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Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince just made a big mistake

Precipitate and unexplained decision to sever diplomatic ties with Qatar and impose an air and land blockade of the country bears the hallmarks of the erratic decision making of Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince and de facto ruler, Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Alexander Mercouris

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There has been considerable debate about the reasons for the extraordinary diplomatic and economic attack on Qatar organised by Saudi Arabia today.  What makes it baffling is that there is no real explanation for it.

It is well known that the Gulf’s two Wahhabi monarchies don’t get on well with each other.  The Saudis and the Qataris have regularly competed with each for influence, for example by backing different groups of Jihadis in Libya and Syria.  Qatar is also a major supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, opposes the Saudi backed Egyptian government which came to power through a military coup launched against Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s democratically elected President who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and has supported the Palestinian group Hamas, which is affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, and which has also in the past had close connections with Saudi Arabia’s enemies, Syria and Iran.

The Saudis like other Gulf autocracies are also known to have been made extremely angry by some of the reporting of Al-Jazeera, the Qatari based and funded media group, which has become the most internationally known media group in the Arab world, whose displays of independence have incensed the other Gulf monarchies.

Strikingly one of the very first steps taken by Saudi Arabia following the severing of diplomatic ties with Qatar was to close down Al-Jazeera’s Saudi office and revoke its broadcasting licence.  This was explained by the following somewhat bizarre announcement, which implies that Al-Jazeera has been inciting mutiny amongst Saudi troops fighting the Houthis in Yemen

The move came after Al-Jazeera has promoted plots of terrorist groups, supported the Houthi militias in Yemen, and tried to break the Saudi internal ranks by inciting them to leave the country and harm the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Lastly, there have been hints that the Qataris have been unhappy with the ultra hard line Saudi Arabia has recently been following against Iran.

Certainly it is true that the Qataris have maintained a slightly less hostile attitude towards Iran than the other Gulf States.  Qatar’s ruler, emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, even had the temerity to telephone Iran’s President Rouhani recently to congratulate him on his re-election.

However, though the the ruling families of Saudi Arabia and Qatar – the Al-Sauds and the Al-Thanis – are known to dislike each other, and have long had a rivalrous relationship, they have nonetheless more often than not managed to work closely with each other, and were doing so until just hours ago in the war against the Houthis in Yemen.  This is unsurprising since as both are Wahhabi Gulf oil monarchies they have so much in common with each other that it is all but inevitable that they should align with each other on most issues.

In this case what is genuinely extraordinary about the Saudi move is that the Saudis have provided no real explanation for it.  As if to underscore the fact, the Saudi Press Agency has released a multiplicity of statements over the course of the day purporting to explain this decision, none of which however does so to any truly satisfactory degree.

Here is the first statement

An official source stated that the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia emanating from exercising its sovereign rights guaranteed by the international law and protecting its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism has decided to sever diplomatic and consular relations with the State of Qatar, close all land, sea and air ports, prevent crossing into Saudi territories, airspace and territorial waters, and start immediate legal procedures for understanding with fraternal and friendly countries and international companies to implement the same procedure as soon as possible for all means of transport to and from the State of Qatar for reasons relating to Saudi national security.

Here is the second

The Command of Coalition to Support the Legitimacy in Yemen announced that it has decided to end the participation of the State of Qatar in the coalition due to its practices that enhance terrorism, support for its organisations in Yemen including Al-Qaeda and Da’esh (ISIS), and dealing with coup militias in Yemen which is contrary to the coalition’s objectives of which the most important one is fighting terrorism.

Here is the third

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has taken this decisive decision as a result of grave violations being committed by the authorities in Doha over the past years in secret and public aiming at dividing internal Saudi ranks, instigating against the State, infringing on its sovereignty, adopting various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilising the region including the Muslim Brotherhood Group, Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, promoting the ethics and plans of these groups through its media permanently, supporting the activities of Iranian-backed terrorist groups in the governorate of Qatif of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom of Bahrain, financing, adopting and sheltering extremists who seek to undermine the stability and unity of the homeland at home and abroad, and using the media that seek to fuel the strife internally; and it was clear to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia the support and backing from the authorities in Doha for coup Al-Houthi militias even after the announcement of the Coalition to Support the Legitimacy in Yemen.

