THE INTRODUCTION FROM
PROOF OF CONSPIRACY
ON SALE 9/3/19
INTRODUCTION: THE RED SEA CONSPIRACY AND THE GRAND BARGAIN
In late 2015, after Donald Trump has formally announced his candidacy for president, a geopolitical conspiracy emerges overseas whose key participants are the leaders of Russia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt. These six men decide that Trump is the antidote to their ills: for Russia, U.S. sanctions; for Israel, the lack of Arab allies; for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt, perceived threats emanating from Iran. The conspirators commit themselves to doing whatever is necessary to ensure that Trump is elected. Trump’s presidential campaign is aware of and benefits from this conspiracy both before and after the 2016 election.
On March 19, 2018, British journalist David Hearst, the former chief foreign leader writer for the Guardian, publishes the most important report of his career. Hearst, at one time the Moscow bureau chief at the Guardian, is now editor in chief of his own publishing venture, a London-based Middle East watchdog called the Middle East Eye. In the spring of 2018, he reports the existence of a years-long, continent-spanning conspiracy that will eventually envelop the president of the United States: the Red Sea Conspiracy.1
This book denominates the conspiracy Hearst uncovers as the “Red Sea Conspiracy” for the simple reason that it is hatched on a yacht in the middle of the Red Sea, a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean bordered by, among other countries, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.2 One imagines that in his many years as a correspondent and commentator for the Scotsman, the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera (Qatar), Al-Araby Al-Jadeed (England), TRT World (Turkey), Masr Al-Aan (Egypt), and the Guardian, Hearst never thought he’d stumble on a story as far-reaching in its implications as the Red Sea Conspiracy.3 But he did—and what he found could change the course of history.
This book chronicles the events around the globe that preceded and followed the fall 2015 origin of the conspiracy, with a special focus on how the conspiracy prompted Donald Trump and his aides, allies, and associates to covertly collude with six countries both before and after the 2016 presidential election: Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Bahrain, and Egypt. Events that began on the Red Sea in 2015 now influence President Trump’s foreign policy toward all of these countries, toward other countries not involved in the conspiracy such as Qatar and Iran, and, more broadly, toward Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
The story of the Red Sea Conspiracy begins with a man named George Nader. As reported by Hearst in the Middle East Eye, toward the end of 2015 Nader—then an adviser to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (known as “MBZ”)—convened, with his patron’s permission, a summit of some of the Middle East’s most powerful leaders.4 Gathered on a boat in the Red Sea in the fall of 2015 were Mohammed bin Salman (known as “MBS”), deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who would shortly become the heir apparent to the throne of the Saudi kingdom; MBZ himself, by 2015 the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates; Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt; Prince Salman bin Hamad, the crown prince of Bahrain; and King Abdullah II of Jordan. Nader, the improbable maestro of these rulers’ clandestine get-together, intended the plan he posed to the men to include the nation of Libya, but no representative from that nation attended the gathering.5
“Of the leaders aboard the yacht, two—MBS and MBZ—are already close. According to a New Yorker interview with Richard A. Clarke, a counterterrorism adviser to Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, MBS and MBZ “talk on the phone all day to each other.”6 The Red Sea meeting, though technically convened by Nader, is a means for MBZ to advance ambitions that he and MBS have designed together.7
The two Sunni Arab leaders’ intention, Hearst records, is to remake the Middle East with the covert assistance of a highly placed American politician. They intend to do this by first renaming and reconstituting the membership of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—which in 2015 comprises Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar—while reorienting, too, its regional ambitions and global alliances.8 The proposed GCC realignment would evict Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar from the council and replace these three countries with Egypt, Jordan, and Libya, thereby eliminating the entity’s historical association with the Persian Gulf and remaking it as, instead, an alliance constituting “an elite regional group of six countries, which would supplant [the GCC and] . . . form the nucleus of [a coalition of] pro-U.S. and pro-Israeli states” in the Middle East.9 According to two sources briefed on the 2015 Red Sea summit, “Nader said this group of states could become a force in the region ‘that the United States government could depend on’ to counter the influence of Turkey and Iran.”10
Prior to 2015, Turkey and Saudi Arabia had intermittently enjoyed strong diplomatic ties, but by the second-to-last year of the Obama administration relations had soured considerably. As explained by Nader Habibi, a Brandeis University economist specializing in the Middle East, the Turkey–Saudi Arabia relationship “deteriorated in the ’90s when the kingdom [Saudi Arabia] took Syria’s side in several disputes with [Syria’s] neighbor Turkey. These ups and downs in Saudi-Turkish relations were partly a result of Turkey’s political instability, including several military coups in the ’80s and ’90s. Relations tended to improve when Islamist or civilian parties—which felt close cultural and religious links with Turkey’s Muslim neighbors—were in power but worsened after the military deposed them.”11 This cycle continued unabated up until 2011, when, Habibi writes, “the Arab spring uprisings . . . led to the overthrow of governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. As an advocate of political Islam, [Turkish president Recep Tayyip] Erdogan welcomed the revolutions and the new governments they yielded. The Saudi government, on the other hand, saw the revolts as destabilizing.”12 Erdogan therefore supported, while Saudi Arabia did not, Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood–linked politician who took power in Egypt in 2012.13 So it is little surprise that, according to Foreign Affairs magazine, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were “bitter frenemies” by 2012.14
When a 2013 military coup ended Morsi’s tenure as president, replacing him with el-Sisi, “Erdogan strongly condemned it [the coup] and gave the Muslim Brotherhood refuge in Turkey, while Saudi Arabia offered billions in financial aid to cement Egypt’s new military rulers.”15 Saudi-Turkish relations immediately took a turn for the worse.
