Sell­ing out to Saudi Ara­bia

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FROM THE COVER -

The sus­pected Saudi as­sas­si­na­tion of Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist Ja­mal Khashoggi has awak­ened many of Pres­i­dent Trump’s worst in­stincts at once: his love of dic­ta­tors, “deals” and money; his dis­dain for im­mi­grants, free ex­pres­sion and the rule of law.

In­stead of de­nounc­ing the re­ported mur­der of a jour­nal­ist and U.S. res­i­dent by a regime that was al­ready in­de­fen­si­ble in other re­spects, Trump grasped at rea­sons to be less than out­raged. He dwelt on the crime scene be­ing over­seas, Khashoggi’s cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus and, most grotesquely, the Saudis’ ca­pac­ity to spend a lot of money.

A mem­ber of a pow­er­ful fam­ily and prom­i­nent long­time jour­nal­ist in the king­dom, Amer­i­can-ed­u­cated Khashoggi had be­come in­creas­ingly crit­i­cal of and es­tranged from the Saudi roy­als — in­clud­ing the heir ap­par­ent, Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, whose halt­ing at­tempts to re­form the ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive coun­try have been un­der­mined by a dev­as­tat­ing war in Ye­men and re­pres­sion at home. Liv­ing in Vir­ginia in self-im­posed ex­ile since last year, Khashoggi on Oct. 2 en­tered the Saudi con­sulate in Is­tan­bul to get proof of a di­vorce and ap­par­ently never emerged. Turk­ish of­fi­cials say they have proof that he was killed and dis­mem­bered in the con­sulate, they told the Post, and U.S. in­tel­li­gence re­ports in­di­cate that it was Mo­hammed who or­dered him de­tained.

Rather than re­spond­ing with the moral clar­ity of, say, the Vir­gin Group’s Richard Bran­son — one of sev­eral busi­ness lead­ers who dialed back deal­ings with Saudi Ara­bia in the wake of Khashoggi’s dis­ap­pear­ance — Trump of­fered wanly, “It’s in Turkey, and it’s not a cit­i­zen.” He also took care to note, “I don’t like stop­ping mas­sive amounts of money that’s be­ing poured into our coun­try,” adding that the Saudis “are spend­ing $110 bil­lion on mil­i­tary equip­ment” — a fig­ure that, by re­li­able ac­counts, is largely fic­ti­tious.

Trump is only the lat­est in a long line of U.S. pres­i­dents who have al­lowed Saudi Ara­bia’s oil wealth to guide pol­icy more than its record on hu­man rights or ter­ror­ism. As is his fash­ion, how­ever, he has taken us to an even more merce­nary place. His son-in-law and con­sigliere, Jared Kush­ner, has wooed and touted the crown prince, and Trump has been silent on the king­dom’s do­mes­tic op­pres­sion and depre­da­tions abroad. Now his limp re­ac­tion to an al­leged as­sas­si­na­tion is sug­gest­ing that any Amer­i­can prin­ci­ple might be sold at a cer­tain price.

Evan Vucci / As­so­ci­ated Press

Pres­i­dent Trump high­lighted arms sales to Saudi Ara­bia dur­ing a meet­ing with 32-year-old Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man in the Oval Of­fice in March.

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