Trump in the Middle East 144

It is unlikely to become an opera like “Nixon in China” but the arrival of Trump in Saudi Arabia is pregnant with meaning.

The first and most obvious is the United States’ continuing identification with the Sunni side in an escalating Sunni/Shia conflict across the Middle East. The exception to this of course is Iraq, where US forces are helping Shia forces to pulverise the Sunni city of Mosul. The paradox is that the plunge of the United states firmly into the Sunni camp was precipitated by their realisation that, in removing Saddam Hussein, they had installed a Shia government in Iraq which was going to be highly susceptible to Iranian influence.

The paradox is that Europe, and most of the rest of the world, accepts that Iran is no longer a particular threat to world peace under the comparatively moderate President Rouhani, who was re-elected today. But the hatred for the Shia in the Gulf states is visceral. I was forcibly struck, when attending the Al Jazeera Forum in Doha last month, that the only contributions which evinced enthusiastic displays from the audience were attacks on Iran – and this was a largely academic audience. Even the session specifically on Palestine was dominated by attacks on Iran. One panel speaker mentioned Palestine only twice, and the very beginning and the very end of his 15 minute contribution.

There is nothing like genuine religious hatred to drive conflict, and doubtless it exists on both sides of the Sunni/Shia divide. What is appalling is the role of western powers, and their ally Israel, in seeking to exploit this hatred. This is not new. My latest book, Sikunder Burnes, details explicitly expressed British attempts to use Sunni/Shia conflict for divide and rule as early as the 1830’s.

But the modern form of this western practice explains directly some of the most appalling tragedies of our time. It explains the Western arming of the Saudis for their continuing and genocidal attacks on the Shia of Yemen. It explains British complicity in helping the dreadful Sunni Bahraini regime to enslave, torture and imprison its majority Shia population. Most crucially, it explains the complicity of western intelligence agencies with the Gulf states in founding, funding and arming Wahhabi terror groups under all their various names including Al Qaeda, ISIS and Al Nusra.

The concomitant of this is of course the de facto alliance of Saudi Arabia with Israel and the United States, against their “common enemies” of Hezbollah, Assad and Iran. The cementing of that alliance is the purpose of Trump’s trip. Which is extraordinary, because in campaigning he appeared to understand that the groups the US were supporting were themselves the source of the “terror threat” to the United States. It appears the arms industry have made plain to him that the terror threat and the destabilisation of the Middle East are both good for business.

As Trump has gone full neo-liberal at home and neo-conservative abroad, the question being asked is whether he ever believed any of his campaigning material, or whether he has just been captured by the establishment. My answer to which is, it makes no difference.

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144 thoughts on “Trump in the Middle East

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  • Phil the ex-frog

    “There is nothing like genuine religious hatred to drive conflict”

    Sure there is. Economics. Religion is one amongst many ways (WMD, patriotism, ultraism etc) people have to rationalise conflict. The common factor, a driving force, to conflict is material struggle.

    When God tells Bob to go fight, what do you take that voice to be: God himself, or Bob reacting to the world? Most likely it’s the latter, contrary to Bob’s conscious claims.

    • Alcyone

      Yes, but Bob has already been conditioned by religion, nationalism, patriotism etc by the time he hears God’s voice. God is not stupid, man is.

        • glenn

          I briefly saw a reply, and responded. Gone now, unfortunately. I wonder if we should be discussing on an earlier thread, where off-topic posts are granted more indulgence.

          About man inventing god in his own image – indeed he does! Ever noticed that a religious devotee’s god hates all the same things and people he does? 😉

          • Alcyone

            glenn, it’s cool. My reply was on topic as far as I recall. Sometimes Craig has a stray bee fly into his bonnet and decides to hit his delete button. I am not the only bewildered person left wondering why.

  • giyane

    Why is it always me that gets to pick up the broken glasses, empty ashtrays, mop up the sick in the toilets and polish the varnish by the till? You’ve said your drunken fist waives at God, haven’t you got homes to go to?
    Good night.

    • glenn_uk

      Not _all_ of us white devils are drunk at this time of night, Giyane. That’s a bit of a prejudiced stereotype, if you don’t mind my pointing that out.

      • giyane

        From time to time they rail against their Creator, who set the sun and planets on precision courses bringing moderate temperatures and clockwork alterations of night and day, who created us and all the plants and creatures in sexual pairs, and who gave mankind logic, memory , intelligence and feelings.
        They are definitely drunk, whether from consuming aldehyde or some other poison, I know not.