A similar reversal of historical trends—certain members of the Persian Gulf axis of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain supporting a military government and opposing an Islamist or civilian one—was seen in 2016 in Turkey, when a military coup sought to depose Erdogan; the Turks would subsequently accuse the Emiratis of sponsoring the attempted takeover.16 The Emirates’ alleged clandestine support for Erdogan’s overthrow in 2016 had been preceded in 2014 by a Saudi- and Egyptian-led campaign to end Turkey’s bid to become one of the nonpermanent members of the United Nations Security Council.17 The evidence suggests, therefore, that by 2015 Saudi-Turkish, Egyptian-Turkish, and Emirati-Turkish relations were at a low point.
Following the Nader-orchestrated anti-Iran/anti-Turkey summit on the Red Sea, the six-nation Arab coalition Nader and his patron MBZ had originally imagined contracts. Libya, having not sent a representative to the Red Sea gathering, ceases to be a central part of its plan; and per the Middle East Eye, Jordan eventually “fell out dramatically with the group which had gathered on the yacht: Saudi Arabia decided that Amman did not go far enough in enforcing the [June 2017 Saudi] blockade against Qatar.”18 The Saudis were further angered by Jordan’s refusal to vote in favor of Trump’s December 2017 decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; as Hearst writes in his exposé on the Red Sea Conspiracy, “The split between Saudi [Arabia] and Jordan widened further when Jordan voted against Trump’s move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which threatens Jordan’s role as custodian of the Holy Places in the city.”19
Many months prior to the Red Sea summit, MBZ had begun advancing the political ambitions of his future co-conspirator MBS, “promoting Prince bin Salman in the Middle East and in Washington,” according to the New York Times.20 MBZ “has a history of personal antipathy toward [MBS’s rival for the Saudi throne] Prince bin Nayef,” the Times reports, and in April 2015, while meeting “a small delegation of top [Obama] White House officials . . . at his home in McLean, [Virginia] . . . the prince [MBZ] urged the Americans to develop a relationship with Prince bin Salman.”21 That Obama’s then secretary of state, John Kerry, was unable to do so despite apparent good-faith efforts—leading MBS to issue a public rant against what he perceived to be American foreign policy’s failures in the Middle East at the November 2015 G20 summit in Turkey—could not have been missed by MBZ.22 By comparison, the Times will later note, during Trump’s presidency “Mr. Trump has closely allied himself with the Emiratis, endorsing their strong support for the new heir to the throne in Saudi Arabia,” MBS.23
As Nader is coordinating a new coalition of Sunni Arab nations on the Red Sea, and doing so alongside the future ruler of Saudi Arabia and the current ruler of the UAE, the Saudi government is publicly presenting a different face with respect to its regional ambitions. In December 2015, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir announces a thirty-four-nation Islamic military alliance against terrorism, which—despite MBS’s intention of kicking Qatar off the GCC—includes the long-standing American ally; Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain will be blockading Qatar by air, land, and sea within eighteen months (see chapter 7).24 One sign that the Saudis’ proposed anti-terrorism alliance, nominally the brainchild of MBS, is from its start pretextual is that after the list of nations involved in the coalition is announced, several of those included declare that they had had no idea of its existence; indeed, only four countries—the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait—are able to immediately confirm that they have entered into a military alliance with the Saudis.25
As clandestine geopolitical conspiracies go, Nader’s—or, more properly, MBZ’s and MBS’s—seemed, on its face, fairly benign. If the ambitions of these Arab leaders had been public, who in America would have objected to a seismic political and military realignment in the Middle East, if the result were to be a coalition of Arab nations willing to work cooperatively with both the United States and Israel? And could Israel be blamed for wanting to see a new coalition of Arab countries in the Middle East more committed to the Jewish nation’s survival than any previous permutation of its neighbors had ever been? Indeed, in hindsight some part of the ambitious vision promoted by MBZ and MBS might have been admirable, broadly writ: along with Syria, Sudan, and North Korea, Iran has been a designated state sponsor of terrorism since 1984, so contending with its regional and occasionally global designs has long been a key element of American foreign policy.26 Even so, systematized corruption—let alone a direct assault on American democracy—in the name of plausibly benign middle- or long-term goals has never been something most Americans will accept, so it is little surprise that, whatever his or his patrons’ intentions may have been, by early 2018 Nader had become a “focus” of a federal investigation over “possible attempts by the Emiratis to buy political influence by directing money to support Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign.”27
While the Saudis’ and Emiratis’ broad and deep hostility toward Iran in 2015 was well in line with years of pre-Obama foreign policy in the United States, the two countries’ growing enmity toward both Qatar and Turkey was not. Qatar is home to the U.S. military’s largest base in the Middle East, and, as the Los Angeles Times notes, “Since the start of the Cold War, Turkey has been one of the United States’ top allies in a region [the Middle East] not known for pro-American sentiment.”28
