President Donald Trump issued a bizarre statement
explaining why he would take no action against Saudi Crown
Prince Mohammed bin Salman even though he may well have had
Jamal Khashoggi brutally murdered.
The statement is full of falsehoods and makes for a
frightening read, but it reveals a dark secret about US foreign
policy: It needs Saudi Arabia and has always turned a blind
Accepting the murder of Khashoggi is horrific, but the
US can’t really pursue regime change in Saudi Arabia without
opening itself up to extreme danger.
Khashoggi’s killing has turned much of the US media
into an organ of foreign intelligence services that want to
hurt US-Saudi ties, and that might not be putting “America
The world is a very dangerous place!”
That’s how President Donald Trump opened up a particularly bizarre statement
where he explained that — even though Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed
bin Salman may have had Jamal Khashoggi brutally murdered in
Istanbul — the US will stand by its ally.
The statement met with near-universal
disgust, but it reveals a dark truth of US foreign policy: It
abides human rights horrors from Saudi Arabia because, for seven
decades, US presidents have decided they have to.
While Trump’s statement was anything but normal, the US ignoring
Saudi Arabian human rights atrocities is absolutely the norm in
On August 9 Saudi Arabia dropped a US-made
bomb on a school bus in Yemen and killed 40 children, and the
US and Europe continued with arms sales to the kingdom, for
The transparent anti-Saudi media operation
“[I]t could very well be that the Crown Prince had
knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he
didn’t!” Trump’s statement read.
“[W]e may never know all of the facts surrounding the
murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” it continued.
Both of these statements play coy with a mountain of
evidence that the Saudi royals, and not rogue agents in their
inner circle yet totally beyond their control, ordered the
killing and dismemberment of a US resident. That said, they’re
both likely true.
No US inspector ever entered the Saudi consulate in
Istanbul where on October 2 the killing took place. It was two
weeks before any outside inspector stepped foot in that
In fact, almost all of what the public knows about
Khashoggi’s killing has been leaked from anonymous Turkish
intelligence sources to Turkish media. Turkey under President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has purged its press, military, and spy
services to the point where none of them are
“Members of the Turkish political establishment are looking
to use this crisis for the benefit of Turkey,” Sanam Vakil,
a senior consulting research fellow in the Middle East
North Africa Programme told Business Insider.
Juicy leaks from Turkish intelligence can be read as an
attempt to force a recalibration of US-Saudi ties, Vakil said.
can read more here on that subject here).
For over a month now, a steady drip of leaks have provided
ever more grisly details about the killing, keeping the story in
the news, keeping the pressure on leaders day after day.
But if Turkey is so sure that Crown Prince Mohammed had
Khashoggi killed in Istanbul, then why have they not moved
Erdogan said the killing came from the “highest levels” of
Saudi’s leadership, but he’s made no formal charges in a murder
that took place in his country.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said of Turkey’s
unofficial accusations: “They are leaks that have not been
officially announced, and I have noticed that they are based on
an assessment, not conclusive evidence.”
No European leader has blamed Crown Prince Mohammed,
either. Germany banned some of the men charged by Saudi Arabia,
widely seen as accomplices or scapegoats; and
cut arms sales to the Kingdom. The US did the pretty much
same with sanctions and scaling back its military support for the
war in Yemen.
“I don’t think that Washington or Paris or London are
looking necessarily to sanction MBS personally,” but rather they
wish for more accountability from the kingdom, said
But for all the outrage over Trump’s indelicate statement,
what’s the alternative to ultimately getting over Khashoggi’s
What does putting “America First” in regard to Saudi policy
Essentially, it comes down to
keeping a US-friendly regime in place in Riyadh.
The US has no alternative but Crown Prince Mohammed,
Badran, the research fellow, told Business Insider.
If Trump called Crown Prince Mohammed to step down,
essentially regime change in Saudi Arabia, it could end
horrifically for the US.
“The potential for destabilization is there,” Tony Badran,
a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies
told Business Insider of attempts to unseat Crown Prince
he whole approach of people calling for
this flippantly, breathlessly, is just absurd. You cannot
possibly imagine how the dynamics are going to go. You can’t game
For years, Al Qaeda has argued that “
regime stands only as a tool of the Americans and that if you
destabilize the relationship then the Saudi relationship falls
and [Al Qaeda] will inherit the place,” said Badran.
The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are all required by their
faith to visit the Saudi city of Mecca in their lifetimes.
If Saudi Arabia, custodian of the holy cities of Mecca and
Medina came under the power of an openly anti-US regime, it could
cause incalculable damage to the US.
Trump is still wrong, though
The reasons Trump brings up for his continued support of
Saudi Arabia don’t make a strong case. He lists Saudi’s job
creation in greatly exaggerated terms.
Trump says Russia and China would swoop in with arms sales
if the US withdraws, but Russia and China don’t make Patriot
missiles or bombs that fit on US-made F-15 fighter
Also, the idea that Saudi Arabia badly wants to provide
humanitarian assistance to the same people they blockaded in
Yemen amid one of the worst cholera and famine outbreaks in
modern history is dubious.
“Carte blanche to Saudi Arabia and let’s just talk about
Iran all the time,” said Vakil, characterizing Trump’s statement.
“This is where he makes a lot of European political leaders
Much of the US press has fumed in outrage over Trump’s
handling of the death of a man they often characterize as a
“Washington Post journalist.”
Khashoggi, who died at 59,
spent 57 years in Saudi Arabia working as an operative for the
kingdom in its pre-reform days. He worked closely with Osama
Bin Laden in the 1990s before cutting ties after September 11,
2001. After that he
worked closely with Saudi intelligence as an
At the Washington Post, he advocated for change in Saudi’s
government once Crown Prince Mohammed took power and started on
his various reforms and projects.
In his last column for the Post,
Khashoggi said the Arab world most needs a free press.
“A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and
while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population
falls victim to this false narrative,” wrote Khashoggi. “Sadly,
this situation is unlikely to change.”
Ironically, Khashoggi’s death turned the much of the US
media into an outlet for foreign intelligence services and state
narratives aimed at harming the US-Saudi alliance, which may not
be in the best interest of the US public.