The Kingdom has also taken this decision in solidarity with the Kingdom of Bahrain being subjected to terrorist campaigns and operations supported by the authorities in Doha.

and here is the fourth and last

Since 1995, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its brothers have made strenuous and continued efforts to urge the authorities in Doha to abide by its commitments and agreements, yet, they have repeatedly violated their international obligations and the agreements they signed under the umbrella of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for Arab States to cease the hostilities against the Kingdom and stand against terrorist groups and activities of which the latest one was their failure to implement Riyadh Agreement.

In accordance with the decision to cut off diplomatic and consular relations, Saudi citizens are prohibited from traveling to Qatar, residing in or passing through it while they, residents and visitors have to hurry leaving its territories within 14 days.

The decision, for security reasons, unfortunately prevents Qatari citizens’ entry to or transit through the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and those Qatari residents and visitors have to leave Saudi territories within 14 days, confirming the Kingdom’s commitment and keenness to provide all facilities and services for Qatari pilgrims and Umrah performers.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia affirms that it has long been patient despite the fact that the authorities in Doha continue to evade their commitments and conspire against it in the interest of the Qatari people, which is a natural and genuine extension of their brethren in the Kingdom and an integral part of their pillars.  The Kingdom will continue to support the people of Qatar, its security and stability regardless of the hostile practices being carried out by the authorities in Doha.

This multiplicity of statements, which make accusations against Qatar which are so vague and general as to be all but meaningless, and which accuse Qatar of things like supporting Jihadi terrorism of which Saudi Arabia is universally known to be equally guilty, suggest that the Saudis themselves are unable to pinpoint any single action of Qatar’s that explains or justifies their decision.

There have been some suggestions that the Saudis were angered by statements carried by Qatar’s news agency on 23rd May 2017 which had Qatar’s ruler emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani criticising recent tensions with Iran and calling Hamas and Hezbollah ‘resistance organisations’.

The Qataris claim these statements were false, and were inserted on their news agency’s website as a result of a hack.  I have no doubt they are right, and moreover I strongly suspect that the hackers were the Saudis, looking to manufacture pretexts for the action against Qatar which they took today.

The second and the third of the series of statements published by the Saudi Press Agency refer to the conflict in Yemen, in which Qatari troops have been fighting the Houthi militia alongside the Saudis and under Saudi command.  These statements, echoing the accusations the Saudis are making against Al-Jazeera, suggest that the Saudis may have been angered by contacts between the Qataris and the Houthi militia, as well as by some of Al-Jazeera’s reporting of the Yemen war.

It is no secret that the Saudi led war against the Houthis in Yemen is not going well, and it could be that in their anger the Saudis have turned on the Qataris, who they have long resented as difficult and unruly allies, and are blaming them for the failures of the war.

Whilst this makes a kind of sense, going so far as to sever diplomatic relations and impose a land and air blockade seems a wildly precipitate and disproportionate way to express this anger.

It is also counterproductive.  It suggests that Saudi Arabia is no longer willing to tolerate any show of independence by any of its allies, and take extreme action to impose its will on them.

This is bound to create resentment, with Saudi Arabia’s fellow Gulf monarchies now aware that they too may face the crack of the whip if they step out of line at any time.

In international relations it is always better to try to keep the mailed fist concealed as much as possible inside a velvet glove.  The Saudis have always known this in the past, and their conduct of diplomacy has always been based on it.  On this occasion they have heedlessly and pointlessly cast the glove off.  Though their Gulf allies and Egypt have done as ordered, they will be quietly seething, and their populations will be even more.

There is also the question of whether this move makes any sense in geo-strategic terms.  However angry Saudi Arabia may be with Qatar, whether about its failures in Yemen or over any other issue, acting in this way against Qatar is not going to solve Saudi Arabia’s problems whether in Yemen or anywhere else.  Instead what Saudi Arabia has done has been to break the ranks of the Saudi led regional alliance, the Gulf Cooperation Council, handing an unlooked for diplomatic victory to Iran, which is bound to try to capitalise on the development by seeking to forge quietly closer links with a now otherwise isolated Qatar.

 

Qatar is also a vital ally of the US, which has a major air base in Qatar.  There have been some suggestions that Saudi Arabia’s action against Qatar was cleared with Donald Trump during his recent visit to Saudi Arabia.

This is actually extremely unlikely, and though the US is unlikely to intervene directly in the quarrel on Qatar’s side, it will not be happy at a Saudi action that puts a key US ally under pressure, which threatens instability across the whole region, and which provides a potential opening for Iran.

