Things Are Getting Curiouser And Curiouser With The Ex-Prime Minister Of Lebanon. And Trump Seems To Have Already Picked A Side
The splashy purge of members of the Saudi royal family by ambitious and obdurate Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is pushing a conflict with potentially much greater global impact into the background. That’s a strong escalation in a long-brewing feud between Saudi Arabia and Iran over Lebanon.
At about the same time as the purge was happening, Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad al-Hariri, began acting very strangely. Hariri, who has strong ties to the Saudi Kingdom, suddenly appeared there, where he announced his resignation. He has not returned to Lebanon since.
Reuters, which has been way ahead on this story today reports Hariri, in an interview on a TV station he owns, says he will return this week, to reaffirm his decision to quit. At the same time he also hinted at a scenario where he might take back his resignation.
Reuters continues to assert that “top Lebanese government officials and senior sources close to” the ex-Prime Minister believe he is being held in Saudi Arabia against his will. Lebanon’s President is refusing to accept Hariri’s resignation unless it is tendered in person, in Lebanon.
The general idea being Saudi leadership feels Hariri wasn’t strongly devoted enough to crushing Iran’s ambitions in Lebanon. Iran is often accused of using the Hezbollah militant group to do its dirty work. And the Saudis blame Iran for an attempted missile attack on the country’s main airport in Riyadh last week.
So is this all a case of Hariri being “scared straight”?
The Saudis deny that, and to combat the rumors, the Saudi news agency published a photo from this week-end of Hariri greeting Saudi King Salman. Problem is it proves nothing: it’s exactly the kind of photo you would publish if you were trying to prove someone was not being held against their will. Better proof would be him returning to Lebanon.
Also raising eyebrows, a surprise appearance in Saudi Arabia by French President Emmanuel Macron. Lebanon was once a French colony, and it still sometimes steps in to mediate disputes. Also, Saudi Arabia and some of its regional allies ordered their citizens to leave Lebanon ASAP.
Trump’s position on this one is easy: the Saudis are his BFFs (he’s even Tweeted in praise of the purge). Iran is his sworn enemy (in large party because Obama had the temerity to do a deal with them.)
We Were Wondering If Trump Would “Wear The Shirts”. He Is. Also, He Warmly Greets The Brutal Leader Of The Philippines
Trump moved on to the Philippines today. And it’s become something of a tradition at Asia summits for world leaders to put on matching garments representative of the host country for a group photo-op. It’s a little bit of a show of unity, and a little bit for people seeing their leaders not taking themselves too seriously. So we’d wondered if Trump–given his obsession with personal appearance, and always dead serious–would do it.
In Vietnam, the choice of a blue shirt (that actually looks pretty good on him) was pretty tame as far as APEC outfits go. But perhaps the fact that Putin also did it maybe helped, because Trump always wants to do what the cool kids are doing…
Moving on to the Philippines, Trump donned a far less flattering outfit when he warmly greeted that country’s President Rodrigo Duterte.
What the U.S. media is mostly looking at its whether Trump and Duterte warm to each other, after the Philippine President was downright hostile to President Obama. Which apparently they did: at least partly bonding over how much they both dislike Obama. It also helped that depending on whether you listen to the White House or the Philippine President’s Press Secretary, Trump only brought up human rights abuses very briefly, or not at all. Duterte’s been accused of authorizing police and private hit squads to gun down of thousands of suspected drug dealers and users. As we always do when we mention him in a story, we link to this Pulitzer Prize winning photo essay from the New York Times.
But for many of the attendees, territorial and shipping disputes with China over the South China Sea is far more important. Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei, all have ongoing disputes with China. Trump over the weekend offered to help mediate, now that he’s good friends with China.
We think Trump may have inadvertently weighed in on the issue when he pulled the U.S. out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, which specifically excluded China. It’s unclear to us though exactly how that may play out: China may now decide to “play fair” with regional neighbors in order to entice them into a trade pact it’s promoting, or it may feel with the U.S. out of the picture, it no longer has to.
Trans-Pacific Partnership Gives It A Go Without The U.S.
That could be part of why most TPP countries are at least making a show of continuing it anyway. Simultaneous to the APEC meeting in Vietnam, where Trump made a blistering speech accusing other countries of being unfair to the U.S. on trade, most of the countries that would’ve been part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership until Trump pulled out, said they’re still coming together, U.S. or no.
The new proposed pact includes powerhouses such as Japan and Australia. And Mexico and Canada, which could really benefit if Trump also decides to pull out of NAFTA.
Frankly, it’s hard to tell whether the incredibly complex Trans Pacific Partnership would’ve been a huge boon to all participants or the job-sucking free-for-all both Trump and Bernie Sanders were convinced it would’ve become.
But one thing’s for certain: the determination of emerging economies in the region to continue with it, or something like it anyway, sends a strong message that they would rather do business with anyone but China. China wasn’t in the TPP; it’s not in this new deal either. Although the reality of the situation is President Xi’s competing new Silk Road initiative is still the odds-on favorite with China moving aggressively and Trump still brooding on the sidelines.
Plus, after a day of orchestrated adoration, Trump is now China’s BFF… Along Along with Saudi Arabia… Along with Russia. Countries that all have a sterling reputation for “fair play”.
The new regional deal won’t simply still be called TPP, now instead it’s “Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership“. We’ve said this before: bureaucrats need to get out of the trade-deal-naming business: just call the damn thing the “F*ck China Protocols” and everybody will have a hell of an easier time understanding and selling it.
The One Thing That Would Totally Damn Roy Moore Is Also One Thing That Could Save Him
We’ve yet to see a photo of a Roy Moore in his 30’s making time with a high school girl, and while the anecdotal evidence against him seems overwhelming, an image would certainly be helpful in quieting the people defending him. Meanwhile, the absence of at least one photo could leave it as the he-said/she-said it’s becoming. A fact Moore seems to be latching on to as he rededicates his campaign to bringing America “back to God”.
While not as ubiquitous as they are now, photos did exist back then! You just had to take a picture with a camera and get it developed. So if someone’s got one: now’s the time.
Meanwhile Breitbart seems to have exhausted its list of outside agitators to blame for Moore’s predicament, so it’s looped back around to the Washington Post. Breitbart’s big “scoop” today: the Post approached the women interviewed for its article, not the other way around. Which the Post reported from day one. Which when you think about it makes the story more credible, not less.
But of course Breitbart isn’t trying to change anyone’s mind: they’re trying to get people to vote for Moore out of indignation at the Washington Post, rather than adoration of the man.