Donald Trump’s shocking statement Tuesday giving the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia a pass on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was titled “America First!” but twice mentioned Israel’s interests, saying Israel needs to have the US “remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia.” The statement also parroted Israeli talking points by identifying Iran as the leading malefactor in the world. As if Hezbollah and Hamas are threats to the U.S.
Trump’s use of Israel’s interests to deflect criticism of his indifference to the murder was noted with concern by the Israeli press: as an embarrassment to Israel, which Benjamin Netanyahu had brought on himself by adopting the same line as Trump.
But our press is in the business of downplaying Israel’s influence, so it largely ignored the Israel angle.
Commentators were quick to say that Trump had grossly inflated the amount of money the Saudi relationship is worth to the United States, though no one was pointing out what Trump’s ferociously pro-Israel policies have been worth to him: the generosity of three billionaires, chief among them Sheldon Adelson and wife Miriam, who have given some $150 million to Republican campaigns in the last 3 years or so. And by the way, Miriam received the presidential medal of freedom last week, along with Elvis and Babe Ruth and Alan Page.
Trump warned in his statement that if the U.S. loses those billions in Saudi arms deals, they’ll go to our rivals Russia and China. This is a reminder of the fact that whatever Russia did to swing the 2016 election in Trump’s favor, it made a hash of it: Trump hasn’t stayed bought. He’s increased sanctions on Russia and is taking on the Russia-Iran alliance in Syria, and demonizing Iran.
I have no doubt that Russia interfered in the election and that the Trump campaign was corrupted by its desire to get Russian help. The evidence about that June 2016 meeting by Donald Trump Jr. with Russians in Trump Tower at which the easing of sanctions was discussed in apparent exchange for Russian dirt on Clinton is strong, and in that famous press conference in Helsinki, “it was hard to believe Trump could have acted as he did unless Putin had some sort of hold over him,” as David Bromwich wrote in the LRB.
Yet “Russia remains the obsessional concern” for the mainstream media, as Bromwich said, and the result is stories reminiscent of Cold War indoctrination campaigns. We’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys. A series of New York Times Russia-for-dummies videos — Operation Infektion — have duly showed up on NPR and PBS and the graphics even look like 1950s propaganda. The media almost never talk about our interference in Russian elections. Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon University figures that between 1946 and 2000, the US intervened in 81 foreign elections, while Russia interfered in 36; and that includes the Ukraine on Russia’s doorstep.
The New York Times’s sleuth on Russian disinformation, Adam Ellick, said last week on NPR that Russia relied on “useful idiots” to spread its lies: “they also kind of have to be an idiot because they need to be able either to be willing to pass it on or they need to genuinely believe it.” But how many American opinion editors ever talk about the “useful idiots” among them “prominent figures in the North American liberal establishment,” who were crucial to launching the great blunder of the war in Iraq, as Tony Judt wrote years ago in the London Review of Books. Just as it was in the London Review of Books that Bromwich warned that these liberals have learned nothing from their mistake.
the unipolar press that in 2003 overwhelmingly endorsed the Iraq War. From the New York Times and the New Yorker to CNN and MSNBC, nothing has changed in the mentality of the people who arrived at that verdict 15 years ago; and the next Democratic president, if there is one, will be under pressure to mount continuous threats against a nuclear power the Democrats have gone back to calling an adversary.
The American press has a limitless ability to ignore what it needs to ignore. Robert Worth just wrote an excellent story on Saudi’s Yemen genocide for the New York Times, including a focus on the U.S. role in backing the slaughter. But Worth also admitted that Yemen simply wasn’t a story for four years. Why not? Terry Gross asked. Well, because the press decided not to make it a story:
I would ask myself – you know, I’ve got two young children – do I want to risk my life for this story which not that many people here care about? And for years, the answer was essentially no… [W]hen I would talk to my editors about Yemen, I got the sense that they felt – well, you know, we already have one big Arab war that is filling everybody’s consciousness to the extent that they care about the Middle East at all.
The press is also obsessed with Russia and WikiLeaks. Chris Matthews posts clip after clip of Trump citing WikiLeaks on the campaign trail in 2016, as if WikiLeaks, allegedly provided to us by the GRU or Russian intelligence directorate, is what got him elected.
Was that really the case? Were swing voters really moved by what they learned in Wikileaks? Maybe it’s true: that an aura of corruption in the Democratic National Committee, fostered by WikiLeaks, hurt Clinton. Certainly this election came down to a few thousand voters, so it’s hard to say just what was in the balance.
There are problems with blaming WikiLeaks. One is cultural, it’s just another tribal iteration of elites vs. deplorables. The liberal press liked Clinton, and no one they know voted for Trump, so they are too eager to believe that Trump voters were stupid people brainwashed by Russians rather than voters acting as voters do, on the basis of their own prejudices, values, and interests. Hillary Clinton actually is a neoliberal globalist (as the WikiLeaks speeches reminded us), and was correctly seen as pro-war and pro-regime change in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, states that had suffered higher casualty rates than other states during all our adventures in the Middle East.
Also, even if Russian hackers supplied them, WikiLeaks was true; and as usual, the mainstream press ignored what it wanted to ignore: the evidence in WikiLeaks that Hillary Clinton was all but selling her stances on Israel to the lobby. Clinton issued a statement in 2015 to lobby boss Malcolm Hoenlein distancing herself from Obama’s policies on Israel so as to please Haim Saban and other big donors. And Stu Eizenstat, her Jewish liaison, met with Netanyahu to figure out just how soon after taking office Clinton would invite Netanyahu to the White House to clear the fumes left by Obama, as well as just how Clinton would attack the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, BDS, which has caused Israel fits, so as to compensate for her backing Obama on the Iran deal.
But paying too much attention to the Israel lobby is considered anti-Semitic; so the press gave these Wiki-revelations a pass. Though if Trump’s victory came down to a handful of people who couldn’t make up their minds, you could as easily blame Sheldon Adelson’s corrupting influence–Adelson who wanted Obama to nuke Iran and who tells young Jews they must be “emissaries” for Israel and “fight for us”– as the Russians’.
Sadly, Trump won and tore up the Iran deal. His statement on Saudi Arabia shows that he is now in the same business as Clinton in her WikiLeaks dance steps, conflating Israeli and American interests so as to curry favor with donors.
The Israeli press is right to see a danger here. The Khashoggi story is embarrassing in a way that the Yemen genocide is not; and Trump has now put the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel in the same boat, as rogue warriors and assassins. In a few years maybe that will be the story.
Thanks to Donald Johnson and Jefferson Morley, of Deep State.