 2008, I was honored to work with the campaign of Senator Barack Obama as an occasional, informal adviser. I received plenty of ideas from friends, acquaintances and strangers about how to win the presidency.

No offers of help came from anyone associated with a foreign government. But if they had, my only question would have been this: Do I go directly to the FBI, or do I go to people in a higher position in the campaign, and ask them to go directly to the FBI?

Like many millions of Americans (Republicans and Democrats alike), I had long been hoping that the 2016 meeting at the Trump Tower, including Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer connected with the Kremlin, involved issues of adoption policy (as the White House previously told us).

Last weekend, President Donald Trump disclosed, “This was a meeting to get information on an opponent.”

Americans should never forget that the Soviet Union played a heroic and indispensable role in winning World War II. And Trump is right to insist that the United States has a keen interest in maintaining a peaceful, cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Russia.

But it should go without saying that the highest loyalty of any candidate, and any president, is to his nation, not to electoral victory. The Russian government has been working to weaken, undermine and destabilize our country.

No candidate for high office, and no presidential campaign, should even think about accepting Russia’s help “to get information on an opponent.”

This conclusion is not merely a matter of common sense. It is linked with the deepest fears of those who founded our nation. Many people are puzzled by the constitutional provision limiting eligibility for the presidency to “natural born” citizens. But it attests to the founders’ desire to ensure something they prized perhaps above all: loyalty.

In the decisive debates over the impeachment clause, James Madison pointed to the risk that a president “might betray his trust to foreign powers.” Focusing on the electoral process itself, George Mason asked, “Shall the man who has practised corruption & by that means procured his appointment in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment?”

As far as I am aware, there is as yet no evidence that the meeting at Trump Tower had any effect on the 2016 election, or that the president knew about the meeting at the time. But here is a general principle: Successfully enlisting Russia’s help to procure the presidency would count as a high crime or misdemeanor within the meaning of the impeachment clause – whether or not it’s technically a crime within federal law.

But is it a federal crime? Federal law makes it unlawful “to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation . . . from a foreign national.” A contribution includes “any gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.” Lawyers are now discussing, and disputing, whether “information on an opponent” counts as “anything of value.”

Let’s put the legal niceties to one side. In my view, it was reasonable for President Trump to say that as a matter of principle, professional athletes ought to show respect for the American flag and the national anthem. “E pluribus unum” is the motto on the nation’s seal. It dates from the period of the Revolutionary War.

Seeking Russia’s help, to get “information on an opponent,” is worse than a scandal. It is a betrayal.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Cass Sunstein at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at [email protected]

U.S.-Turkey Relations Will Never Be the Same

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)

 

U.S.-Turkey Relations Will Never Be the Same

Escalating tensions might simmer down, but we’re past the point of pretending these two governments’ values are compatible.

Hope you sold all your lira before this week.

Photographer: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

There are only two ways that the diplomatic rift between the U.S. and Turkey can end: a compromise that salvages the relationship as best possible, or a complete rupture with devastating consequences both for Turkey’s economy and America’s regional strategic interests. Either way, there is no going back to the way things were.

The arrest in Turkey of American pastor Andrew Brunson nearly two years ago has led to a diplomatic spat that threatens a full-blown economic meltdown in Turkey. Brunson, along with many foreign nationals that were detained in the wake of the failed 2016 coup attempt, has been accused of “supporting terrorism.” A deal for Brunson’s release seemed likely as Turkish officials traveled to Washington this week, but fell apart apparently over last-minute Turkish demands.

Meanwhile, tensions have ratcheted up. The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on Turkey’s interior and justice ministers. Erdogan threatened retaliation and got the support of most of the Turkish opposition. On Wednesday, Stars and Stripes reported that a group of pro-government lawyers in Turkey have filed charges against several U.S. officers at the Incirlik Air Base, accusing them too of ties to terrorist groups. They are demanding all flights leaving the base be temporarily suspended and a search warrant be executed.

The standoff is partly the accumulation of years of resentment, despite the pretenses of a faithful partnership. Turkey’s once-unassailable support among U.S. foreign policy leaders, and in Congress, has been weakened by years of authoritarian creep, a worsening human rights record and cooperation with Russia and Iran in Syria. Turkey’s plans for a $2 billion purchase of Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missiles, which NATO has said are incompatible with allied systems and restrictions on American use of the Incirlik Air Base, haven’t gone down well.

