You can’t fully appreciate this White House statement without reading it yourself. It’s about a major international incident involving the murder of an American-based civilian by a foreign government, with implications for diplomatic relations between the U.S. and two prominent Islamic allies…
…and it’s written in fluent Trump-ese. Exclamation points galore. It’s basically the longest Trump tweet in history. You would think that if he had resolved to officially shrug off Khashoggi’s murder, he’d at least farm the statement out to John Bolton or Mike Pompeo to pretty it up. Nope. It reads like dictation for the most part. Which is good, frankly: If we’re going to greenlight the murder of dissidents by our Wahhabist “friends,” better that we avoid diplomatic niceties and doublespeak. The Trumpian tone of the statement is his way of taking full possession of the decision. He’s owning it.
His logic is pure nationalism too, right down to the “America First!” kicker. (Exclamation point in the original.) As you read, bear in mind this post from last night. For all of Marco Rubio’s pro-nationalist twaddle lately, do you think he agrees that arms sales matter more than an American resident’s right not to be dismembered by a foreign power that he’s criticized? Maybe there’s a lesson here for Little Marco.
After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!…
Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. 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!
That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran.
A Twitter pal made me laugh with this, even though there’s no punchline per se. It just states Trump’s views, accurately:
*DNA evidence exonerates central park five*
I know they did it anyway
*CIA concludes prince ordered journalist dismembered*
who can say
— Kilgore Trout (@KT_So_It_Goes) November 20, 2018
Who can say? The CIA thinks it can:
The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month, contradicting the Saudi government’s claims that he was not involved in the killing, according to people familiar with the matter.
The CIA’s assessment, in which officials have said they have high confidence, is the most definitive to date linking Mohammed to the operation and complicates the Trump administration’s efforts to preserve its relationship with a close ally. A team of 15 Saudi agents flew to Istanbul on government aircraft in October and killed Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate, where he had gone to pick up documents that he needed for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman.
In reaching its conclusions, the CIA examined multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi, according to the people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence. Khalid told Khashoggi, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post, that he should go to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so.
Trump allegedly has seen some of the evidence, but one of the lessons of Russiagate is that no amount of confidence in a conclusion by U.S. intelligence will convince him of a foreign power’s malfeasance if he’s emotionally invested in believing otherwise. He doesn’t want to believe that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign because he fears it’ll taint his victory if he acknowledges it, so he’s been hedging about it for years. He doesn’t want to believe that Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s murder because it’ll cause too many headaches for the U.S.-Saudi relationship, so he’s arrived at “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t,” no matter what the CIA might think. The “deep state” isn’t going to interrupt his wishcasting when he’s wishing very hard.
Trump’s emphasis on how much the Saudis have pledged to spend in the U.S. is especially gross in context since it frames Khashoggi’s murder as a straight-up blood-money transaction — or bribe, if you prefer. There’s nothing so immoral that it can’t be forgiven if enough money is on the line; that’s a very Trumpy attitude and he’s true to it here. I leave to you to deduce what lesson the Saudis, and not just the Saudis, might draw from it in the future when weighing whether there’ll be any diplomatic consequences from snatching people off the street and murdering them. (If I were them, I’d note well his fear about Russia and China muscling in on the U.S.-Saudi relationship and start flirting with those other powers, to see if Trump will lower his price.) Give them credit at least for understanding how Trump approaches foreign policy, as a sort of protection racket in which client states enjoy the empire’s favor to the extent they’re willing to throw money at it.
And as for Trump’s emphasis on needing the Saudis to help check Iran (which I didn’t quote above but it’s in the statement), imagine what sort of incentives that might give Riyadh. As long as they can keep Iran contained, are the Saudis better off with a Shiite Islamist clerical regime in charge there or a more liberal, secular, nationalist regime that might nonetheless maintain regional ambitions? What would a less scary Iranian government mean to America in terms of maintaining the U.S.-Saudi relationship? The Saudis might actually be weaker and would certainly be more isolated without their “protector” in a world where Iran was less dangerous. Maybe, per Trump’s statement, they have an interest in Iran remaining Islamist.
Here’s Mike Pompeo echoing Trump’s point: Sh*t happens in a rough world. The more you pay us, the more okay with that sh*t we are.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks after Trump signals the US won’t punish Saudi crown prince over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi: “It is the President’s obligation … to ensure that we adopt policies that further America’s national security” https://t.co/KbyedbHtrt pic.twitter.com/7Y20z8rsNu
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) November 20, 2018
Update: A sharp line here from the publisher of the Washington Post, the paper that ran Khashoggi’s column: “President Trump is correct in saying the world is a very dangerous place. His surrender to this state-ordered murder will only make it more so.”
BREAKING: Washington Post publisher says Pres. Trump's solidarity with Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi killing is betrayal of American values and failure of leadership, and calls for president to release evidence if there is reason to doubt CIA's conclusion. https://t.co/FunFIlgFX9 pic.twitter.com/p9lq7fWNk1
— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 20, 2018
Update: Rubio chimes in by doing the same thing he did in the op-ed I wrote about last night, redefining nationalism so that it conveniently means all of the stuff he already believes in. Nationalism isn’t about minding our own business and helping American workers by cashing Saudi checks. It means human rights!
Our foreign policy must be about promoting our national interests.
It is in our natl interest to defend human rights.
HR violations lead to mass migration, help extremism flourish & often result in new governments hostile towards the U.S. because we supported their oppressors.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) November 20, 2018
Eh, all of those criticisms could be, and are, made against interventionism too, of which Rubio’s an ardent supporter.
Update: The interventionists are angry, and so are the anti-interventionists:
The President indicates that Saudi Arabia is the lesser two evils compared to Iran and so the US won’t punish Saudi Arabia for the brutal killing and dismemberment of a dissident journalist in their consulate. I disagree.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) November 20, 2018
I’m pretty sure this statement is Saudi Arabia First, not America First. I’m also pretty sure John Bolton wrote it.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) November 20, 2018
Never in American history has it been clearer that a presidential statement came directly from the president himself, but Rand is cautious about attacking the populist-in-chief. So he’s scapegoating Bolton here instead.
Update: He’s all-in.
— Josh Campbell (@joshscampbell) November 20, 2018
Update: Not to put too fine a point on it:
"If you boil the White House statement down to its essence, President Trump has just asserted that if you do enough business with the U.S., you are free to murder journalists. That's an appalling message to send to Saudi Arabia and the world." @Joelcpj #JusticeForJamal pic.twitter.com/PAnXHJJv9A
— Committee to Protect Journalists (@pressfreedom) November 20, 2018