Tuesday, October 16, 2018 at 7:47 AM

In Killing Khashoggi, Saudi Crown Prince Exposed His Perfidy and Trump’s Cupidity

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

The prevailing feature of President Trump’s foreign policy is the way he courts world leaders with whom he has, or is scheming to establish, personal financial ties. Nothing betrayed this quite like the way he salivated at the prospect of striking deals with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un – deals that have nothing to do with nuclear weapons:

President Donald Trump applauded North Korea’s ‘great beaches’ and said they would be a great location for condos and hotels. …

‘Boy, look at that view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo?’

(Business Insider, January 12, 2018)

Bear this prevailing feature in mind as you read the rest of this commentary.

Turkish officials have an audio recording of the alleged killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi from the Apple Watch he wore when he walked into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul over a week ago. …

The writer, who has written critically about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [MBS], vanished after he walked into the consulate on Oct. 2.

Saudi Arabia has said it had nothing to do with Khashoggi’s disappearance, without explaining or offering evidence of how the writer left the consulate and disappeared into Istanbul with his fiancée waiting outside.

(Haaretz, October 14, 2018)

With all due respect to the murdered Khashoggi, the most disheartening thing about this story is the venal, gaslighting and Manchurian way Trump is providing political cover for MBS.

President Trump raised the possibility on Monday that ‘rogue killers’ were behind the disappearance of a Saudi dissident journalist as the kingdom prepared to admit Jamal Khashoggi was killed in an interrogation gone wrong. …

The new explanation served to shield [MBS] from any blame.

(The New York Times, October 15, 2018)

Mind you, this is the same president who, out of the other side of his mouth, threatened “severe punishment” if it turned out the Saudis were responsible. Well, according to reliable reports, they detained Khashoggi after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancé, Hatice Cengiz. MBS then dispatched a 15-man hit squad not just to silence Khashoggi’s irritating criticisms “for good,” but to bone-saw him into small parts – presumably to fly out in diplomatic pouches.

Incidentally, am I the only one who sees eerie parallels between the 15 Saudis who executed this assassination in Turkey and the 15 Saudis who executed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States? Oh right, the Saudis deny they had anything to do with 9/11. They insist it was a Jewish conspiracy. This is why only cupidity explains Trump’s Jewish Mideast envoy, Jared Kushner, fraternizing with MBS as if he were literally a brother from another mother.

In any event, it does not matter what cockamamie explanation the Saudis conjure up. Because, even if the whole world sees the Saudis on tape executing this hit, Trump will never make good on his threat. And here is his mercenary reason for allowing the little Saudi tail to wag the big American dog:

Saudi Arabia — and I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me … $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.

(The New York Daily News, September 4, 2016)

Trump always hastens to make the deceptive claim that he has no financial ties to Saudi Arabia. That’s probably a lie. But the American people have yet to learn the truth because this artful dodger has steadfastly refused to man-up and release his tax returns.

More importantly, though, Saudis might be more invested in his real estate holdings in the United States and elsewhere than even he is, which could make the Trump Organization little more than subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. The only problem is that Russian oligarchs own so much of him too, they might take exception …

Apropos of which, given the little we do know about Saudi investments in his businesses, it follows that Trump is covering for Saudi Arabia for the same reason he covered (and is still covering) for Russia, namely to protect his personal interests – national interests be damned. And remember, this is also the same president who raised the possibility that China or some 400-pound loser on his bed in New Jersey was behind the cyberattack on the 2016 presidential election.

Not to mention that Trump is once again making a mockery of his own intelligence services. After all, reports are that they informed him, within days of Khashoggi’s disappearance, that this was an intentional Saudi hit job – even if brazenly botched.

But, just as he willfully defied intelligence briefings to propagate President Putin’s fatuous denial about that cyberattack, Trump is doing the same to propagate MBS’s equally fatuous denial about this hit. His obvious strategy is to deny, deny, deny until he gets his way, come what may! No doubt he’s reassuring MBS that this strategy can help him weather this allegation of murder, just as it helped Brett Kavanaugh weather several allegations of sexual assault.

Of course, this is just the latest case of Trump betraying not only his role as leader of the free world but also the democratic values America has always championed.

Indeed, it speaks volumes that this hit job is causing US businessmen to boycott Saudi Arabia. For starters, they are withdrawing — like rats jumping off a sinking ship — from a major investment conference scheduled for next week in Riyadh. This stands in stark contrast to the way Trump is trying to stay constructively engaged; you know, the way Reagan stayed constructively engaged with South Africa’s Apartheid regime throughout his presidency, despite growing boycotts.

As it happens, European leaders wasted no time prevailing upon their respective delegations of politicians and businessmen to withdraw. In fact, they are continually filling the void Trump’s failure of leadership is leaving on the world stage. Unfortunately, he couldn’t care less about the spectacle or hypocrisy of having America lead from behind in this and many other cases (e.g., re trade, climate change, and human rights).