Yet even those who cherish Turkey’s historical role as a U.S. ally would concede that, in recent years, the relationship between the two countries has become strained because of the other nation in the Middle East (besides Iran) the United States has designated as a state sponsor of terrorism: Syria.29 Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, Turkey has been aggrieved at America’s support for Kurdish troops in and around the war-torn nation. In the early years of the civil war, the United States trained and equipped the Kurds while maintaining that it materially supported only those Kurdish forces “in areas east of the Euphrates River as well as Manbij [in northern Syria] against [the terrorist organization] Islamic State,” considering any Kurdish forces in Afrin, a district in northwest Syria near Turkey, “a separate entity.”30 This policy was narrowly sustainable so long as the Islamic State remained a common enemy of the United States, Turkey, and Kurdish forces; once the Islamic State had been largely defeated in Syria, however, Kurdish-led troops formed a “border security force”—and America’s and Turkey’s interests diverged.31
In 2018, Turkey launched what it called Operation Olive Branch, an effort by Turkish troops and allied Syrian Arab militia to drive the Kurds from Afrin. As the Times notes, “Turkey’s political leadership . . . touted the operation in Afrin as a war not just against Kurdish forces, but also against the United States.”32 Moreover, Turkish president Erdogan accused the United States of deliberately establishing a “terror corridor” in northern Syria by permitting Syrian Kurdish militia to operate there freely; the United States, for its part, considered these militiamen to be an “on-the-ground vanguard against [a resurgence of] the militant group Islamic State.”33
America’s relationship with Turkey was therefore, by 2018, at a “nadir,” according to the Times, with Turkey “gripped by a patriotic frenzy” over the presence of armed Syrian Kurds in northwestern Syria and Erdogan calling “anyone in Turkey questioning the operation [to dislodge the Kurdish fighters] . . . a traitor.”34 Erdogan has said, of the prospect of protests in Turkey against Operation Olive Branch, “This is a national struggle. We would crush anybody who opposes this. There will be no compromises or tolerance on this issue.”35
Meanwhile, another point of contention has arisen between Turkey and the United States: America’s unwillingness to extradite to Turkey a Pennsylvania-dwelling cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who Erdogan claims was partially responsible for the failed mid-2016 military coup against his government. The question of Gulen’s legal status became a flashpoint during the 2016 presidential election—and led to a federal criminal investigation against then-candidate Donald Trump’s top national security advisor, Michael Flynn.36
In January 2016, at the beginning of the Republican primary season, Donald Trump tells a crowd in Des Moines, “My whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy. I’ve grabbed all the money I could get. I’m so greedy.”37 The Iowans in the crowd pay close attention to the New York City businessman’s words; so too, from afar, do royal observers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who have known and taken advantage of Trump’s greed for a long time—and who just a few months earlier had begun plotting, on a yacht in the Red Sea, how to turn Trump’s greed into acquiescence to their geopolitical designs. MBS and MBZ know Trump will be of no mind to disclose any association they might covertly establish with him, any more than he would disclose his past financial ties to wealthy nationals from their respective countries. Indeed, in 2018 Trump will tweet—falsely—“For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia . . . any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS.”38
According to an opinion piece in the Washington Post, “If you’re the Saudis, the nice thing about Trump is that he lacks any subtlety whatsoever, so you don’t have to wonder how to approach him. He has said explicitly that the way to win his favor is to give him money. He has established means for you to do so—buying Trump properties and staying in Trump hotels.”39 Of course, once Trump becomes president any such publicly solicited largesse violates both his oath of office and the United States Constitution, a document that prohibits any president from accepting, as the Post observes, “‘any present [or] Emolument . . . [from any] foreign State.’ If a foreign country is putting money in the president’s pocket on an ongoing basis, how in the world can we trust that the decisions he makes will be based on the best interests of the United States and not on his bank account?”40
The short answer is that in such a situation we would not be able to trust that U.S. foreign policy was in fact the product of American rather than foreign interests. The long answer—in Trump’s case—is that if we trace the New York businessman’s financial ties to the very nations that,” in late 2015, decided to engage him in a clandestine conspiracy to fundamentally transform U.S. foreign policy, we quickly discover the difference between a president who works first and foremost for American interests and one who is, by his own confession, “greedy, greedy, greedy.
