MIT decides it likes money more than morals

This is very disappointing:

MIT should maintain its financial and research ties to Saudi Arabia, despite the kingdom’s involvement in a civil war and humanitarian crisis in neighboring Yemen, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s suspected links to the brutal killing of a journalist, an internal university report recommends.

In some ways their explanation is worse than the act:

“It is true that those organizations are part of a government that has been implicated in the murder of journalist Khashoggi, that is pursuing repressive policies at home, and whose participation in the Yemeni civil war has been widely condemned,” wrote Richard K. Lester, the associate provost of international activities, in the report.

But terminating MIT’s engagement wouldn’t have “any meaningful ameliorative effect on those actions. On the positive side, these organizations are supporting important research and activities at MIT on terms that honor our principles and comply with our policies,” according to the report.

Wow, so I shouldn’t vote because one vote doesn’t have much of an impact. For the same reason, I shouldn’t recycle or give money to charities (and none of us peons should give to MIT) or be nice to people or well anything–after all, I’m only one non-rich, non-influential person. He should give anti-inspirational talks. Also, the organizations are obviously trying to buy a better reputation and Lester has bought it:

“The judgment I’ve reached was not driven by financial considerations,” Lester said in an interview on Thursday. “We’ve had the relationships with good people, who are trying to do good things. . . . We are not going to punish them for the actions of their leaders.”

The leaders of these organizations are the leaders of the country–MIT is directly rewarding people who have done all the terrible things he mentioned above.

Trump tries to help Saudis

As Kevin Drum notes, this is pretty disgusting:

Trump administration officials last month asked federal law enforcement agencies to examine legal ways of removing exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen in an attempt to persuade Erdogan to ease pressure on the Saudi government, the four sources said.

The effort includes directives to the Justice Department and FBI that officials reopen Turkey’s case for his extradition, as well as a request to the Homeland Security Department for information about his legal status, the four people said.

Trump and Erdogan also recently discussed another option to relieve tensions — the release of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was sentenced in May to 32 months in prison by a U.S. federal judge for his role in a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran, two people familiar with the discussion said. Erdogan has criticized the case against Atilla as a political attack aimed at undermining his government.

Erdogan has wanted to extradite Gulen for years because he claims Gulen was behind the attempted coup against Erdogan, but the US hasn’t complied because there is no real evidence, Now the Trump administration would be willing to give up this long time resident of the US to ease pressure on Saudi Arabia after they killed another long time US resident. And, as KD notes, this isn’t the first time that the Trump administration has been willing to give up Gulen:

A year ago the Wall Street Journal passed along a remarkable story about Michael Flynn, the crackpot National Security Advisor appointed by Donald Trump in late 2016 and then fired in early 2017. According to the Journal, Flynn and his son met in 2016 with some associates of Erdoğan who proposed to pay the Flynns $15 million to secretly kidnap Gulen and fly him to Turkey. This was in September, while Flynn was a top campaign surrogate for Trump. A second meeting was held in December, after Flynn had already been appointed NSA.

Now it seems there is pushback from the deep state:

The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month, contradicting the Saudi government’s claims that he was not involved in the killing, according to people familiar with the matter.

The CIA’s assessment, in which officials have said they have high confidence, is the most definitive to date linking Mohammed to the operation and complicates the Trump administration’s efforts to preserve its relationship with a close ally. A team of 15 Saudi agents flew to Istanbul on government aircraft in October and killed Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate, where he had come to pick up documents that he needed for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman.

In reaching its conclusions, the CIA examined multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi, according to the people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence. Khalid told Khashoggi, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post, that he should go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so.

The Trump administration really wants to work with the Saudis, after all Jared Kushner is best friends with the prince, even if it means sacrificing a US resident or two, we’ll see what other Republicans say.

Trump, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Iran

Saudi Arabia is mad at Canada:

Saudi Arabia said on Sunday that it is ordering Canada’s ambassador to leave the country and freezing all new trade and investment transactions with Canada in a spat over human rights.

“We consider the Canadian ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia persona non grata and order him to leave within the next 24 hours,” Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry said on Twitter.

Why? It seems because of this tweet:

Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists.

That’s obviously a terrible thing:

The Saudi Foreign Ministry called the use of “immediately release” in Canada’s tweet “unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable in relations between states.”

It dismissed Canada’s characterization of the activists as “an incorrect claim” and said Canada’s attitude was “surprising.”

“Any other attempt to interfere with our internal affairs from Canada, means that we are allowed to interfere in Canada’s internal affairs,” it said.

Canada replied as they should:

A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a brief response to the Saudi complaint on Sunday evening.

“We are seriously concerned by these media reports and are seeking greater clarity on the recent statement from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Marie-Pier Baril.

“Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, very much including women’s rights, and freedom of expression around the world. Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and believes that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy.”