The feeling is mutual. Erdogan has never quite recovered from his anger at the way his allies seemed to sit on the fence in the hours after an attempted coup was announced in July 2016.

The Turkish leader is also furious at American support for the Kurdish militia fighting Islamic State in northern Syria. Earlier this year, he threatened American troops with an “Ottoman slap” if the U.S. tried to block Turkey’s military incursion into northwest Syria.

One major source of contention has been the U.S. refusal to turn over the Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a one-time Erdogan ally and now an enemy, whom Erdogan alleges was behind the coup and other attempts to undermine him. Trump’s abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal is another sore point; nearly half of Turkey’s oil imports come from Iran, and the re-imposition of sanctions against Iran hurts Turkey’s economy.

The Brunson case made all of that impossible to ignore, as U.S. evangelicals took up the cause.

But “impossible to ignore” is not to say that the Trump administration has become a principled defender of human rights in Turkey. Far from it. Trump, whose name adorns luxury properties in Turkey, expressed only praise for Erdogan when they met in 2017. When Erdogan’s supporters and guards attacked protesters in Washington, the affair was handled quietly.

The administration has been silent on other arrests of U.S. and foreign nationals in Turkey. But it was ready to strike a deal for Brunson’s release. The U.S. had already asked Israel to release Ebru Ozkan, a Turkish national who was arrested there on suspicion of aiding Hamas (Israel deported herthe day after Trump called Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu). The Trump administration was also reportedly ready to allow Hakan Atilla, a former top executive of state-owned Halkbank, convicted for violating Iran sanctions, to serve out the rest of his prison sentence in Turkey. The deal was scuppered, reportedly, when Turkey wanted relief on a multibillion-dollar fine against Halkbank and an assurance that any investigations be dropped.

The U.S. can afford to play a longer game. The June 24 election may have strengthened Erdogan’s power further, but he didn’t win by a Putin-sized margin. (Erdogan cleared just over 52 percent, and that’s if we all agree to ignore the voting irregularities that presumably bolstered his numbers.) Turkey is divided politically, and the longer Erdogan rules by coercion, the more vulnerable he may become, especially if Turkey’s economy continues to suffer. As the main barometer of confidence in the country, the lira’s decline speaks volumes.

Even so, a diplomatic solution is clearly preferable to continued escalation. Erdogan is sacrificing the Turkish economy in order to keep Brunson as a bargaining chit. A fractured relationship with the U.S. will also put a strain on Turkey’s EU relationships and will give investors, already spooked, even more pause.

American support for Turkey doesn’t crumble in a day. The relationship is baked into ties on multiple levels, both inside and outside government, and for good reason. As Asli Aydintasbas and Kemal Kirisci argue in an April 2017 Brookings paper, however bad it looks, Turkey is crucial:

Without Turkey, it is difficult to see how a rule-based U.S.-led world order could be sustained in this region, and how a successful policy on containing chaos in the Middle East could be envisioned. Similarly, there are arguably no Muslim-majority nations apart from Turkey that can serve as a bridge with the Western world or achieve the democratic standards, to which Turks have grown accustomed and, inadvertently or not, still expect.

And yet, it has definitely changed, thanks not so much to national interests, but to failings in leadership. The U.S. will have to settle for something less loyal, less an alliance and more a transactional relationship. But then that seems to define these times pretty aptly.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Therese Raphael at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Philip Gray at [email protected]

Trump’s Korea Blunder Is Worse Than It Looks

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)

 

Trump’s Korea Blunder Is Worse Than It Looks

Kim Jong Un appears shrewd. China is stronger. And U.S. allies know not to trust Washington.

7
So much for gut instincts.

Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

Donald Trump thinks he’s a great negotiator, a brilliant bluffer whose gut instincts are so stellar that ignorance of history and refusal to deal with substantive complexities are irrelevant.

That’s why he bragged he’d win the Nobel Peace Prize for his genius in getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. Except, of course, it didn’t. It’s good his Singapore summit with Kim Jong Un was canceled. The larger picture in this and other major issues is how the American president is remarkably ill-prepared and uninformed.

Incredibly, he might have been outmatched in the June 12 face-off with the “little Rocket Man,” the untested North Korean tyrant. Analysts suggest Kim “has done his homework,” according to Jung Pak, a Brookings Institution scholar who was the North Korea expert at the Central Intelligence Agency and then for the director of National Intelligence. “He’s apparently well read on the issue and pretty comfortable with the technology,” she said.