  • Hieroglyph

    But, has he? I appear to now be a (partial) Trump defender, so I guess I have to accept my surprising new role. He axed TPP and is still, allegedly, about to renegotiate NAFTA – so not a full neoliberal. And a real neocon would have imposed a no-fly zone over Syria, and started providing air-support to various lunatics on the ground (this would have begun about 2 minutes after Clinton was elected). A few arms deals, and bombing truck convoys, won’t cut it with the neocons, who demand complete compliance with their agenda, whatever it may be (I’ve no clue). So as of today, I disagree with the basic premise, that Trump has submitted to the neocons\neoliberals\globalists. It should be noted as well, Trump is under heavy media bombardment 24/7, and still refuses to engage in the anti-Russia nonsense.

    I’m only a partial defender. Can’t say I think much of an arms-deal jolly to the kleptocrats of Saudi, and Trump really didn’t have to employ Tillerson, and should definitely fire him asap – but perhaps naively, I haven’t quite given up on Trump. For one, to answer Craig’s last question, I still remain firmly of the view that he isn’t a con-man, though he is very right-wing on many issues. Naturally, the last person to know they’ve been duped is the victim of the con, so perhaps I’m in denial. I’ll stop bothering to defend him if the US invades Syria. I also remain intrigued as to the Clinton question. Her arrest is not, not yet, entirely out of the question. So, should she be arrested, does this make Trump a dictator wannabee, or a guy just allowing justice to take the proper course? A question to puzzle historians.

    • Kerch'ee Kerch'ee Coup

      Well-reasoned post, and exculpatory for those like me who saw him as the lesser of two weevils, but none of it applies,obviously enough, to Mike Pence as the current VP with possible abrupt upward momentum.
      Anyone for Criusades?

        • giyane

          Here comes the second drunken swipe as he falls flat on his face going out the door, this time at Craig’s human rights record. Well here’s the human rights record of USUKIS as described on

          ” Meyssan’s account of the Libyan civil war which he saw from inside—as he was an adviser to Gaddafi’s government at the time—is particularly enlightening. He describes the secret diplomatic games between the US, European states and other nations, aimed at taking over the 150 billion dollars in reserves held by the Libyan regime and points out that this treasury has now disappeared. ”

          In the article the structural tension of US and UK debt are predicted to pop our democracies in about five years time, which makes Theresa May’s mantra of strong and stable government look totally ridiculous. What else are you going to pinch from the Muslim nations, wrecking their lives and homes to pay off your party’s gambling debts?

          • Habbabkuk

            ” Meyssan’s account of the Libyan civil war which he saw from inside—as he was an adviser to Gaddafi’s government at the time..”

            Which says quite a lot about M. Meyssan I should have thought.

    • Dave

      I agree Trump (just like Corbyn) is proving very resilient against the pro-war lobby.

  • Alcyone

    Btw Craig, where’s your video of your talk at al Jazeera’s “Gala” dinner? It’s conspicuous by its absence. Could it be that you ended up flattering — or at least not being honestly critical of Qatar Saudi etc about their human tights?

    And btw what are your human rights activities these days

    • JOML

      I suspect Craig’s efforts on the human rights front is somewhat greater than your own. However, I could be wrong. If you detailed your efforts, I could compare it with what Craig has made public and then clarify. Either way, my own efforts are pretty limited (supporting Amnesty International with odd pound, etc.)

      • Tony_0pmoc

        JOML, I know many people working for Amnesty International do a fantastic job, but the highest levels of Amnesty International were infiltrated by the CIA a very long time ago. That fact is now obvious if you do a little research. They lie.

    • craig Post author

      I haven’t ever seen it. It was I am informed livestreamed by Al Jazeera through their Facebook page and possibly on a website, but with the Arabic interpretation as the only sound. If you can find it anywhere I should be delighted to post it.

    • Tony_0pmoc

      I’ve seen it – it was O.K….though looked a bit posh for Craig. i don’t recall him saying anything out of order.

  • Republicofscotland

    Donald Trump has signed the largest arms deal in history with Saudi Arabia, despite warnings he could be accused of being complicit in war crimes and after blaming Saudi Arabia himself for producing the terrorists behind 9/11.

    The President confirmed he had signed a weapons deal with the Saudis worth $109.7 billion, predicted to grow to a $380 billion Saudi investment within 10 years, during his first trip abroad since his Inauguration.

    This is surely one of the reasons why Saudi Arabia has a almost free hand in its domestic affairs, no matter how oppressive they may be.

    • Ball


      $380 billion from Saudi Arabia to the US for the purchase of US military hardware.

      $38 billion from the US to Israel for the purchase of US military hardware.

      10% commission ain’t bad between friends.