This reaction is typical of Saudi Arabia:

The dispute with Canada is part of a larger pushback against external criticism, analysts say. Germany similarly has found itself targeted by the kingdom in recent months over comments by its officials on the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

It’s also not the first time Saudi Arabia has lashed out diplomatically over the Badawi case. In 2015, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Sweden and stopped issuing work visas for Swedes after the Scandinavian country’s foreign minister described the Badawi court decision as “medieval” and the kingdom’s ruling Al Saud family as presiding over a “dictatorship.”

Normally, the US would be expected to back up an ally like Canada but:

Analysts say the dispute between Riyadh and Ottawa shows Saudi Arabia won’t accept any outside criticism and will continue flexing its muscles abroad, especially as the kingdom enjoys a closer relationship with President Donald Trump.

In a (hopefully) coincidence, today is the day US sanctions on Iran are renewed:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran will be rigorously enforced and remain in place until the Iranian government radically changes course.

‘‘We’re hopeful that we can find a way to move forward but it’s going to require enormous change on the part of the Iranian regime,’’ he said Sunday. ‘‘They’ve got to behave like a normal country. That’s the ask. It’s pretty simple.’’

Since the Trump administration hasn’t said anything about Saudi Arabia, I guess they consider their actions to Canada’s statements to be normal?

 

John Kerry is on the wrong side

Let’s look at how things are going in Yemen and Bahrain:

Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of gulf countries conducting airstrikes against the Iranian-backed Houthis. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, whose country chairs the GCC, said relations with Iran will be chilly until the country ends its interventionist policies.

“We stressed that if Iran wants to have normal relations with the GCC states, it has to change its policies and abide by the good-neighborhood principle,” he said.

Wait, Saudi Arabia is directly involved in Yemen but it’s Iran who needs to end its interventionist policies?  Has Iran done this?

A Saudi-led coalition battling Shiite rebels and their allies in Yemen used U.S.-supplied bombs in an airstrike last month on a market that killed at least 119 people, a human rights group said Thursday, further highlighting American involvement in the conflict.

The March 15 bombing targeting the northwestern town of Mastaba marked the second-deadliest airstrike of the year-long Saudi-helmed campaign — and the results were horrific. Survivors said the outdoor market, next to a shantytown inhabited largely by people who fled there from other battle zones, was obliterated by double strikes that came about 10 minutes apart, with mangled bodies thrown hundreds of yards away.

And has Iran allowed this?

Al-Qaeda has made major financial gains as a result of the war in Yemen, running its own mini-state and pocketing $100 million in looted bank deposits and revenue from running the country’s largest port, a Reuters investigation has revealed.

The group’s deep pockets and increased power are down to the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, which has reportedly helped it become stronger than at any time since its emergence almost 20 years ago.

Iran has been sending weapons to Yemen, but given the above this statement by John Kerry sounds more than a little hypocritical:

“If Iran is going to give meaning to the words in the last few days about wanting to work with people, it is by getting engaged in making peace in Yemen, not adding more weapons and fueling the conflict,” Kerry said.

And he’s worse when talking about Bahrain:

Referring to Bahrain earlier in the day, Kerry criticized the Bahraini opposition, saying its boycott of a 2014 election had a “polarizing” effect.

Kerry, appearing with Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, praised reforms Bahrain has made to open its political system but said more steps were needed to counter violent extremism. He suggested that the opposition had played a role in preventing more reforms.

“Regrettably, I think a great mistake was made when the opposition chose to boycott an election,” said Kerry, the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Bahrain since a government crackdown that followed protests in 2011 by Bahrain’s majority Shiite Muslims. “I think that polarizes things rather than helps them.”

Standing beside the foreign minister, Kerry hailed Bahrain as a “critical security partner” of the United States and said security was the foundation of the relationship between the countries.

“At the end, our relation with Bahrain is built on common interests that we share, and one of those interests is joint efforts to combat violent extremism,” Kerry said. “We believe that broadening rights and opportunities, bringing people together in the political process, is one of the ways to counter it.”

Let’s look at the Freedom House’s ratings for Bahrain:

Bahrain’s political rights rating declined from 6 to 7 due to grave flaws in the 2014 legislative elections and the government’s unwillingness to address long-standing grievances among the majority Shiite community about the drawing of electoral districts and the possibility of fair representation.

Their conclusion: Not Free.

But Freedom House breaks things down further (the scores are out of 100 where 0 is the best, 100 the worst):

If you look at the aggregate score of Bahrain, you find they have a score of 14 (in this case, higher is better)–only 16 regions have worse scores (out of 211 entries; they are 12th worst when you only count countries–the rankings include places like Tibet and Crimea which are disputed regions in a country).