Pak wasn’t surprised when Trump, after canceling the summit, said the next day that it might be back on. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim held a surprise weekend meeting. A subsequent session now seems likely.

But there’s little reason to believe a U.S. president who governs by bluster and is interested only in whether he gets credit and looks good would be better prepared for any next round. That’s unsettling.

Clearly, the North Koreans played games and were duplicitous; they always do and always are. It’s a brutal, corrupt regime.

Trump and his sycophants claim it was his toughness that scared Kim and forced him to consider negotiations; they say the president showed resolve and guts in walking away.

More likely, this has been Kim’s long-range plan for several years, as Robert Carlin, a former diplomat and intelligence official who has been to North Korea dozens of times, told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius. Kim effectively built up his nuclear arsenal, ignoring threats from Trump and others, and giving himself enough leverage to start to backtrack a bit. The regime supposedly dismantled one its nuclear testing sites last week.

Without question, the economic sanctions, begun under President Barack Obama and toughened by Trump, pressured this economic basket case of a country. And more important than Trump’s “fire and fury” rhetoric was a new South Korean administration willing to deal with its seven-decade-old enemy; a war on the peninsula would topple Kim but at a cataclysmic price.

Trump, being Trump, didn’t have the decency to give the South Koreans advance notice of his plans to cancel the summit. This is a pattern. He surprised our close ally when he impulsively announced he would meet with Kim, though no preparations had been made.

Trump’s hawkish national security adviser John Bolton, eager to sabotage any deal, raised the analogy of Libya, which gave up its nuclear weapons and later, with Western support, was toppled. Vice President Mike Pence weighed in similarly.

“Citing the Libyan example was very counterproductive,” notes Charles Armstrong, a Columbia University professor and Korean scholar. Trump’s clamor about de-nuclearization was a misnomer. Kim might make important concessions, but he’s never going to totally give up his most powerful chip; put yourself in his shoes.

Early last year Trump acknowledged, after China’s Xi Jinping had explained it to him, that the Korean situation was more complicated than he had thought. Unfortunately, the president didn’t seem to learn much, alternately crediting and blaming China for North Korea’s behavior. There is mutual contempt between these two neighbors, but they need each other, a reality reinforced by Trump’s bumbling.

History bores Trump – he seems not to know or care much – and he doesn’t read briefing books. A few months ago in the New Yorker, top aides to former national security adviser H.R.McMaster attested to the president’s shallowness. National security briefings, one former staffer said, had to be boiled down to two or three bullet points, “with the syntactical complexity of ‘See Jane run.'”

The great deal maker has yet to make even a decent deal as president; he hasn’t negotiated anything on health care, immigration or infrastructure, and the trade negotiations with China may be a bust.

In Korea, here’s what his gut instincts, with little knowledge, produced: North Korea is a greater nuclear threat than it was 17 months earlier. Kim Jong Un, depicted then as an irrational roly-poly comic-book figure with weird hair, is seen more as shrewd operative. China’s influence on the Korean peninsula and the region has grown. And as American allies, especially South Korea, painfully learned, Washington is not reliable.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at [email protected]

Iran’s Facing a Mutiny From Within the Mosque

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)

 

Iran’s Facing a Mutiny From Within the Mosque

A growing number of prominent Shiite clerics are questioning whether the supreme leader can claim divine authority.
12
Behind the scenes.

 Photographer: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

It’s not surprising that the arrest of a prominent Iranian cleric — even one that led to protests in Iran and the Arab world — hasn’t made a ripple in the Western news media. After all, the Tehran regime makes arbitrary arrests all the time.

But this is different: The controversy over the detention of Ayatollah Hussein Shirazi this month is reigniting an important debate over whether Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, should be able to claim divine sanction for his unlimited powers to rule the state.

Although there has been an ongoing debate in Shiite Islam since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini institutionalized the system of clerical rule, or velayat-e faqih, shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, discontent is now growing. Specifically, there is an increasing belief across Shiite communities that the consolidation of all powers in one person is antithetical to the Shiite tradition and that the position of supreme leader should be reformed or dissolved altogether.