      I find it strange that two extreme religiously fanatical countries such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, that want to wipe each other off the planet claiming the other a less pure being than themselves, have such a good working relationship.

      Maybe they should go into consultancy work a la T. Blair.

      • Habbabkuk

        It is contrary to fact and complete nonsense to describe Israel as am extreme religiously fanatical country.

        All religions are tolerated in Israel.

      • Republicofscotland


        Indeed, Israel and Saudi Arabia are in reality part of the axis of evil. Both are fervent allies of the Great Satan (consecutive US governments).

        It would be debatable, that both would even exist today without the Great Satan’s backing.

        • Ball


          It would be indeed. Maybe a fairer, more just and tolerant society would emerge if not for the US unconditional support.

      • Republicofscotland

        Of course the article adds that the Tories will continue to provide some schools meals for those who really need them. However Tory promises are like steam from a kettle they quickly evaporate.

    • Habbabkuk

      “…now it looks as though Theresa May will now snatch school children’s free lunches.


      It looks like nothing of the sort.

      I invite readers to read carefully the “article” in the Independent Online** linked to by RoS carefully. They will find it is either sloppy journalism or a deliberate attempt to mislead by omission.

      The article, which draws heavily on a “study” produced by an educational pressure group, mentions that ca 100.000 of the “poorest families” will continue to benefit from free school lunches and ca 600.000 “hard working” families will no longer do so.

      However, and interestingly enough, no attempt is made to define those two notions in terms of family income. Either the pressure group has made no attempt to do so (in which case it is difficult to see how it arrives at those two numbers), or then it has but the article has not seen fit to give that rather important information. To be noted that the expression “hard working families” is meaningless as it stands; it is perfectly possible for hard working families to include not only poor families but also families whose income is more than adequate for them to pay for their children’s school lunches (estimated by the pressure group to be worth ca £440 a year).

      As a matter of principle It seems equally legitimate to require parents who can afford it to pay for their children’s school lunches, and to continue to offer free school lunches to those families which cannot.


      ** Is the Independent Online owned by the Lebedev family, which enjoys a friendly relationship with the Kremlin, which in turn might reasonably be assumed to prefer a future Labour govt over a Conservative one (for reasons entirely unconnected with the plight of poor UK families…or even hard working UK families?

      • Ball


        This is a nice term of phrase you use above –
        or a deliberate attempt to mislead by omission.

        when considering your footnote –
        ** Is the Independent Online owned by the Lebedev family, which enjoys a friendly relationship with the Kremlin, which in turn might reasonably be assumed to prefer a future Labour govt over a Conservative one (for reasons entirely unconnected with the plight of poor UK families…or even hard working UK families?

        Why did you decide to omit the fact the Lebedev’s also own the Evening Standard? New Editor – One George ”I like to fold towels’ Osborne?

        Kind of makes a mockery of your Kremlin conspiracy, no?

        • Ball


          I am following……with mild amusement at the hole digging.

          As your own ripostes go, this ain’t the best of them………
          Answer : Because I was talking about the misleading (by omission) Independent Online article. I should explain to you that the Independent Online and the Evening Standard are two different papers, as the two different titles might suggest.
          So you have ruled out ‘sloppy journalism’ and concluded it was deliberate. Cheers for clarifying.

          Just to clarify something myself as you seem to be behind the curve; they are not two different papers. One is a website, no longer in print, the other a paper.

          You were also ‘talking’ about the owners of the Independent online with the **, calling into question the motivation behind such a story. I pointed out the glaring hole in your logic.

          Osborne – no friend of May. Yes I am sure the ES will be endorsing Mr Corbyn and the Labour Party sometime early next week…………

        • Habbabkuk

          Any comment on the substance of my post as opposed to the footnote, Ball?

      • Jim

        I think you need to read it again Habbs, the 100k children identified as from families in relative poverty do lose their midday meal, together with the other 670k struggling ‘hard working families’.

        The Education Policy Institute hardly sounds like a Labour (never mind Corbynite) dominated pressure group either :

  • Sharp Ears

    Here’s another scandal that has been exposed.

    Tory ministers including Boris Johnson and Liam Fox, have accepted £200 ‘luxury hampers’ from Saudi Arabia.

    Have they declared them on their Registers of Interest? Probably not. I can’t remember seeing anything like that on They Work For You aka They Work For Their Own Good.

    Tory ministers accept 20 luxury food hampers from Saudi Arabian regime worsening famine in Yemen
    Campaigners said the gifts were a symbol of the government’s close relationship with the autocracy

    Note the easy dismissal by the Tory spokesperson. Any proof of what was said that they were given away? No. Of course not.

