Ut­ter amoral­ity

A grow­ing list of lead­ers is shun­ning Saudi Ara­bia. Not Mr. Trump.

The Washington Post - - FREE FOR ALL -

THE DIS­AP­PEAR­ANCE and re­ported mur­der of Saudi jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi has prompted a jus­ti­fied wave of out­rage and re­vul­sion in Congress, the me­dia and parts of the busi­ness com­mu­nity. Twenty-two sen­a­tors from both par­ties have trig­gered a le­gal pro­vi­sion man­dat­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of whether hu­man rights crimes were com­mit­ted when Mr. Khashoggi en­tered the Saudi Con­sulate in Is­tan­bul on Oct. 2; if so, those found re­spon­si­ble could be sub­ject to U.S. sanc­tions. Leg­is­la­tors who have al­ready been work­ing to block fur­ther arms sales to the Saudi mil­i­tary, such as Sen. Chris Mur­phy (D-Conn.), say they now may have the votes.

De­fec­tions are mean­while pil­ing up among sched­uled par­tic­i­pants in a ma­jor in­vest­ment con­fer­ence planned for later this month in Riyadh. The New York Times, CNN, the Fi­nan­cial Times and Bloomberg News have pulled out as me­dia spon­sors, along with ed­i­tors and ex­ec­u­tives from the Econ­o­mist, CNBC and the Los An­ge­les Times. The chief ex­ec­u­tives of Vi­a­com and Uber have can­celed their ap­pear­ances, along with in­vestor Steve Case. Mean­while, four board mem­bers of the planned NEOM busi­ness zone — a pet project of Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man — have said they will step aside un­til ques­tions are an­swered about Mr. Khashoggi’s dis­ap­pear­ance. The Har­bour Group, one of a num­ber of lob­by­ing firms work­ing for the Saudi gov­ern­ment, can­celed its con­tract.

Sev­eral Wall Street ex­ec­u­tives, in­clud­ing Jamie Di­mon of JP­Mor­gan Chase and Stephen Sch­warz­man of the Black­stone Group, have not yet changed their plans to at­tend the con­fer­ence, even though its host, the crown prince, is cred­i­bly sus­pected of or­der­ing the cap­ture or killing of Mr. Khashoggi, who had been liv­ing in Washington and writ­ing reg­u­larly for The Post. That looks like poor judg­ment: Do they re­ally want to be pho­tographed next to a tyrant with fresh blood on his hands?

The real out­liers, how­ever, are Pres­i­dent Trump and other se­nior of­fi­cials in his ad­min­is­tra­tion, who con­tinue to play down a hor­rific and vir­tu­ally un­prece­dented crime — the al­leged mur­der of a distin­guished jour­nal­ist in one of his own coun­try’s con­sulates — and ex­cuse Saudi Ara­bia’s fail­ure to of­fer credible an­swers to their re­quests for in­for­ma­tion.

Mr. Trump re­sponded to queries about the Khashoggi case on Thurs­day by call­ing it “a ter­ri­ble thing” — but also by un­der­lin­ing that Mr. Khashoggi is not an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen (he is a le­gal res­i­dent with two U.S. cit­i­zen chil­dren) and by call­ing re­la­tions with Saudi Ara­bia “ex­cel­lent.” The pres­i­dent harped on what he claims are $110 bil­lion in pend­ing Saudi arms pur­chases — deals The Post’s fact checker has de­scribed as “fan­ci­ful and un­likely to come to fruition.”

On Fri­day, Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin said he was still “plan­ning on go­ing at this point” to the con­fer­ence, adding, “If more in­for­ma­tion comes out and changes, we can look at that.” That is the op­po­site of the ap­pro­pri­ate po­si­tion, which would be to sus­pend of­fi­cial U.S. par­tic­i­pa­tion un­less and un­til Saudi author­i­ties pro­vide sat­is­fac­tory an­swers. As they did be­fore Mr. Khashoggi’s dis­ap­pear­ance, Mr. Trump and his aides are send­ing the mes­sage that they will tol­er­ate even the most reck­less and un­law­ful ad­ven­tures by the crown prince, pro­vided he buys U.S. weapons. It’s hard to imag­ine a more ir­re­spon­si­ble and amoral stance.

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