As to the question of instability, what is so strange about the Saudi action is that the last of the four statements issued by the Saudi Press Agency today shows that the Saudis themselves are worried by the potential for instability their own action today has caused.  How else to explain the following words in this statement?

The Kingdom will continue to support the people of Qatar, its security and stability regardless of the hostile practices being carried out by the authorities in Doha.

(bold italics added)

These words, saying that Saudi Arabia will continue to support Qatar’s “security and stability”, sound very strange when it is Saudi Arabia itself which by severing relations and imposing a land and air blockade is putting Qatar’s “security and stability” at risk.

If the action Saudi Arabia has taken against Qatar today is precipitate and counterproductive, then why was it taken?

It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that we are seeing yet another example of the wild and reckless decision making that Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, the 31 year old Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is prone to.

I have already written of Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s wildly overambitious plans for Saudi Arabia’s economic development, and of his paranoid plans for a pre-emptive war against Iran.

The decision to sever diplomatic relations with Qatar and to impose a land and air blockade on the country looks like another of these impulsive and ill-though-out decisions Prince Mohammed bin Salman seems prone to making.

Another example is of course the decision to invade Yemen, which is widely known to have been made by Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself, overruling the advice of more experienced Saudi Princes, and which may be the ultimate cause of the current crisis in Saudi Arabia’s relations with Qatar.

Saudi Arabia is a notoriously closed and secretive society, whose inner counsels are very difficult for outsiders to read or penetrate.  However there must be people within Saudi Arabia who must be becoming increasingly worried at the erratic and increasingly reckless way in which the affairs of the Kingdom are being managed.

Not so long ago Saudi Arabia was famous throughout the region for always acting quietly and with discretion.  Today under the leadership of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman it acts brazenly and irresponsibly.

One wonders for how long this will continue before opposition to Prince Mohammed bin Salman crystallises.

The Saudi Princes have in the past shown a ruthless ability to act decisively in order to preserve their positions, and it is not unknown for a Saudi King to be removed from the throne if his behaviour comes to be seen as destabilising.

Perhaps it is time for Prince Mohammed bin Salman – who is not even King yet – to start watching his back.

Better still, he needs – urgently – to start listening to some advice.

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Macron offers crumbs to protestors in bid to save his globalist agenda (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 36.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at French President Macron’s pathetic display of leadership as he offers protestors little in the way of concessions while at the same time promising to crack down hard on any and all citizens who resort to violence.

Meanwhile France’s economy is set for a deep recession as French output and production grinds to a halt.

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Europe Has A New Problem: Macron’s “Populism” To Blow Out French Budget Deficit Far Beyond Italy’s

Via Zerohedge


As if Brussels didn’t have its hands full already with Italy and the UK, the European Union will soon be forced to rationalize why one of its favorite core members is allowed to pursue populist measures to blow out its budget deficit to ease domestic unrest while another is threatened with fines potentially amounting to billions of euros.

When blaming Russia failed to quell the widespread anger elicited by his policies, French President Emmanuel Macron tried to appease the increasingly violent “yellow vests” protesters who have sacked his capital city by offering massive tax cuts that could blow the French budget out beyond the 3% budget threshold outlined in the bloc’s fiscal rules.

Given the concessions recently offered by Italy’s populists, Macron’s couldn’t have picked a worse time to challenge the bloc’s fiscal conventions. As Bloomberg pointed out, these rules will almost certainly set the Continent’s second largest economy on a collision course with Brussels. To be clear, Macron’s offered cuts come with a price tag of about €11 billion according to Les Echos, and will leave the country with a budget gap of 3.5% of GDP in 2019, with one government official said the deficit may be higher than 3.6%.

By comparison, Italy’s initial projections put its deficit target at 2.4%, a number which Europe has repeatedly refused to consider.

Macron’s promises of fiscal stimulus – which come on top of his government’s decision to delay the planned gas-tax hikes that helped inspire the protests – were part of a broader ‘mea culpa’ offered by Macron in a speech Monday night, where he also planned to hike France’s minimum wage.

Of course, when Brussels inevitably objects, perhaps Macron could just show them this video of French police tossing a wheelchair-bound protester to the ground.

Already, the Italians are complaining.  Speaking on Tuesday, Italian cabinet undersecretary Giancarlo Giorgetti said Italy hasn’t breached the EU deficit limit. “I repeat that from the Italian government there is a reasonable approach, if there is one also from the EU a solution will be found.”

“France has several times breached the 3% deficit. Italy hasn’t done it. They are different situations. There are many indicators to assess.”