    • Habbabkuk

      Gosh, that’s scandalous – 20 £200 hampers given by the Saudis to visiting UK ministers since 2010!

      On average that’s over 3 a year, which makes it even worse.

      Now Craig will confirm that it is customary for foreign govts to give gifts to visiting ministers from another state. He will also confirm that the rules governing the conduct of ministers require to gifts worth over a small amount to be either given up to the govt or then to be paid for at their full value by the recipient ministers. In other words, ministers do not personally benefit.

      Indeed, the Independent Online “article” does say precisely that ( a little down the page, presumably o as not to conflict with the lurid headline) :

      “After being accepted most of the hampers were retained by the ministers’ departments, with some used for hospitality or passed on elsewhere. ”

      It would indeed be reprehensible for ministers to break those rules. The posters appears to be hinting at this when she writes ” Any proof of what was said that they were given away? No. Of course not.”

      Is she accusing ministers of breaking the rules? If so, I would suggest she write to the Cabinet Secretary with her evidence.

    • Manda

      In my opinion these stories are all to deflect and distract from Tory manifesto and other important and foreign policy issues. Another example is Johnson being photographed in an obviously staged rifling of Peston’s questions… get angry about these nonsense issues, don’t bother to look at other or ask questions about the real issues.

      I am still reading British and US troops are on the ground in Syria and US has bombed SAA/allied forces again… who cares if British public have no idea British troops are apparently near to facing SAA and allied troops and militias… lest we forget one of Syria’s allies is Russia!

  • Habbabkuk

    As others have linked liberally to the Heil and other excellent MSM I’m sure I shall be allowed to link to the equally excellent Torygraph. As follows :

    Now of course the Torygraph article is fair enough to point out that no one is accusing Mr Corbyn of sharing such reprehensible views; it does however – very fairly in my opinion – cast doubt on his judgement when it comes to choosing the people and organisations he has lent support to.

    • Ball

      It does however – very fairly in my opinion – cast doubt on his judgement when it comes to choosing the people and organisations he has lent support to.

      Really. And what conclusions can be drawn – in your opinion – from the ‘people and organisations’ Ms May and co have lent their support to recently? I believe a recent trip to shore up Saudi support and business for the her UK business chums was highly successful.

      Do you find it acceptable that Conservative Governments are happy to support a Monarchy in the Middle East that ultimately wants to ‘wipe the Jewish people of the face of the planet’?

      I believe Corbyn would change this relationship the UK has historically had with Saudi Arabia. Would you be against this?

  • Habbabkuk

    The internet is terrible for allowing any supermarket aisle mutterer an easy (and undeserved) platform but it does have the advantage of allowing people to gain information about their leaders and aspirant leaders.

    Indeed, we see many excellent examples of this on this blog.

    With the added advantage that no one can assume he or she will be spared and that although all may run, none can hide.

  • Habbabkuk

    Is it possible that Ms Gill Kaffash – mentioned in the Torygraph article (with photo) – posts on this blog?

    • Sharp Ears

      Wonder why they chose Men-dick to produce that smear stuff which has been floating around on the net for ages. Of course, the trouble is that Labour are reducing the Tory lead and that Jeremy supports the Palestinians’ cause.

      A reminder of what Deir Yassin was. A massacre of Palestinians.

      Men-dick’s output is a mixture. For example, advertorials for hotels in the Scotsman, for Sir Philip Green’s Top Shop and London Fashion Week in the Mail and a lot of the usual Torygraph fillers. Not exactly a Pilger or a Gellhorn is he? And now AS stuff. Oh dear. They should have given him the Shai Masot story.

      He has done the rounds. Evening Standard and the Independent on Sunday too but there is no mention on the Journalisted entry. Mail yes.

  • Republicofscotland

    Meanwhile the utter shambles that is Brexit, has seen bungling Brexiteer David Davis, go on the offensive, by saying that Britain may walk away from any EU deal if it’s forced to pay €100 million divorce bill.

    Of course Davis is just posturing, in an attempt to soften a Brexit exit, that will see the average person on the street take a huge financial hit, whilst the Tories tighten their awful grip as they attempt to turn a divided British society, into a Dickensian one.

    • Anon1

      I seem to recall that you were rather against EU membership yourself? I mean we have you down in writing stating that a Scotland in the EU isn’t an independent Scotland at all.

      Like the SNP you just go whichever way the wind blows.

  • K Crosby

    The modern Shia-Sunni antagonism (note the hyphen not an oblique) looks like an invented tradition like prejudice against migrants here.

