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Did Trump fire State Dept. Inspector to Protect Shady Arms Deal with Saudi Arabia?

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The mystery deepens. Late last Friday, Trump summarily fired the State Department Inspector General, Steve Linick. While in US law as it now stands, the president has the power to fire pretty much anyone in the executive, if he fired Linick as an act of retaliation for one of Linick's investigations, that could be illegal. Trump wouldn't himself have known who Linick was, but was asked to fire him by secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

The first leak about the firing alleged that Linick had been investigating Pompeo himself, for using State Department personnel as personal valets to pick up his dry cleaning and walk his dog. It is forbidden in the US government to have staffers do chores that are outside their position description, and former Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White was slammed by that department's Inspector General for this sort of thing. Even military men have gotten into trouble for this sort of thing.

Pompeo denied that he had a vendetta against Linick for investigating him, claiming that he had not know about it. I'll leave it to you to decide if that seems plausible.

Pompeo went on to undermine himself by admitting, "I went to the president and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn't performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to""

Like Trump himself, I don't think Pompeo has a firm grasp of the function of an inspector general. I don't think inspectors are supposed to do things the way the head of the department they are investigating wants them to.

But then on Monday, Rep. Eliot Engel alleged that the firing might have had to do with Linick's investigation into the Trump administration's sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Just a year ago, Pompeo declared a phony "emergency" to allow the executive to sell $8 bn. in weapons to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi without going through Congress.

I wrote on this issue,

Congress has never been able to overrule Trump on foreign policy because it needs two-thirds in the senate to override his veto, and is not able to get more than 55.

The Inspector General, however, can investigate these sorts of decisions. The Trump administration's Yemen policy has been despicable, putting millions of innocent civilians at risk. The pretext, that the rebel Houthi movement of militant Zaydi Shiites in north Yemen is a cat's paw of Iran, is deeply flawed. The Houthis are a local movement resentful of creeping Saudi Wahhabi influence, and Zaydism is not like the Shiism practiced in Iran and Iraq (Yemen does not have ayatollahs). They attracted some relatively minor Iranian support, but most of their weapons are American, transferred to them by elements of the Yemeni military loyal to the late former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who initially allied with them.

The Saudis and the United Arab Emirates have spent billions bombing Yemen, with about a third of their bombs landing on civilian structures and facilities. Iran maybe sent a few million dollars to the Houthis.

The main conflict in any case is no longer between the Houthis and the nationalists, but between southern Sunni secessionists and the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood (the Islah Party), with the Emirates backing the southerners and the Saudis allied with al-Islah.

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Juan Cole is an American academic and commentator on the modern Middle East and South Asia.  He is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Since 2002, he has written a weblog, Informed Comment (more...)

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