But the real issue here is not whether Trump will whitewash the murderous misdeeds of this Saudi dictator, the way he has done (with redolent envy) those of other dictators like Putin of Russia, Erdogan of Turkey, and Duterte of the Philippines. Nor is it the unwitting license Trump gave MBS to order this hit by continually decrying the press as the “enemy of the people.”

The real issue is whether his Republican enablers in Congress will back up their words of outrage with action – like imposing North Korean-type sanctions on Saudi Arabia … and then joining with Democrats to impeach Trump!

They should do this as a categorical imperative to show that America will continue to champion its democratic values. This, no matter how hell-bent Trump is on making a mockery of them – in this case by blithely selling out all America has stood for on the world stage for a few billion dollars in arms sales.

Frankly, Republicans should also be motivated by the fact that the Saudis clearly have no respect for the United States, and even less for Trump. Unfortunately, he is either too stupid or too craven or both to care.

But the reason bipartisan outrage has even Republican senators calling for MBS to resign is that they know the Saudis could’ve explained exactly what happened within hours. This makes all the Saudi talk about conducting a transparent and comprehensive investigation a cynical farce. And getting Trump to play along, as the world watches in utter stupefaction, makes that all the more galling.

Incidentally, sanctioning the Saudis will not address the greater imperative for the American people to come to their senses and utterly reject Trump and the way he has undermined democratic institutions and debased political discourse – complete with his juvenile insults masquerading as tough talk. They can serve notice in this respect by voting Trump’s Republican enablers out of office in next month’s midterm elections.

Finally, lest you think MBS should be forgiven this one egregious act, you should know that this is the same crown prince who

  • Launched a misguided war in Yemen (in March 2015) that is making the one George W. Bush launched in Iraq (in March 2003) look like a drive-by shooting.
  • Led a regional embargo against Qatar (in June 2017) that is proving every bit as hypocritical and ill-fated as the one JFK led against Cuba (in February 1962).

NOTE: MBS did this for no credible reason other than to silence Al Jazeera, Qatar’s relatively progressive TV station. He claimed that Qatar was aiding and abetting terrorists. And, as in this case, he got Trump to parrot his propaganda; that is, until Trump’s military advisers informed/reminded him that Qatar not only hosts the forward headquarters of US Central Command but provides critical support in the US fight against ISIS.

Even more interesting, though, is that the Turkey that now claims to have caught the Saudis red-handed executing Khashoggi is the same Turkey that jumped to Qatar’s defense back then. In fact, Turkey’s own strongman, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, publicly denounced MBS’s embargo as “inhumane and against Islamic values.”

  • Ordered all Saudis to boycott Canada just because it dared to criticize his arrest of Saudi women’s rights activists. This included ordering over 8,000 graduate students in August to return home immediately.
  • Invited hundreds of Saudi ministers, businessmen, and princes to a meeting at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh in November, summarily convicted them on trumped-up charges of corruption, and extorted billions as the price for their release.
  • Held the prime minister of Lebanon hostage for weeks to extort God knows what from him.
  • Dismissed claims about presiding over an ostentatiously corrupt regime by quipping, with no hint of irony or self-awareness, that

‘I’m not Gandhi or Mandela.

(60 Minutes, March 19, 2018)

Unfortunately, I became convinced long ago that, when Trump said he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and lose no support, he was thinking not just of stupid, morally bankrupt supporters, but also of craven, morally bankrupt congressmen.

I cannot lament or stress enough that having this irredeemable creep as president of the United States says more about the people (especially white women and so-called Evangelicals) who voted for him than it does about Trump. After all, his racism, schoolyard bullying, misogyny, mendacity, sexual predation, shady financial dealings, political amorality, and other flaws — too numerous to list — were on continual display during his presidential campaign.

This is why I fully expect Trump to have his venal way by limiting any “punishment” for this murder to little more than token sanctions against the “rogue killers” – all of whom MBS will be all too happy to offer up as sacrificial lambs.

That said, I am ashamed to admit that, if MBS had limited his misdeeds to Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries (like Qatar and Yemen), even I would’ve given him a pass. My abiding thought was a pox on all their Mideast countries. After all, Turkey’s Erdogan makes MBS look like a boy scout when it comes to stifling democratic freedoms, especially freedom of the press.

Indeed, there’s every indication that, instead of attempting to hold MBS to account, Erdogan is using intelligence gathered about this murder to extort financial concessions from him. In other words, for the right price, Erdogan will be all too happy to play along with MBS and Trump’s spin about rogue killers.

No matter how Salman fares at home, it will certainly help abroad that, unlike his predecessors, he has a face that could easily warm a billion non-Muslim hearts. I wish him well.

(“Saudi Arabia Promises to Repent for Extremist Ways,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 26, 2017)

But ordering this hit on Khashoggi in Istanbul smacks of flying too close to the sun. Accordingly, far from wishing him well, I am now wishing MBS gets burned.

Related commentaries:
MBS
Qatar
Yemen
Trump leading from behind
Brett Kavanaugh

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