Things came to a head on March 6 near the holy of city of Qom, when Ayatollah Shirazi was detained, reportedly by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The cleric and his very influential father, Grand Ayatollah Sadiq Shirazi, are fierce opponents of Khamenei’s rule. The younger Shirazi reportedly called the supreme leader “the pharaoh” during one of his recent lectures, providing the pretext for his arrest.

Protests quickly followed, and not just in Iran. After Shiite clerics in Kuwait and Iraq condemned the arrest, there was unrest in the Iraqi holy Shiite cities of Karbala, Najaf and Basra, as well as in Kuwait City. Demonstrators in London gathered outside the Iranian Embassy; four were arrested after they climbed onto the porch and took down the Iranian flag. None of these protests was large — estimates range from several dozen to several hundred participants — but they are notable nonetheless.

The Shirazi family, whose members have been clerics since the 19th century, represent an influential school of Shiite thought. Grand Ayatollah Shirazi has a vast presence online: he gives lectures in Persian and Arabic with English subtitles that are broadcaston 18 television channels and three radio stations across the Muslim world.

Some leading figures in the Shirazi school favor the separation of mosque and state, a Shiite tradition with a long-established history. Others are not against velayat-e faqih in principle, but oppose how Khomeini and Khamenei have corrupted the concept by concentrating all control over the state in a supreme leader who is virtually impossible to remove from power.

Many other clerics in Qom, the center for Iran’s religious seminaries, are also against supreme clerical rule on theological grounds, even if they are not adherents to the Shirazi school.

When I was a reporter for the Guardian newspaper in the 1990s, I interviewed many Iranian clerics who told me they did not believe a living person should have divine and absolute powers. The supreme leader, they said, cannot represent God on earth. The Tehran regime was so intent on keeping this dissent a secret that I was barred from traveling to Qom.

But now, four decades after the Islamic Revolution, the genie is out of the bottle. Widespread discontent within Iranian society has empowered the Shirazis and other religious leaders to make their views public. In Iraq, too, the Najaf religious leaders vehemently oppose supreme clerical rule and are finding avenues to reduce Iran’s religious and political influence over their country.

In the run-up to May’s Iraqi national elections, Shiite religious parties are forming coalitions with Sunnis and nationalists in the hopes that the next parliament will consist of fewer Iran loyalists, and that the next prime minister will be more liberated from Tehran’s demands.

If nothing else, this should debunk the notion that all Shiites are alike. Arab Shiites have historically held different political and religious views from those in Iran, but are often considered in the West to be loyalists of the Islamic Republic.

For all these reasons, the Shirazi protests have been significant. Iran’s special clerical court initially sentenced the younger cleric to 120 years in prison. The hardline prosecutor-general, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, accused his Iranian supporters of being “a Qom-based group that has been active in Iran for years,” in an attempt to minimize the numbers of clerics and others who support the Shirazis views.

But this argument became harder to make as the protests spread. And now there are uncomfirmed reports that Iranian authorities released Shirazi on March 18, two weeks after his arrest. If true, the heavy-handed sentence and its subsequent retraction illustrate the Islamic Republic’s struggle to balance a growing sense of vulnerability with the fear of alienating the body of clerics upon whom its legitimacy ultimately rests.

The Shirazis are not the first prominent Shiite religious leaders to question the supreme leader’s divine authority. In 1999, I conducted an interview with Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who spent many years under house arrest before to his death in 2009.

He articulated the views that many clerics who are now part of the protest movement still hold:

“The supreme leader has no authority to act singlehandedly or in a despotic manner,” Montazeri decreed. “He can never be above the law and cannot interfere in all the affairs, particularly the affairs that fall outside his area of expertise, such as complex economic issues, or issues of foreign policy and international relations.”

Nonetheless, in his nearly 30 years as supreme leader,  Khamenei has done everything described above. Now that his rule is coming to a close, there is increasing support among high-ranking Shiite clerics that the job should die with him.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Geneive Abdo at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Tobin Harshaw at [email protected]

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The world’s 500 wealthiest people got $1 trillion richer in 2017

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST AND BLOOMBERG NEWS)

 

The world’s 500 wealthiest people got $1 trillion richer in 2017

 December 27 at 12:09 PM

The Ritz on the Place Vendome in Paris. (Matthieu Alexandre/AFP/Getty Images)

The world’s richest people got a whopping $1 trillion richer in 2017, according to a new report from Bloomberg News. That’s about four times the gains they made last year.

