Selling out to Saudi Arabia
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.
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.