During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump attacked Hillary Clinton for accepting money from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, complaining during one of the debates, “These are people that kill women and treat women horribly and yet you take their money.”
That was, of course, before he made his first foreign visit as president to Saudi Arabia—and accepted dozens of gifts from the kingdom. In fact, during Trump’s visit, the White House accepted at least 83 separate gifts from Saudi Arabia, according to a document The Daily Beast has obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request to the State Department.
The gifts range from the regal (“Artwork featuring picture of President Trump”) to the martial (multiple swords, daggers, leather ammo holders and holsters), to the baroque (tiger and cheetah fur robes, and a dagger made of pure silver with a mother of pearl sheath). Now when the president is contemplating the state of Saudi women’s rights, he can do so before a “large canvas artwork depicting [a] Saudi woman.”
Surprise, surprise, surprise, as a much better man named Jim once said before me.
Amusing as the gifts may be, they are emblematic of a more serious issue: Trump’s embrace of the Saudi regime, a stark reversal from his campaign rhetoric. During the campaign, Trump accused the regime of everything from being responsible for 9/11 to failing to “reimburse us the way we should be reimbursed,” going so far as to threaten to stop buying their oil if they didn’t shape up.
Trump’s decision to make his first foreign visit to Saudi Arabia was a singular one, breaking with a long-standing presidential tradition of first visiting Mexico or Canada.
“Trump’s decision to visit Saudi first clearly signaled his top prioritization of America’s most profitable relationship with its number one weapons client in the world,” Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division, told The Daily Beast.
No less noteworthy than the visit itself was the administration’s conduct during it. During the visit, the Trump administration announced a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudis, totaling $350 billion over 10 years. This represented a decisive reversal of the Obama administration’s 2016 policy of blocking certain arms sales to the regime because of civilian deaths in Yemen.
And yet this wouldn't even make the top 20 impeachable violations of the first seven months and change of the Trump regime. Hell, it would barely make the top 100.
We still see the poison fruits of this deal too, a green light on a Saudi blockade of Qatar that is going into month four and now open calls for regime change in Doha.
A leading voice in Qatar’s political opposition has thrown his support behind an emerging contender for emir, asserting that new leadership in Doha is the only way to resolve a regional crisis over its policies.
Khalid al-Hail, currently exiled in London after being imprisoned and tortured by the government in 2014, told The Jerusalem Post that a consensus candidate has emerged in his conversations with those in Doha’s political class seeking an end to the current Qatari regime.
That figure – Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Jassim al-Thani – recently met with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman at his summer home in Morocco, and the nation’s crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman.
Qatar’s emir, Tamim bin Hamad, has in recent years reinforced his country’s support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, to the ire of Sunni powers and the United States.
As a result, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut all diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar on June 5. Together they refuse to normalize ties until Doha changes course, and pivots from its alliance with Iran.
The crisis has shaken Qatar’s economy and the power dynamics of the region, striking fear in some that rising tensions there may lead to an armed conflict.
“I consider it a long-term crisis, specifically because the Qatari government refuses to respond and cooperate with the international community in order to reach a resolution,” Hail said in a phone interview from London, speaking through his translator. “The only possible scenario [to end the crisis] is a new emir – and I don’t see an imminent compromise.”
Yet Hail suggested Abdullah bin Ali might be that candidate, eventually.
“He is an accepted personality both in the country and in the region, and therefore there are many voices in Qatar who support this person to be appointed the next emir in the country,” Hail said.
A quiet coup for the House of Saud as they appoint a satrap while America looks the other way? No wonder Trump is getting a boatload of gifts.
And this is only the beginning, I suspect. From one oppressive regime to another.