That data comes courtesy of the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which tracks and ranks the world’s 500 richest people. It attributes much of the economic growth to the stock market’s record-high year. (The MSCI World and Standard & Poor’s 500 indexes grew about 20 percent this year.)

Jeffrey P. Bezos, founder of Amazon, clocked in as the world’s richest person, gaining $34.2 billion in wealth. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates came in at No. 2. Bezos is worth about $99.6 billion, according to Bloomberg. Gates is valued at $91.3 billion.

China’s 1 percent did particularly well. There are 38 Chinese billionaires on the Bloomberg index, and they gained a combined $177 billion this year. That 65 percent jump was the largest for any of the 49 countries represented. Hui Ka Yan, founder of China Evergrande Group, a property developer, saw his personal bank accounts swell by $25.9 billion, a 350 percent jump from last year.

Ma Huateng, co-founder of Tencent Holdings, a Chinese technology investment firm, saw his fortune double to $41 billion, making him the second-richest person in Asia. The number of billionaires in Asia has surpassed the number in the United States for the first time, according to a recent UBS Group and PricewaterhouseCoopers report.

Russia’s 27 richest residents did well, too, adding $29 billion to grow to $275 billion, despite the international economic sanctions imposed after President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea in 2014.

Global losers included Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the richest person in Saudi Arabia, whose fortune dropped $1.9 billion to $17.8 billion after he was arrested as part of a corruption crackdown by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Several other Saudi royals, government officials and business leaders were scooped up, as well.

Bloomberg’s findings are yet another indication that massive accumulation of wealth at the top of the economic ladder is leading to spiraling inequality.

The 2017 “World Inequality Report” (compiled by economists such as Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez) found that the 1 percent reaped 27 percent of the world’s income between 1980 and 2016. The bottom 50 percent, by contrast, got just 12 percent of the pie.

In China, the 1 percent has accumulated 15 percent of all income growth since 1980. (About 13 percent flowed to the bottom 50 percent.) In the United States, the bottom half of Americans has captured just 3 percent of growth since 1980. In Russia, the economic assets of the bottom half of the country have shrunk since 1980. Even Europe saw its top 1 percent accumulate 18 percent of growth, while the bottom half gained 14 percent.

Economists say economic inequality isn’t inevitable. Aggressive income tax and a strong social safety net matter, as do equal access to education. In fast-growing China and in some developing nations, massive investments in infrastructure and a deepening base of manufacturing jobs have helped.

Unfortunately, few countries have aggressively pursued such policies.

Of course, it’s not just the poor who are suffering. As Bloomberg put it, it’s hard out there for a billionaire:

With wealth surging to new highs, billionaires may quickly learn that a billion dollars doesn’t buy what it used to. The price of housing has topped $300 million, the cost of divorce has hit $1 billion and a rediscovered painting by Leonardo da Vinci sold for $450.3 million at a Christie’s auction in November, the most expensive work sold to date.

“Would you believe it?” Eli Broad, who has a $7.4 billion fortune and his own museum in Los Angeles, said after the sale. “It’s wild.”

Kushner Is Leaving Tillerson in the Dark on Middle East Talks

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS/POLITICS)

 

Kushner Is Leaving Tillerson in the Dark on Middle East Talks, Sources Say

 Updated on 
  • Tillerson worries secret plan could plunge region into chaos
  • White House rejects accusation State Department isn’t informed

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Jared Kushner’s Rise to Power Mirrors Trump’s

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is increasingly alarmed by what he sees as secret talks between Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — fearful that the discussions could backfire and tip the region into chaos, according to three people familiar with Tillerson’s concerns.

Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Jared Kushner

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The central goal of the negotiations, as described by two people with knowledge of the talks, is for an historic agreement featuring the creation of a Palestinian state or territory backed financially by a number of countries including Saudi Arabia, which could put tens of billions of dollars toward the effort.

A lasting Middle East peace treaty has been a U.S. goal for decades, and at the start of his administration Trump assigned the 36-year-old Kushner to head up the effort to make it happen.

Tillerson believes Kushner hasn’t done enough to share details of the talks with the State Department, according to the people, leaving senior U.S. diplomats in the dark on the full extent of the highly sensitive negotiations.

