Almost from the moment that the world learned Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi had gone into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and never came back out, there were strong indications that this was an act of state terrorism on the part of Saudi Arabia. Those suspicions appeared to be confirmed last week, when the CIA concluded with high confidence that Khashoggi had been murdered on orders from Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
What did Donald Trump do with this information? He blew it off. In a bizarre, exclamation-point laden statement issued on Monday, Trump declared that regardless of whatever the CIA concluded, his administration would stand with Saudi Arabia. Incredibly, he claimed with a straight face that the CIA really didn’t hold Riyadh, and specifically the crown prince, responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. As has sadly become his habit, he appears to be willing to take MBS’ word for it.
King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!
Trump also made clear that regardless of how things turned out, his administration would remain “a steadfast partner (with) Saudi Arabia” to protect American interests both at home and in the Middle East.
Trump googled down on this stance on Thursday while speaking to reporters from Mar-a-Lago. Watch here, via MSNBC.
Trump harrumphed that any suggestion the CIA blamed the crown prince for Khashoggi’s death was “false reporting”–a milder version of calling it “fake news.” He also reiterated that the crown prince vehemently denied any role in Khashoggi’s death.
Not surprisingly, Trump has been relentlessly pilloried for taking this line. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii probably spoke for most of reality-based America when she scorched Trump on Twitter.
Even Trump’s fellow Republicans were appalled.
However, Michael Knowles of The Daily Wire let it be known that he was outraged at the outrage over Trump’s apparent blind support of Saudi Arabia.
Knowles was repeating a common right-wing smear about Khashoggi–he was actually carrying water for jihadists. Never mind the overwhelming evidence that his views evolved in a liberal, secular, and democratic direction over the years.
But such little things as facts didn’t matter to Knowles. Nor, apparently did they matter to Fox News analyst and former Trump counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka.
So let’s see if we’ve got this right. There is ample evidence that a Saudi journalist was a victim of state terrorism, and calling it out is merely an attempt to undermine Trump?
Okay, Dr. G. I’ll play. For one thing, there is ample evidence that the White House was well aware Khashoggi had a price on his head–and appears to have done absolutely nothing, even though Khashoggi was a permanent resident of the United States entitled to our protection.
Moreover, the Saudis have spent the last month-plus feeding the world lie after lie after lie about what happened in that consulate. They claimed that Khashoggi died in a fistfight, and the 15-member hit team involved in his death was taking part in a rogue operation intended to bundle him back to Saudi Arabia. Never mind that the hit team brought a bone saw, and included a forensic coroner.
And even if you accept the crown prince’s claim of innocence, then at best he was disengaged in a way that you simply cannot be if you claim to be the ruler of a civilized nation. Remember, the hit team traveled on diplomatic passports, and several of its members were close to the crown prince. Moreover, they traveled on diplomatic passports.
So if this was a rogue operation, then a lot of people in Riyadh who either should have known what was happening or at least made it their business to know were asleep at the switch. Would you trust a major arms deal to a country with that kind of dysfunction, especially in a region this volatile? Any president who believes the answer is “yes” deserves to be undermined.
When the best-case scenario in this affair is that the crown prince’s left hand didn’t know what its right hand was doing, that’s not a good sign. But Turkish media report that the CIA is in possession of a call in which the crown prince personally ordered Khashoggi murdered “as soon as possible.” If that were in fact true, there would be no defensible reason not to drop the hammer on Saudi Arabia. And if that were in fact true, any claim that calling for a tougher line on Riyadh would only undermine Trump would be morally bankrupt.
But even without a smoking gun, there is enough to say that Trump’s obstinate support of Riyadh is morally bankrupt. From where I’m sitting, Trump’s battle cry shouldn’t be “MAGA,” but “MSAGA”–Make Saudi Arabia Great Again.
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