I've written in the past about how I don't prefer to read current events books when they're initially published, rather like to read them 10-20 years later. That way, many things that would otherwise mean nothing when you read them on the publication date often marinate over time and take on substantive meaning later on. (For instance, I once read a current events book on Washington, D.C. -- but 30 years after publication. There was a passage about a congressman speaking about the importance of transparency and good government, and why being open with the public is so critical to democracy. It was quite noble. And it would have meant nothing at the time that some then-little-known congressman made the statement. But 30 years after the fact, it leaped out that this "noble" statement was made by Dick Cheney.)
Anyway, I made a rare exception by buying Bob Woodward's book Fear upon publication. It just seemed like an important book to read now. However, I put it aside for five weeks because I thought it would make good reading material for my two-day train trip, and wanted to be sure I didn't finish it before taking off.
What a difference even just five weeks makes. Had I read the book when I first received it, the passage in question would have meant nothing. But with only a mere five weeks delay, it leaped out.
Beginning on page 110, Woodward talks about Derek Harvey, director for the Middle East on the National Security Council Staff, who has gone to see Jared Kushner. "'What do you think about the president going to Riyadh for our first presidential trip,' Kushner asked." Harvey was pleased to learn from Kushner that the first presidential trip would not be to Canada or Mexico, as was usual, but rather to Saudi Arabia.
Woodward continues on the next page --
"Kushner told Harvey he had important and reliable intelligence that the key to Saui Arabia was the deputy crown prince, the charismatic 31-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS. The son of the Saudi king, MBS was also the defense minister, a key position and launching pad for influence in the Kingdom. MBS had vision, energy. He was charming and spoke of bold, modernizing reform."
On the other hand, then-National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster had hesitancies and "clearly disliked the out-of-channel approach but there was not much he could do with it" since Kushner was pushing the matter and had Trump's ear. Among McMaster's significant concerns, there was a problem of causing friction in the royal family. But in a meeting, Kushner held his ground and pushed his case to support "MBS." Not only did he insist it was important to meet with Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince for the politics, but also for the business deal that could come of it.
"'I understand this is very ambitious,' the president's son-in-law said. He stood. 'I understand the concerns. But I think we have a real opportunity here. We have to recognize it. I understand we have to be careful. We need to work this diligently, as if it's going to happen. And if it looks like we cant get there, we'll have plenty of time to shift gears. But this is an opportunity that is there for the seizing.'"
Woodward continues. "No one said no. Harvey knew they really couldn't, and he continued to plan as if it was going to happen. He set some thresholds, decided that they would have to have over $100 billion in military contracts agree on beforehand."
And now the Trump administration is in this horrific and untenable situation of defending the ever-changing cockamamie stories from Saudi Arabia trying to explain away the Crown Prince's involvement with killing and dismemberment of an American permanent resident, with American children, and who was working as a journalist for an American newspaper. All because of a potential, national business deal and previous personal business connections.
Showing once again why nepotism is quite frowned upon when it comes to hiring advisers at the White House, especially high level ones. And most especially when the person has absolutely no experience in international diplomacy. Particularly when they have massive, personal money problems and are looking for friends to help bail them out. And the president has his own business dealings without financial disclosure. No, this $100 billion opportunity was not a good one to seize.
And had I read the passage only five weeks ago, it would have zipped past.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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