“The problem is, the senior presidential adviser does not consult with the State Department — and it’s unclear the level of consultation that goes on with the NSC,” one of the people familiar with Tillerson’s concerns said, referring to the National Security Council. “And that’s a problem for both the NSC and the State Department and it’s not something we can easily solve.”

Kushner to Speak

Kushner is scheduled to speak publicly for the first time about the Trump administration’s approach to the Middle East on Sunday. He’ll appear at the Saban Forum in Washington, an annual conference organized by the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution that’s focused on U.S.-Israel relations.

The State Department’s concerns about Kushner’s approach predate reports this weekthat Trump may move to oust Tillerson by the end of the year. The president rejected the reports, which Tillerson’s team believes are being stoked by Kushner allies, one person said. An administration official said Kushner had nothing to do with the reports.

Read a QuickTake on Saudi Arabia’s brash young crown prince

Asked about Tillerson’s concerns, State Department spokesman R.C. Hammond said, “If he has any concerns, he brings them up one-on-one or in private.”

Trump provided a public boost to Tillerson on Friday, saying on Twitter that while he and the secretary of state “disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again!” Tillerson, earlier in the day, called the reports of his ouster “laughable.”

Regain Influence

Tillerson and other senior State Department officials are also concerned that Saudi leaders, having been held at arm’s length by President Barack Obama, see the connection with Kushner as a way to regain influence in the White House and U.S. backing for actions that could be controversial. Already, Prince Mohammed, heir to the Saudi throne, has put several such steps into motion.

Those include summoning Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Riyadh, where he initially resigned only to postpone his decision upon returning to Beirut; the arrest and detention of dozens of Saudi princes, ministers and businessmen on corruption charges; and a more aggressive posture in the war in Yemen. Indeed, Trump tweeted his support for the anti-graft crackdown and the White House has offered only muted comments on Hariri and the conflict in Yemen.

‘Complete Confidence’

A White House official said Kushner was not aware in advance of the Saudi moves and gave no signal of approval beforehand.

NSC spokesman Michael Anton denied that the NSC and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster aren’t being fully informed by Kushner.

“General McMaster and the National Security Council believe that the Israeli-Palestinian peace team led by Jared runs a thorough and transparent interagency process, feel completely in the loop about their conversations with the Saudis and other parties and have complete confidence in their overseeing the Administration’s efforts to facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal with regional support,” Anton said in a prepared statement.

Tillerson is concerned that Saudi Arabia may want to act with a freer hand in Qatar, moving beyond its economic embargo to pursue military action, according to the people. One risk is that such a move could have any number of unpredictable and dangerous consequences, including inflamed tensions with Russia and Turkey, an armed response from Iran, or a missile attack on Israel by Iran-backed Hezbollah.

Put the Brakes On

In recent weeks, Tillerson has attempted to put the brakes on key parts of any potential plan, the people said, saying he is does not want the Saudis to get mixed messages from U.S. diplomats and the president’s son-in-law.

The White House denied the contention that Kushner isn’t fully communicating with Tillerson and the State Department, and also disputed the description of the discussions between Kushner and Prince Mohammed.

“This description of our potential plan and conversations is flat out false. While we have obviously discussed economic support for a potential peace deal from many countries, not just Saudi Arabia, we have never discussed specific numbers with other countries and we have not linked a deal to Qatar,” Jason Greenblatt, the president’s Mideast envoy, said in an emailed statement. “Anybody who is suggesting these details or linkage were discussed is not in the know.”

Secret Assurances?

Kushner frequently visits the State Department to brief Tillerson about his efforts in the Middle East, but the worry is that, whether by design or neglect, Kushner hasn’t kept the secretary of state or his top aides informed about many of the details of his overseas negotiations.

Tillerson has concluded that even Trump didn’t know all of the details of Kushner’s discussions with the crown prince.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in an emailed statement: “The President is very pleased with the engagement and progress being made by his team managing the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio and is supportive of their efforts including travel to the region and ongoing discussions with counterparts. He is aware of the conversations and developments and this remains a priority for his administration.”

Kushner has grown close to Prince Mohammed, 32, and has traveled to Saudi Arabia for some of the discussions. What’s worrisome to U.S. officials is that Kushner may have given the Saudis secret assurances that don’t have wider support.

