If it’s seemed like things have been a little sparse around here this week, it’s because, at the cost of a little sleep and a lot of sanity, I’ve been heavily covering the Trump transition for LobeLog. I haven’t been posting links to those stories here because I wanted to wait until I had reached a pause, at least, in the process, and the chaos surrounding the transition dragged on all week. But here’s a whole slew of things to read at LobeLog, going back to last week–some by me, some by other people–that will enlighten and inform you about our imminent descent into madness.
My first reaction to Trump’s election was that the Iran deal, which has kind of been a focus of mine, was in serious trouble. I struck probably a maximally pessimistic tone, so if you prefer a more optimistic one, check out this one from Iran expert Esfandyar Batmanghelidj. Either way, handling the Iran deal is going to be one of Trump’s biggest diplomatic tests. Yesterday I covered a report issued by the National Iranian American Council arguing that Trump should expand on the deal rather than tearing it up, but frankly I think if it survives his administration at all we should consider ourselves lucky.
My second reaction to Trump’s election was to note all the loud cheering coming from Israel, where, for example right-wing Education Minister Naftali Bennett cried that “the era of a Palestinian state is over.” That must have been a pretty short era, because I totally missed it.
Then this week I got into the transition proper. On Tuesday I wrote about the early front-runners for Secretary of State, Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton:, and on Wednesday I wrote about the many, many names under consideration for Secretary of Defense, a list that at the time was headlined by Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, the genteel old timey southern white supremacist who has since opted to become Trump’s Attorney General. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton may be at the head of the line now. Or not.
Yesterday I went in a slightly different direction and wrote about the collection of frightening characters Trump seems to be accumulating around him on national security:
At a campaign fund-raising event in early September, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said that “you can put half of [Donald] Trump supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables.’ Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it.” Clinton apologized for these remarks the next day, saying “I regret saying ‘half’ – that was wrong.”
Her characterization of Trump’s supporters may well have been too “grossly generalistic,” in her words. But as Donald Trump’s national security team begins—albeit chaotically—to take shape, it’s becoming clear that Trump does have a “basket of deplorables” around him. And many of them are going to wind up serving in his administration.
One of them was Michael Flynn, Trump’s new National Security Advisor, but there are plenty more where he came from.
Today I wrote about some of the new names on Trump’s Secretary of State list, including (apparently) Mitt Romney and Nikki Haley, and offered a guess as to why Giuliani and Bolton have each failed to close the deal. In Giuliani’s case there are serious ethics concerns involved in his post-mayoral lobbying work to consider, and for both of them there are clear problems in terms of their potential Senate confirmation hearings:
Both Giuliani and Bolton, who is also still very much in the mix, may find themselves facing opposition from Senate Republicans. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, whose foreign policy views run toward non-interventionism, has said that he would oppose either man if nominated since both “have made it clear that they favor bombing Iran.” Paul, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could, in theory, join with committee Democrats to vote against recommending Trump’s nominee to the full Senate—Republicans have only a one vote majority on the committee, so Paul’s vote could be decisive. This would not block the nomination from going through, but would embarrass the nominee, and Trump, and could lead to Republican in-fighting.
Trump hasn’t even made most of his national security picks, so it’s too early to say for certain what his administration will look like overall (though the selection of Flynn is a pretty big, and frightening, signal). But there are a few trends that seem to be cropping up, and one of the main ones is strident opposition to the Iran deal. Flynn is a definite opponent, and there’s a real (and really kind of odd) pattern among Trump’s team toward people with ties to the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), the exiled Iranian opposition group that used to be on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations until they hired enough splashy lobbyists, like Giuliani and would-be DNC chairman Howard Dean, to get themselves off of it. It also seems pretty clear that Sheldon Adelson, the very rich guy who thinks it might be fun to nuke Iran, will have major influence in Trump’s administration, seeing as how his money helped get Trump elected.
Here are a couple of other pieces that might be of interest:
- If you were thinking that Trump is going to be a Russian puppet, Hannah Gais suggests that Moscow really isn’t expecting Trump to do very much to change US-Russia relations.
- Former CIA analyst Emile Nakhleh offers a “primer” to the incoming president on the state of the Middle East that includes some excellent ideas that I feel comfortable saying Trump won’t follow.
With the state of my sleeplessness and burnout nearing all-time highs and with the US Thanksgiving holiday coming up next week, things are going to slow down here for a little while. I’ll be posting, but probably infrequently and more “quick hit” type things until after the holiday. Thanks for reading and, if you’re celebrating, Happy Thanksgiving!