Still, as one Guardian columnist pointed out in an op-ed published Tuesday morning, the fact that the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) organizers managed to pressure Macron to cave and grant concessions after just 4 weeks of protests will only embolden them to push for even more radical demands: The collapse of the government of the supremely unpopular Macron.

Then again, with Brussels now facing certain accusations of hypocrisy, the fact that Macron was pressured into the exact same populist measures for which Italy has been slammed, the French fiasco raises the odds that Rome can pass any deficit measure it wants with the EU now forced to quietly look away even as it jawbones all the way from the bank (i.e., the German taxpayers).

“Macron’s spending will encourage Salvini and Di Maio,” said Giovanni Orsina, head of the School of Government at Rome’s Luiss-Guido Carli University. “Macron was supposed to be the spearhead of pro-European forces, if he himself is forced to challenge EU rules, Salvini and Di Maio will jump on that to push their contention that those rules are wrong.”

While we look forward to how Brussels will square this circle, markets are less excited.

Exhausted from lurching from one extreme to another following conflicting headlines, traders are already asking if “France is the new Italy.” The reason: the French OAT curve has bear steepened this morning with 10Y yields rising as much as ~6bp, with the Bund/OAT spread reaching the widest since May 2017 and the French presidential election. Though well below the peaks of last year, further widening would push the gap into levels reserved for heightened political risk.

As Bloomberg macro analyst Michael Read notes this morning, it’s hard to see a specific near-term trigger blowing out the Bund/OAT spread but the trend looks likely to slowly drift higher.

While Macron has to fight on both domestic and European fronts, he’ll need to keep peace at home to stay on top. Remember that we saw the 10Y spread widen to ~80bps around the May ’17 elections as concerns of a move toward the political fringe played out in the markets, and the French President’s popularity ratings already look far from rosy.

And just like that France may have solved the Italian crisis.

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Watch: Democrat Chuck Schumer shows his East Coast elitism on live TV

Amazing moment in which the President exhibits “transparency in government” and shows the world who the Democrat leaders really are.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the reasons Donald Trump was elected to the Presidency was because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – against Democrat policy decisions and “stupid government” in general.

One of the reasons President Donald Trump is reviled is because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – in the American political scene.

In other words, there are two reactions to the same characteristic. On Tuesday, the President did something that probably cheered and delighted a great many Americans who witnessed this.

The Democrats have been unanimous in taking any chance to roast the President, or to call for his impeachment, or to incite violence against him. But Tuesday was President Trump’s turn. He invited the two Democrat leaders, presumptive incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and then, he turned the cameras on:

As Tucker Carlson notes, the body language from Schumer was fury. The old (something)-eating grin covered up humiliation, embarrassment and probably no small amount of fear, as this whole incident was filmed and broadcast openly and transparently to the American public. Nancy Pelosi was similarly agitated, and she expressed it later after this humiliation on camera, saying, “It’s like a manhood thing for him… As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”

She didn’t stop there. According to a report from the New York Daily News, the Queen Bee took the rhetoric a step below even her sense of dignity:

Pelosi stressed she made clear to Trump there isn’t enough support in Congress for a wall and speculated the President is refusing to back down because he’s scared to run away with his tail between his legs.

“I was trying to be the mom. I can’t explain it to you. It was so wild,” Pelosi said of the Oval Office meet, which was also attended by Vice President Pence and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

This represented the first salvo in a major spin-job for the ultra-liberal San Francisco Democrat. The rhetoric spun by Mrs. Pelosi and Chuck Schumer was desperate as they tried to deflect their humiliation and place it back on the President:

With reporters still present, Trump boasted during the Oval meeting he would be “proud” to shutdown the government if Congress doesn’t earmark cash for his wall before a Dec. 21 spending deadline.

Pelosi told Democrats that Trump’s boisterousness will be beneficial for them.

“The fact is we did get him to say, to fully own that the shutdown was his,” Pelosi said. “That was an accomplishment.”

The press tried to characterize this as a “Trump Tantrum”, saying things like this lede:

While “discussing” a budgetary agreement for the government, President Donald Trump crossed his arms and declared: “we will shut down the government if there is no wall.”

While the Democrats and the mainstream media in the US are sure to largely buy these interpretations of the event, the fact that this matter was televised live shows that the matter was entirely different, and this will be discomfiting to all but those Democrats and Trump-dislikers that will not look at reality.