Regime Change

In September, Trump himself intervened on the question of Saudi military action against Qatar, telling Saudi Arabia’s leaders to drop the idea, Bloomberg reported at the time. Yet the Saudis may not have given up, said two of the people. Trump has authorized Tillerson to inform Saudi leaders the U.S. won’t tolerate an attempt to force regime change in Qatar, even if they had heard otherwise from Kushner, one of the people said.

A senior Saudi official denied such plans existed. “Qatar is a small matter and has been resolved by the boycott and we have forgotten it,” he said. “It will return to its senses and its natural size.”

It isn’t clear how far along the discussions are between Kushner and Prince Mohammed, three people said. And some in the U.S. government are skeptical the effort will succeed, in part because of the historic intractability of Israelis and Palestinians, and because any peace deal would ultimately require the support of many competing leaders in the region.

Diplomatic Complexities

The State Department officials’ skepticism about the Middle East discussions also reveals ongoing frustration at the president’s decision to go around them and the U.S. diplomatic corps he regularly disparages. Instead, Trump placed delicate peace negotiations in the hands of Kushner, who has no experience in diplomacy and little background in the complexities of one of the world’s most volatile regions.

Yet Trump, who has long spoken of Mideast peace as the ultimate trophy for a career deal maker, has shown unwavering faith in his son-in-law’s ability to deliver. “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can,” Trump told Kushner on-stage at a black-tie presidential inaugural event in January. “All my life I’ve been hearing that’s the toughest deal to make, but I have a feeling Jared is going to do a great job.”

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Trump’s Brussels trip displayed a now familiar disregard for the facts.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)

‘Bad Germans’ And Other Trump Blunders

Trump’s Brussels trip displayed a now familiar disregard for the facts.
May 26, 2017, 8:31 AM EDT May 26, 2017, 10:56 AM EDT
Made in the U.S.A.Photogaper: Ariana Lindquist/Bloomberg

During his first foreign trip since he was elected, President Donald Trump didn’t look too out of place in Saudi Arabia or even in the Vatican. In Brussels, however, he was a befuddled elephant in a china shop, doing his best to convince European leaders that the U.S. was clueless on key cooperation issues.

It was bad enough that he shoved aside Montenegro Prime Minister Dusko Markovic to be in the front row during a North Atlantic Trade Organization photo opportunity; Markovic, whose country has just been welcomed into NATO, graciously said that the U.S. president belonged out front. It was awful enough that he used a memorial opening ceremony to make a politically contentious speech in which he railed against NATO members’ low defense spending and, unlike any of his predecessors, avoided explicitly affirming NATO’s pledge of mutual defense — the very Article 5 of the treaty that the memorial was supposed to commemorate.

One would expect a novice political leader in his first six months since being elected to climb a steep learning curve; instead Trump appeared to demonstrate a persistent unwillingness to learn. Despite having been told repeatedly that NATO member states had pledged to spend 2 percent of economic output on defense individually, not to pay that amount into some common pool, Trump repeated the canard that under-spenders “owe massive amounts of money from past years and not paying in those past years.” There appears to be no way to explain to him that no NATO member is in arrears to the military bloc’s budget.

“I never once asked what the new NATO headquarters cost,” Trump said. “I refuse to do that.” The number is published on NATO’s website: 1.12 billion euros ($1.26 billion), an amount comparable with NATO’s common budget for 2017 (1.5 billion euros) but contributed separately by the member states in proportion to the size of their economies. Besides, each country paid for the offices to be occupied by its mission.

At the meeting with top EU officials, Trump tore into Germany’s trade surplus, showing a similar disregard for facts. “The Germans are bad, very bad,” he said, according to Der Spiegel. “Look at the millions of cars they sell in the U.S. Horrible. We’re going to stop that.”

German carmakers don’t sell millions of cars in the U.S. Last year, the total unit sales of Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler reached 1.3 million (not counting Lamborghinis). At the same time, the German companies produce about a million vehicles in the U.S. For example, BMW made 32,659 sports utility vehicles in Spartanburg, South Carolina, in April 2017; it churns out 1,400 a day, most of them for export. The relatively few BMW X5s on German roads are made in Spartanburg, too: It makes sense for BMW to make the large cars closer to their main market.

Daimler made a total of 300,000 Mercedes cars in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 2016. The plant is the state’s biggest exporter. VW’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, operation has a 150,000-vehicle production capacity and also is export-oriented.