Trump’s financial history with the nations of the Red Sea Conspiracy, as well as the two nations the conspirators seek to improve relations with, Israel and Russia, is long and illustrious. Trump has properties or other assets in two former Soviet republics, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Israel, and Egypt; he therefore maintains financial ties to three of the four nations involved in the conspiracy and one that stands to directly benefit from its successes.41 While Trump’s ongoing refusal to release his tax returns—despite promising to do so during the 2016 presidential campaign, then hiding behind the false excuse of an audit—makes it impossible to know the current status of his businesses in Israel or Egypt, Trump’s ties to the other nations are clear.42
According to the Washington Post, “Trump’s business relationships with the Saudi government—and rich Saudi business executives—go back to at least the 1990s.”43 CBS News calls Trump’s ties to Saudi Arabia “long and deep,” while noting that “he’s often boasted about his business ties with the kingdom.”44 These ties include not just regular hotel and meeting-space bookings but much larger and more lucrative sales as well.45 In 1987, Trump tells an interviewer, “I don’t think anybody sells much more real estate than I do to . . . the Saudis. . . . They buy the most expensive apartments in the world, that I happen to build, and I know the people, and I like the people.”46 In 1991, as Trump faces close to a billion-dollar debt attributable to his failed casinos in Atlantic City, a Saudi royal, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, purchases Trump’s 281-foot yacht for $20 million, thereby helping save Trump from a potentially imminent bankruptcy filing.47 Four years later, the same Saudi royal again saves Trump from bankruptcy by taking over Trump’s 51 percent stake in New York’s Plaza Hotel for $328 million—a financial transaction whose immediate result is that “Trump’s creditors forg[i]ve $125 million of his debt.”48 The Associated Press reports that “in 2001, Trump sold the entire 45th floor of the Trump World Tower across from the United Nations in New York for $12 million, the biggest purchase in that building to that point. . . . The buyer: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”49 And not long after Trump announces his presidential run in June 2015, he registers eight companies with “names tied to the country [Saudi Arabia],” according to the Associated Press, including several mentioning a major Saudi city, Jeddah.50 The same day that he registers four of the companies—August 21, 2015—he tells a crowd at a rally in Alabama, “Saudi Arabia—and I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”51 At another 2015 campaign rally Trump announces, “Saudi Arabia—I like the Saudis. They’re very nice. I make a lot of money with them. They buy all sorts of my stuff. All kinds of toys from Trump. They pay me millions and hundreds of millions.”52 Time notes that “in 2016 business from the Saudis at the Trump hotel in Chicago helped offset losses there from reduced bookings.”53 While Trump’s business ties to the United Arab Emirates are of more recent vintage, they are just as lucrative (see chapters 1, 2, and 9).
Yet by 2018, the year the possibility of Trump-Saudi collusion comes to be discussed by future committee leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives, Trump makes the following statements: “Saudi Arabia has nothing to do with me”; “I don’t make deals with Saudi Arabia”; I don’t have money from Saudi Arabia”; “I have nothing to do with Saudi Arabia”; and “I have no business whatsoever with Saudi Arabia. Couldn’t care less.”54 Closer to the truth is a mid-2018 New York Times article reporting that Trump is “celebrated in the royal courts of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi as perhaps the best friend in the White House that their rulers have ever had.”55