Is it news that the Saudi king denies any knowledge of the disappearance of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi? Donald Trump thinks so:
Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened “to our Saudi Arabian citizen.” He said that they are working closely with Turkey to find answer. I am immediately sending our Secretary of State to meet with King!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 15, 2018
Just how much would King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud know, anyway? He’s been in charge for almost four years now, but the 83-year-old monarch has largely been eclipsed by his son and appointed crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The prince has ruthlessly consolidated his power beginning shortly after his appointment in June 2017. Bin Salman purged his opponents in the royal family while presenting the moves as badly needed reforms of the Saudi state, in some cases legitimately so. But it’s been bin Salman’s show for at least the last sixteen months, not King Salman’s.
Nevertheless, Trump plans to escalate it over bin Salman’s head. Trump declared in the same statement that Mike Pompeo would travel to Saudi Arabia to meet King Salman for a discussion over the Khashoggi disappearance and probable murder, “literally within the hour,” CBS’ Mark Knoller reported. That’s significant in that it cuts Jared Kushner out of the loop, or at least demotes him within it. Earlier, Trump had told 60 Minutes that his son-in-law had demanded answers from bin Salman and had been assured that Saudi Arabia had nothing to do with it. Tasking America’s top diplomat with an emergency mission to the very top of the monarchy makes it clear that the White House isn’t going to rely on personal reassurances and that it’s taking the matter very seriously.
That’s the real message from this tweet — that Trump takes this seriously, and plans to force the Saudis to take it seriously, too. That would be news indeed, as some wondered whether the White House would shrug it off after the assurances that Kushner got. Will it pay off, and will the US continue to apply the pressure even if Pompeo comes away with nothing more than the empty assurances we’ve received thus far? Tough to say, but if retribution comes, it will likely be private and unremarked by either side. We may not need the Saudis’ oil as much as we used to need it, but we need them as a bulwark against Iranian hegemony in the region more than ever. And they need us for the same reason.
Update: Sometimes, it’s best just to do a Sergeant Schultz rather than speculate:
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) October 15, 2018
Er … how would “rogue killers” get inside a Saudi consulate and then get out again with a dead body? If it happened outside the consulate, where’s the security video showing Khashoggi exiting the facility? For that matter, where’s the body? Of all the potential explanations, “rogue killers” sounds the least plausible outside of an alien abduction.