The U.S. does have an auto trade deficit with Germany. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it exported $2 billion worth of cars, trucks, buses and parts to Germany (including those BMW X5s) in the first three months of 2017, and imported $7 billion worth. But it’s with Mexico and Japan that the U.S. has the biggest vehicle trade shortfalls.

If Trump is intent on making sure Americans buy more U.S.-made cars, he should be the biggest lobbyist for German car manufacturers. They bring jobs to the U.S. and work to reduce the country’s trade deficit. The stocks of all three major car makers fell following Trump’s remark — but the drops weren’t dramatic. Investors may be betting that someone will give Trump better information and he’ll change his tune. As his NATO “debts” comments show, that is unlikely.

Trump refuses to understand things that go against his deep convictions. He wants to tailor reality to them, which may mean he’ll actually try to impose punitive taxes on German-made vehicles. That may bring the price of a Mini, not made in the U.S., close to that of an  SUV made by BMW, playing havoc with the firm’s North American sales structure — but the German Big Three will, of course, adapt to it, just as VW has absorbed the enormous costs of the U.S.-generated diesel scandal.

European NATO members, too, need to adapt. That will mean grim patience for the next few years, but also stepped-up at European military cooperation outside NATO.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

(Corrects reference to the number of unit sales from the three German carmakers in paragraphs 6 and 8.)

To contact the author of this story:
Leonid Bershidsky at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Therese Raphael at [email protected]

Trump Defense Chief Says Japan Alliance Covers Disputed Isles

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)

Trump Defense Chief Says Japan Alliance Covers Disputed Isles

February 3, 2017, 7:38 AM EST
  • Japan government says Mattis confirms stance in talks with Abe
  • U.S. opposed to one-sided actions against Japan over islands

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis confirmed in a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the defense treaty between the longtime allies covers islets disputed with China, a Japanese government statement said.

The fresh guarantee will provide some reassurance for Japan after President Donald Trump withdrew from a regional trade pact and called on allies to spend more on their own defense. The statement was released late Friday after Mattis paid a courtesy call to Abe at his offices in Tokyo on his first foreign tour.

Secretary Mattis said the Senkaku Islands are under Japanese administration and are covered by Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. The U.S. opposed any one-sided actions aimed at damaging Japanese control of the islands, the statement cited Mattis as saying. The leaders also committed to ensuring the stability of the U.S. military presence in Japan however there was no mention in the statement of the cost of stationing U.S. troops there.Ships and planes from Japan and China frequently tail one another around the uninhabited islands, known as the Senkaku in Japanese and the Diaoyu in Chinese. Any backing down from previous U.S. pledges to defend the isles could ratchet up tensions between Asia’s two largest economies.

The U.S.-Japan Security Treaty of 1960 binds the allies to “act to meet the common danger” if territories under Japanese administration are attacked. The U.S. acknowledges Japan as administering the isles, but does not take a position on their sovereignty.

Mattis also held a meeting with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and is set to meet Defense Minister Tomomi Inada on Saturday.

French President Hollande Says French Values Must Be Defended In Cold War Climate

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)

Hollande Says France Must Defend Values in Cold War Climate

December 31, 2016, 3:03 PM EST
  • Outgoing French president sees democracy, freedom at risk
  • Final New Year’s address targets National Front’s Le Pen

French President Francois Hollande tells the French they have values to defend in the context of a new Cold War — a reference to both geopolitics and the country’s looming presidential election.

“There are moments in history when everything can be toppled. We are living through one of those periods,” Hollande said in a televised speech from Paris. “Democracy, freedom, Europe and even peace — all of these things have become vulnerable, reversible. We saw it with Brexit and with the U.S. election in November.”

Hollande, who came to power in May 2012, bowed out of France’s 2017 presidential race earlier this month, meaning today’s New Year’s eve address to the nation will be his last as head of state. The Socialist leader insisted to French voters that they have a responsibility on the global stage when they cast their ballots.

“France is open to the world, it is European,” Hollande said. “It is not possible to imagine our country crouching behind walls, reduced to its domestic self, returning to a national currency and increasingly discriminating based on peoples’ origins. It would no longer be France. That is what is at stake.”

Those remarks directly targeted the policies of National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who is committed to pulling France out of the euro, increasing restrictions on immigration, as well as putting up tariff barriers.

“Our main enemy is our doubt. You must have confidence in yourselves,” Hollande said.

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