The 633-word statement of President Donald Trump on the Saudi royals’ role in the grisly murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi is a remarkable document, not only for its ice-cold candor.
The president re-raises a question that has roiled the nation since Jimmy Carter: To what degree should we allow idealistic values trump vital interests in determining foreign policy?
On the matter of who ordered the killing of Khashoggi, Trump does not rule out the crown prince as prime suspect:
“King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder… (but) it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge.”
Yet, whether MBS did or didn’t do it, the Saudis have “agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States.” And a full fourth of that is for “military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and other great U.S. defense contractors.”
“Foolishly” cancel these contracts, warns Trump, and Russia or China will snap them up. Moreover, the Saudis have agreed to pump oil to keep prices down.
Trump is unabashedly putting U.S. economic and strategic interests first. He is not going to damage our relationship with Riyadh and its royal family, even if the future king ordered a cold-blooded killing of a U.S.-based Saudi journalist he regarded as an enemy.
The stark manner in which Trump framed the issue will force the members of Congress of both parties to decide whether they wish to defy Trump, sanction the Saudis and risk the relationship.
Other contentions in Trump’s statement suggest that one of the reasons he is giving the crown prince a pass on the Khashoggi killing is that he sees MBS as an indispensable ally against our real enemy in the region.
After his introductory line, Trump goes into a tear that begins: “The country of Iran… is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen.”
But is this true?
In 2015, it was on the orders of Mohammad bin Salman, then defense minister, that Saudi Arabia intervened in the civil war in Yemen,