There’s no point in pollsters polling the Khashoggi matter. No one who’s not a news junkie, which is to say about 90 percent of the public, would have any idea who he is or what the Saudis did wrong. Even those who are following the story would likely retreat to partisan corners when pressed to react to Trump’s reaction. But when push comes to shove, as heinous as the Saudis’ actions were, how many Americans really care? Show me the person whose views on relations with the Kingdom have remained cynically expediently in favor through 9/11, financial support for terrorism, the raging war on Yemen, and all manner of medieval Salafist barbarism practiced on their own people, for whom Khashoggi is somehow the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Trump indicates his administration won’t act against Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi because of $110b they are spending in the US
He is referring to an arms deal with Saudi Arabia that he claims is worth $110b — a figure that has been debunked pic.twitter.com/cRHkKBOXLO
— david vujanovic (@davidvujanovic) October 11, 2018
I’m tempted to say that this is just Trump being true to his “America first” worldview. The Saudis are despicable and sure, there’ll be some token reprimand for murdering Khashoggi, but at the end of the day we’re not leaving money on the table that might benefit America’s economy. Khashoggi is Not Our Problem. Jobs for Americans is our problem. The difficulty with framing that as Trumpism in action, though, is that it also happens to describe the entirety of modern U.S. foreign policy towards the Kingdom among both parties. They’ve got oil, we need oil. (Albeit less than we used to.) They hate Iran, we hate Iran. They’re willing to provide intelligence on jihadi monsters, never mind that they’ve been propping up those same monsters in various ways for decades, we need that intelligence. What they do to women, to dissidents, to democracy advocates, and to anyone of a faith other than Islam is Not Our Problem. America first. That’s been the Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan etc etc view on the Kingdom. That’s also why this apparent “own” doesn’t quite work:
This White House took a much more aggressive approach with Canada (when it came to tariffs and NAFTA renegotiation) than with Saudi Arabia (over the death/disappearance of a journalist) https://t.co/5gCP0eXGCc
— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) October 11, 2018
Yeah, but playing hardball with Canada was in service to getting a better economic deal for Americans. *Not* playing hardball with the Saudis is in service to the same end, and the U.S. has been not playing hardball with them for a looooong time. Another way of putting that is to say that official Washington was Trumpist towards the Saudis long before Trump was a Trumpist. The only difference in this case is that they’re momentarily willing to pretend this is the final straw to throw a bit of fear and conciliation into the Saudi royals whereas Trump, forever the blunt speaker, can’t really be bothered.
Journalist Yashar Ali is reminding everyone on Twitter today of how many sketchy things the Kingdom’s new ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, did before he was warmly received in the United States earlier this year as a modern, reform-minded liberal monarch.
By the time all of these folks met him here’s what happened.
MBS kidnapped Prime Minister of Lebanon: https://t.co/lZob7c1xLP
NBC Revealed MBS kept his mom under house arrest: https://t.co/EsZLgkFzfP
MBS had many of his cousins detained/abused: https://t.co/3paYMWqFzZ
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) October 11, 2018
Don’t forget bombing Yemen, he added in a separate tweet. The uproar over Khashoggi is due to the fact that many people in official Washington and in the media knew him. If Salman wants to torture dissidents at home, well, that’s abstractly awful, but to brazenly murder a member of the western journalist class is a personal affront. There must be consequences, and there will be. Just not anything that seriously complicates the U.S./Saudi devil’s bargain. The only way things change is if bipartisan critics in Congress gain traction in their demand for sanctions on the Saudis over the Khashoggi matter. But Trump has already made that more perilous for Republicans by commenting as he did today. Does McConnell really want to go to war with the president before the midterms over a boutique matter like this, when Trump is running around waving Saudi money in Americans’ faces?
The latest on Khashoggi’s disappearance, by the way, is that it may have been a kidnapping gone wrong. At first that theory made no sense to me. How would professional intelligence agents botch a kidnapping so badly that the target ended up dead? But here’s a possibility:
As a time-stamped photo first published by the Washington Post has shown, Khashoggi walked into the consulate less than an hour later at 1.14pm.
He was greeted by an official, and led into the consul-general’s room. Shortly afterwards, two men entered the room and dragged Khashoggi out of the office and into another room where they killed him, the source said, without elaborating how he was killed…
A Saudi source told Reuters that British intelligence believed there had been an attempt to drug Khashoggi inside the consulate that culminated in an overdose.
It’s still hard to believe that pros would bungle a drugging so badly that they’d accidentally kill the victim, particularly knowing that western media would pay particularly close attention to Khashoggi’s disappearance. But it lines up with certain facts. It makes no sense that the Saudis would send 15 agents to Turkey if the mission was to simply kill Khashoggi behind closed doors inside the consulate. If the plan was to quietly spirit him out of the country, though, you can understand why they’d need more people on the ground. In fact, sources told WaPo that “the details of the operation, which involved sending two teams totaling 15 men, in two private aircraft arriving and departing Turkey at different times, bore the hallmarks of a ‘rendition,’ in which someone is extralegally removed from one country and deposited for interrogation in another.” A kidnapping attempt would also explain why a source told the Daily Mail that Khashoggi was in fact captured alive and taken back to Saudi Arabia. Maybe that’s true, or maybe that was simply the plan before the overdose occurred.
According to the site quoted above, Khashoggi was hacked to pieces after he died and possibly buried in the garden at the Saudi consul general’s residence. The consul allegedly hasn’t left home for three days as Turkish authorities have demanded to search his home. If it’s all true, what are they going to do with the body? Bring some sort of dissolving agent into the home and try to dispose of it that way?
One other point. Trump’s attitude in the clip is that Khashoggi’s disappearance doesn’t really touch the U.S. in any way. Not true. He was, apparently, a legal permanent resident. And there’s reason to believe, per WaPo, that U.S. intelligence had intercepted Saudi communications suggesting that he was targeted for kidnapping. Does the U.S. have any duty to warn someone when it has reason to believe he’s in a foreign agency’s crosshairs? Yes, according to the editor of Just Security, a former Pentagon lawyer. Intelligence Community Directive 191 creates a “duty to warn,” even if the target isn’t a U.S. citizen. Did U.S. intel warn Khashoggi? If not, why not?