8 September 2017
Today’s Editorial in The Wall Street Journal (see below) will not go unremarked on Capital Hill. More so, given it is just one of a growing body of articles condemning Trump’s ill-advised and so far inadequately explained invitation to Najib.
The WSJ points out that Trump is falling for the very same ruse that Malaysia’s Toxic Twosome pulled on Obama, employing yet another lobbyist who had been close to him on the campaign trail, Frank White
. Nowadays Najib has Healey Baumgardner
, a campaign manager for Trump, on his payroll instead.
But, as the WSJ points out, The State Department bears responsibility for allowing Trump to step into this particular piece of dog-do that can only make him look both a hypocrite and a fool. Neither will supporting Najib’s PR machine at election time do US interests one bit of good:
Trump’s Malaysia Swamp
Did Tillerson tell his boss he’s repeating an Obama mistake?
in the September 7, 2017 Print EditionA visit to the White House is a diplomatic plum that world leaders covet. So why is President Trump bestowing this honor on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who jailed an opposition leader and is a suspect in a corruption scandal that spans the globe?
Mr. Najib will visit the White House next week for a presidential photo-op that could help him win the next general election and imperil Malaysia’s democracy. Yet it isn’t clear that Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are getting anything in return for associating with a leader their own Justice Department is investigating. This could set them up for a repeat of the way Mr. Najib humiliated Barack Obama.
Mr. Najib oversaw the creation of 1MDB, a state-owned fund that was supposed to attract foreign investment. The U.S. Justice Department alleges that the Prime Minister and his associates looted the fund of $4.5 billion. The DOJ has filed civil lawsuits to freeze more than $1.6 billion of assets allegedly stolen from the fund. Five other nations are also investigating, and Singapore has convicted five financiers of money laundering and fraud. Mr. Najib hasn’t been charged and denies wrongdoing, and Malaysia’s Attorney General cleared him.
Under Mr. Najib, Malaysian authorities also conducted a six-year prosecution against opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on dubious charges of sodomy, for which he was sentenced to five years in prison. That legal farce helped Mr. Najib’s party win a narrow victory in the 2013 election.
So how should the U.S. engage a troubled Malaysia? Mr. Obama cozied up to Mr. Najib and chose to ignore the prosecution of Mr. Anwar when he made the first visit by a U.S. President in 60 years to Kuala Lumpur in April 2014. Eight months later, he invited Mr. Najib for a showy round of golf in Hawaii.
But that precedent is not consistent with Mr. Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington politics. Two months after that golf round Mr. Anwar was jailed again. And shortly after Mr. Obama made nice with Mr. Najib, Frank White Jr. , who served as co-chair of President Obama’s re-election committee before becoming a lobbyist for Malaysia, sold a stake in a 1MDB-linked solar technology firm back to the fund for $69 million.
The benefits of communing with Mr. Najib aren’t obvious. Perhaps Mr. Tillerson thinks Malaysia will help tighten the financial screws on North Korea, which has long used the country as a business hub. But Mr. Najib isn’t likely to stop his strategic drift toward China. Keeping 1MDB afloat will require cash infusions, and China, eager to help fellow authoritarians, can deploy its One Belt, One Road slush fund. Mr. Najib can then buy off the opposition and consolidate power.
If Malaysia slides into dictatorship, it will almost surely fall into Beijing’s orbit. The U.S. relationship depends on Malaysia remaining a viable democracy. That’s why helping Mr. Najib at this critical moment is a mistake.
Mr. Trump will be told that it’s too late to cancel the meeting, but the U.S. can find a diplomatic excuse in Hurricanes Harvey and Irma or congressional battles. Any embarrassment is better than giving a scandal-tainted leader a White House photo-op.