There appears to be a twofold accomplishment for the President in this confrontation:

  1. The President revealed to his support base the real nature of the conversation with the Democrat leadership, because anyone watching this broadcast (and later, video clip) saw it unedited with their own eyes. They witnessed the pettiness of both Democrats and they witnessed a President completely comfortable and confident about the situation.
  2. President Trump probably made many of his supporters cheer with the commitment to shut down the government if he doesn’t get his border wall funding. This cheering is for both the strength shown about getting the wall finished and the promise to shut the government down, and further, Mr. Trump’s assertion that he would be “proud” to shut the government down, taking complete ownership willingly, reflects a sentiment that many of his supporters share.

The usual pattern is for the media, Democrats and even some Republicans to create a “scare” narrative about government shutdowns, about how doing this is a sure-fire path to chaos and suffering for the United States.

But the educated understanding of how shutdowns work reveals something completely different. Vital services never close. However, National Parks can close partly or completely, and some non-essential government agencies are shuttered. While this is an inconvenience for the employees furloughed during the shutdown, they eventually are re-compensated for the time lost, and are likely to receive help during the shutdown period if they need it. The impact on the nation is minimal, aside from the fact that the government stops spending money at the same frenetic pace as usual.

President Trump’s expression of willingness to do this action and his singling out of the Dem leadership gives the Democrats a real problem. Now the entire country sees their nature. As President Trump is a populist, this visceral display of Democrat opposition and pettiness will make at least some impact on the population, even that group of people who are not Trump fans.

The media reaction and that of the Democrats here show, amazingly, that after three years-plus of Donald Trump being a thorn in their side, they still do not understand how he works, and they also cannot match it against their expected “norms” of establishment behavior.

This may be a brilliant masterstroke, and it also may be followed up by more. The President relishes head-to-head conflict. The reactions of these congress members showed who they really are.

Let the games begin.

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French opposition rejects Macron’s concessions to Yellow Vests, some demand ‘citizen revolution’

Mélenchon: “I believe that Act 5 of the citizen revolution in our country will be a moment of great mobilization.”

RT

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Via RT…


Macron’s concessions to the Yellow Vests has failed to appease protesters and opposition politicians, such as Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who called for “citizen’s revolution” to continue until a fair distribution of wealth is achieved.

Immediately after French President Macron declared a “social and economic state of emergency” in response to large-scale protests by members of the Yellow Vest movement, promising a range of concessions to address their grievances, left-wing opposition politician Mélenchon called on the grassroots campaign to continue their revolution next Saturday.

I believe that Act 5 of the citizen revolution in our country will be a moment of great mobilization.

Macron’s promise of a €100 minimum wage increase, tax-free overtime pay and end-of-year bonuses, Mélenchon argued, will not affect any “considerable part” of the French population. Yet the leader of La France Insoumise stressed that the “decision” to rise up rests with “those who are in action.”

“We expect a real redistribution of wealth,” Benoît Hamon, a former presidential candidate and the founder of the Mouvement Génération, told BFM TV, accusing Macron’s package of measures that benefit the rich.

The Socialist Party’s first secretary, Olivier Faure, also slammed Macron’s financial concessions to struggling workers, noting that his general “course has not changed.”

Although welcoming certain tax measures, Marine Le Pen, president of the National Rally (previously National Front), accused the president’s “model” of governance based on “wild globalization, financialization of the economy, unfair competition,” of failing to address the social and cultural consequences of the Yellow Vest movement.

Macron’s speech was a “great comedy,”according to Debout la France chairman, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who accused the French President of “hypocrisy.”

Yet many found Melanchon’s calls to rise up against the government unreasonable, accusing the 67-year-old opposition politician of being an “opportunist” and “populist,” who is trying to hijack the social protest movement for his own gain.

Furthermore, some 54 percent of French believe the Yellow Vests achieved their goals and want rallies to stop, OpinionWay survey showed. While half of the survey respondents considered Macron’s anti-crisis measures unconvincing, another 49 percent found the president to be successful in addressing the demands of the protesters. Some 68 percent of those polled following Macron’s speech on Monday especially welcomed the increase in the minimum wage, while 78 percent favored tax cuts.

The Yellow Vest protests against pension cuts and fuel tax hikes last month were organized and kept strong via social media, without help from France’s powerful labor unions or official political parties. Some noted that such a mass mobilization of all levels of society managed to achieve unprecedented concessions from the government, which the unions failed to negotiate over the last three decades.

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