  • reel guid

    BBC Scotland tonight and Ruth Davidson, Willie Rennie, David Coburn and Kezia Dugdale will be competing in a ‘Who’s the Biggest Numpty?’ contest.

    Nicola Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie will be on hand to comment.

  • Dave

    The BBC is the state broadcaster and will reflect Westminster front bench/deep state opinion. But although the bias in annoying its influence can be overstated, because its mostly back ground noise and ignored. And the BBC saying its all about independence is done to hurt Labour rather than the SNP. It would only hurt the SNP if BBC went on to point out that the EU-independence on offer isn’t independence, but as they supported Remain I can understand a reluctance to do so.

    • -TC-

      With respect Dave, that’s cobblers. Because of its then-largely unionised workforce and de facto commitment to impartiality, Thatcher (with Murdoch’s encouragement) came to see poor old Auntie as somewhat of a fifth column in the ’80s. This perception (which by any sane measure has been untrue at least since Birt became DG) has become an article of faith amongst Thatcherite hardliners – to the extent that the Tories have been using the threat of slashing the licence fees to effectively hold the Beeb hostage since 2010, again with Murdoch egging them on from the wings.

  • Dave

    And holding everyone accountable for the actions of a company or country is a blood libel.

  • -TC-

    “The paradox is that the plunge of the United states firmly into the Sunni camp was precipitated by their realisation that, in removing Saddam Hussein, they had installed a Shia government in Iraq which was going to be highly susceptible to Iranian influence.”

    I’d be more inclined to say that the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz plan for the invasion of Iraq was almost entirely pinned on their desire to have unfettered control of the Iraqi oil fields after Saddam was deposed – a scenario which they had expected out of Desert Storm, only to be denied by Poppy Bush on the advice of the State Department and intelligence services who foresaw more-or-less exactly the outcome we see today. There was also the rather salient point that the Saudis – long associated with US policy in general and friendly with the Bush family in particular – naturally considered having a Shia-dominated state on their northern border to be a disastrous outcome – as the combination of Kuwait, Jordan and – especially – Iraq were acting as a buffer against any interference from (majority-Shia) Iran.

    It would seem that Cheney’s trio sold the 2003 invasion almost entirely on the certainty that they could install Ahmad Chalabi as leader with the quid-pro-quo of opening the oil fields up to favoured US firms. Chalabi was Shia, and he’d apparently assured them that he would be popular enough with “his” people to quell any unrest – and even if that didn’t pan out, they could use control of the oil fields as leverage over Chalabi to keep the Iraqi people in line. In some ways this would have been a similar approach to the 1953 UK/US coup d’etat which installed the Shah in Iran to prevent President Mossadegh (Iran’s democratically-elected, secular leader) nationalising the oil fields and depriving the firm which would later become BP of their most profitable assets. It would seem that, for his part, Chalabi sold the G.W. Bush Administration (which never encountered a bowdlerised WW2 analogy it didn’t like) on his return to Iraq being akin to De Gaulle’s return to Paris after the Nazis were driven from France.

    In the event, Iraq’s Shia population saw the guy not as the returned leader-in-exile he portrayed himself as, but as a coward who used his wealth and connections to escape the country just as Saddam’s persecution of the Shia really began to take hold. A further example of the woeful degree of cultural tone-deafness was the proposed flag for a Chalabi-led government, which eschewed the traditional Pan-Arabic white, red, green and black for what amounted to a near-facsimile of the blue-and-white Israeli flag with the Islamic Crescent substituted for the Star Of David ( ) – the diarrhoeal dressing on a faecal flatbread. Imagine De Gaulle proposing to abandon the Tricolore in favour of a copy of the Nazi flag with Marianne replacing the swastika within the circle – that’s how boneheaded and delusional Chalabi and his US backers had become.

    I can only assume that either the House of Saud had become (uncharacteristically) wary of rocking the boat given the involvement of their “wayward son” in the attacks which triggered these events, or that elements within the Bush Administration were (also uncharacteristically) keeping the Saudis at arms’ length during this period, because they would have known full well not only that Chalabi was selling a fantasy worthy of Munchausen and Mitty, but also that their long-dreaded worst-case scenario (a Shia-dominated state – friendly to Iran – on their northern border, as mentioned above) would almost certainly be the long-term outcome of what Chalabi and the Bush Administration had “cooked up”.

    I can see some posters have pointed out that what we tend to see portrayed as religious and cultural divisions are usually underpinned by economic motivations, and I suspect that Craig is well aware of that – after all, that is and always has been the “raison d’etre” of divide-and-conquer throughout recorded history (usually being easier to impose rule on a territory if you can thin the number of potential fighters by encouraging them to kill each other first).

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