So, Bahrain is a pretty bad country that John Kerry should not be praising. Oh, and Saudi Arabia is even worse (the 10th worst country; Iran is slightly better at 20th worst).

Our Ally

What’s going on in Yemen?

The United States on Tuesday sponsored a United Nations Security Council session intended to draw attention to the dire consequences of the war in Yemen, but the meeting also raised questions about potential crimes committed by a Saudi-led military offensive that the Pentagon actively supports.
The United States refuels military jets and provides intelligence support to the military coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, that is trying to defeat Houthi insurgents in Yemen. Since those airstrikes began in March, more than 2,700 civilians have been killed, dozens of schools and hospitals have been attacked and the United Nations has warned of breaches of international law.
But during the session on Tuesday, the United Nations’ top human rights official said that the Saudi-led coalition bore the greatest responsibility for the civilian carnage. The official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the high commissioner for human rights, said that while both sides in the conflict had engaged in attacks on civilians, “a disproportionate amount appeared to be the result of airstrikes carried out by coalition forces.”
Wow, so Saudi Arabia is committing war crimes with weapons and intelligence supplied by the US. I assume now that it’s clear, the US will change its support:
Despite those conversations, the Obama administration has not blocked a $129 million weapons deal with Saudi Arabia. It has also not suggested that it would withdraw its support for the Saudi-led operations, nor said that it would conduct its own investigations into military airstrikes that might amount to serious crimes.
Oh well, never mind. At least Saudi Arabia is helping control the spread of ISIS and al-Qaeda:
Nine months of war between a Saudi-led military coalition and a Yemeni rebel group have left thousands of civilians dead, a nation gravely polarized and the land strewn with debris, mines and unexploded bombs.
The conflict has produced another bitter legacy: a new branch of the Islamic State that has quietly grown in strength and appears determined to distinguish itself as Yemen’s most disruptive and brutal force, carrying out attacks considered too extreme even by the country’s branch of Al Qaeda.
Both the Islamic State and Al Qaeda have profited from a security vacuum while trying to rally Yemen’s Sunnis against the Shiite-led rebels, known as the Houthis, who are from the north, analysts say. Crucially, the groups have both faced little or no resistance from the Saudi-led coalition and its allies, which are focused on defeating the Houthis.
Well fuck, it seems the US is on the same side as al-Qaeda and ISIS in Yemen. Great work that.

Whose side are we on?

Yemen is a mess:

Saudi-led air strikes on a missile depot in Yemen’s rebel-held capital Monday sparked explosions that left at least 18 people dead and 300 wounded, flattening houses and shaking faraway neighbourhoods.

The Shiite rebels have seized control of large parts of the Arabian Peninsula nation, including Sanaa, and fought fierce battles with pro-government forces.

A coalition of Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia launched the air campaign against the rebels last month, vowing to restore the authority of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled to Riyadh as the militiamen advanced on his southern stronghold of Aden.

The coalition says it has carried out more than 2,000 strikes since the start of the campaign, gaining complete control of Yemeni airspace and knocking out rebel infrastructure.

The United Nations says the fighting and air strikes have left hundreds dead and thousands wounded, and there has been increasing concern of a huge humanitarian crisis.

Also:

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which was long forced into the shadows by U.S. drone strikes and commando raids, has taken advantage of the growing chaos in Yemen’s multi-sided war to carve out a potential haven that counter-terrorism experts say could help it launch terrorist attacks.

After seizing a regional airport and a coastal oil terminal this week, Al Qaeda militants consolidated their gains Friday in Mukalla, an Arabian Sea port. Fighters stormed a weapons depot and seized armored vehicles and rockets after apparently forging a truce with local tribes and forcing government troops to flee.

Since Al Qaeda is a bigger threat, than the Houthis, in the Middle East as a whole, Saudi Arabia must be bombing them more also. Umm no:

The Houthis have fought with AQAP, Sunni Muslims whom they consider enemies. But the Saudi airstrikes have only targeted the Houthis — giving Al Qaeda a relatively free hand.

So the US is helping the Saudis who are fighting the Houthis who are fighting al Qaeda who the US is also fighting. Lovely.

Saudi women can now vote, but not drive

This seems  a bit backwards to me:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Sunday granted women the right to vote and run in future municipal elections, the biggest change in a decade for women in a puritanical kingdom that practices strict separation of the sexes, including banning women from driving.

So women are severely restricted in their ability to go anywhere (they can pretty much only go somewhere if they’re escorted by a man), but they can vote. I suppose the ability to vote might get them more freedom, but I think I’d rather to be able to move about freely than vote (also note that this seems to give veto power to a husband, he could not allow his wife to vote).

I also like this little bit (italics added):

“We refuse to marginalize the role of women in Saudi society,” the king said in an address to the Shura, noting during the five minutes he spent on the subject that senior religious scholars had endorsed the change.

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