Two days ago the State Department said that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal, then yesterday Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stomped all over that headline, saying the deal is a “failed approach” and the U.S. is reassessing Iran– with the suggestion that the U.S. might back out of the deal.
I regard Tillerson’s remarks as “performative,” to use the leftwing word for lip service. Donald Trump has also blustered about the deal. And there is one clear context for Tillerson’s remarks. The Trump’s administration’s dependence on a donor, Sheldon Adelson.
The same day that Tillerson woofed at Iran, it came out that Adelson had given $5 million to Trump’s inauguration festivities– the largest such donation in U.S. history, per the New York Times. We all know how important that celebration was for Trump.
Adelson was similarly generous to the Trump campaign. A year ago, Adelson “announced he will pour $100 million into the formerly self-funded Trump campaign,” per Newsweek. There was no clear bottom line on that spending through November. But it was a lot. $25 million, according to the Guardian, $35 million, according to the Forward,
Adelson’s one issue is Israel; and his view of Iran is entirely oppositional. In 2013 at Yeshiva University in New York, he called on the United States to nuke Iran– with Bret Stephens, since minted a New York Times columnist, sitting there scratching his forehead.
What are we going to negotiate about? I would say ‘Listen, you see that desert out there, I want to show you something.’ …You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say, ‘OK let it go.’ And so there’s an atomic weapon, goes over ballistic missiles, the middle of the desert, that doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever. Then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development.
The new ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley is also echoing the Adelson line. Bloomberg reports today:
On Thursday, Haley will try to turn the spotlight from Israel to Iran, the latest target of the Trump administration’s tough talk.
Haley, who holds the rotating presidency of the United Nations’ top decision-making body for April, wants to use a monthly meeting on “the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” to tackle Tehran’s role in Yemen and Syria and its support for Hezbollah, topics she sees as more central to the theme of Middle East peace.
Haley is also in the hole to Adelson. Last year Adelson gave $250,000 to a political committee in South Carolina that targeted opponents of then-Governor Haley:
Conservative mega-fundraisers Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers gave Gov. Nikki Haley’s political advocacy group a major infusion of cash to help in her bid to remove four Republican state Senate rivals in primaries this spring.
Adelson, a Las Vegas casino mogul who was the top Republican donor of the 2012 presidential campaign, sent $250,000 to Haley’s A Great Day SC three weeks before the June primaries.
The Koch brothers gave the group $50,000, according to quarterly Internal Revenue Service filings.
And Haley was the belle of the ball at the AIPAC conference last month, when she went on and on about kicking Israel’s enemies with her high heels and stomping on BDS and UN apartheid reports and even moderate Palestinian appointees at the U.N.
Ironically, Trump himself noted Adelson’s use of money to exert political influence. In October 2015, Trump warned that Adelson was going to own FL Senator Marco Rubio, making him his “perfect little puppet.”
Sheldon Adelson is looking to give big dollars to Rubio because he feels he can mold him into his perfect little puppet. I agree!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2015
But two months later, per Newsweek, Adelson and Trump met, and Trump said: “Sheldon knows that nobody will be more loyal to Israel than Donald Trump.”
Trump gave a rightwing pro-Israel speech to AIPAC, the Israel lobby group, last spring, reportedly written by his adviser, Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner (who fired me over Israel issues 10 years ago). Last summer, Politico reported that Kushner was “having direct conversations with billionaire Sheldon Adelson.”
Trump met with Adelson again in New York ahead of the Inauguration gift. Sean Spicer’s media call that day:
Finally, he met with Mr. Sheldon Adelson, the CEO of Los Angeles — Las Vegas Sands Corporations; A-D-E-L-S-O-N.
But as Lobelog pointed out, no one in the media took note of the meeting.
“Has Trump become Adelson’s perfect little puppet?” Jim Lobe and Eli Clifton asked. They said that Trump had pivoted on Israel issues during the campaign because of the financial influence of Adelson, as exercised through Ron Dermer and Jared Kushner:
Trump’s pivot reflects the growing influence on Trump of both Kushner and Dermer—and the desire to gain the Adelsons’ financial backing. Both Kushner and Dermer have become critical conduits to the multi-billionaire couple who, despite Sheldon’s early support for Rubio and Miriam’s for Cruz, ultimately became Trump’s biggest financial backer… Although [Adelson’s contribution] was considerably short of the roughly $100 million the Adelsons contributed to the Romney campaign in 2012, it was still more than the billionaire-candidate himself ploughed into his own election effort ($18.3 million, according to FEC filings).
Just as he did in the George W. Bush administration 16 years ago, Adelson has sought to create what Jim Lobe describes as a burgeoning neocon braintrust in the Trump administration. Money plays a big part:
Although Adelson has maintained a low profile since the inauguration, he clearly enjoys unusual access to both Kushner and Trump. Indeed, the fact that Sean Spicer reportedly apologized personally to Adelson, of all people, almost immediately after his “Holocaust center” fiasco last week serves as a helpful reminder that, as much as the various factions, institutions, and individuals jockey for power in the new administration, money—especially campaign cash—still talks in Washington. This is a reality that neoconservatives absorbed long ago.
Right: Spicer reached out to apologize to Adelson after he got it wrong about Hitler’s chemical attacks on his own people.
The warhorse Elliott Abrams keeps getting ready to serve in the Trump administration. He gave an interview to Politico, repeatedly praising Jared Kushner’s judgment.
As for his own future with Trump, Abrams teased that it may still be in front of him, depending on how things shape up with [Stephen] Bannon and Kushner, the latter of whom he kept going out of his way to praise.
The only way Adelson’s influence will end is if the media make a lot of what is a corrupt process; and Adelson’s actions get politicized. That won’t be happening any time soon.