While many of us were busy with family and friends during the Thanksgiving weekend, spending time appreciating what we have and treasuring the value of those around us, the President of the United States took no time off from his argumentative, derisive, self-centered approach to his office. Whether in the White House or at his gold-plated palace at Mar-a-Lago, he hit on topics wide and far. He raged against the independent judiciary, taking on Chief Justice John Roberts in the process, he stated that no one should worry about the troops on the Mexican border missing Thanksgiving with their families, and many topics in between. His most troubling comments came last Tuesday when he released a statement about the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and the brutal murder and dismemberment of U.S. resident and Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.
As you remember, Mr. Khassoggi was lured into the Saudi Embassy in Turkey and tortured, murdered and dismembered by a hit squad sent to do the deed by the de facto head of the Saudi government Mohammad Bin Salman, commonly called MBS by those that want him to be a positive factor in the future development of Saudi Arabia. Those that know the truth know that he is a reckless and ruthless autocrat bent on solidifying his own power as the Crown Prince in order to ensure that he has complete domination as the future king of Saudi Arabia.
Released on White House letterhead, this is the complete transcript of the statement, a statement that could only have been written by the president himself given the syntax, grammar and punctuation therein. We would be lucky if it only exhibited poor writing skills, but instead it runs counter to everything the United States stands for during the last seventy years or more.
The world is a very dangerous place!
The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more. Likewise, the Iranians have killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East. Iran states openly, and with great force, “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” Iran is considered “the world’s leading sponsor of terror.”
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave. They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism.
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!
The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone. Indeed, we have taken strong action against those already known to have participated in the murder. After great independent research, we now know many details of this horrible crime. We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body.
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. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!
I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction – and they are free to do so. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America. After the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world. They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world. As President of the United States I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!
There is so much wrong, facts as well as policy, that it is difficult to know where to start. Let’s start at what should have been the beginning, the death of Jamal Khassoggi. Instead of starting with that fact, he does not address his brutal murder until the fourth paragraph, coming even after he has to congratulate himself on his trip to Saudi Arabia. To add injury to insult, he repeats the canard that Mr. Khassoggi was “an enemy of the state and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Even the Saudi government did not state that he was, after a trial balloon using that as a mitigating factor was vehemently denounced by multiple countries around the world. Mr. Trump brings it in as if it was some acceptable reason for murder. One of the president’s typical tricks. He paints someone negatively and then denies doing so saying that he didn’t say that, they did.
Even more troubling is Mr. Trump’s denouncing the American media as the “enemy of the people” and then using the term “enemy of the state” to describe a murdered journalist. No subtlety there, Mr. Trump just gave every dictator and two-bit autocrat in the world the green light to eliminate any journalist that they designate as an “enemy.”
As I and countless others have pointed out, the president grossly exaggerates the so-called “record amount of money” the Saudis will spend and invest in the United States. So far the Saudis only committed to spending about 14 billion dollars for a missile defense system. The other “hundreds of billions” of purchases and investments are only possibilities, ideas or something for an unspecified future. There is nothing on paper to justify the claims made by the president. Certainly, there is nothing to support the claim that any of it will “create hundreds of thousands of jobs.” The idea that the Saudis would spend that money buying Chinese or Russian goods and military equipment is, in a word, preposterous. Since World War II the Saudis sought out and continue to use U.S. training, equipment, spare parts, ammunition and logistical support for their military. They can not and would not turn to any other country over night to spend money on military items.
Once again for the record, Mr. Trump seems to be influenced by no other world events since the 1973 oil embargo when it comes to assessing the impact of Saudi oil on the market. The U.S. is a larger producer of oil than Saudi Arabia (thanks to fracking and shale oil, but that’s another story). The entire Saudi economy (and all of those claimed purchases and investments in the U.S.) depend on oil. They can impact prices, but not to the extent that Mr. Trump claims. Indeed the crown jewel of ARAMCO refineries, the national Saudi oil company, is in the United States in Port Arthur, Texas. Would they really cut off oil shipments to their own refinery? (The products from the refinery ship to many places in the world, not just the United States.) And oh by the way, the Saudis do not work “closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world.” They do what is best for them. Lower oil prices right now, according to economic analysts, are due primarily because the impact of the embargo on Iran was minimal (its oil is still mostly on the market), the world economy has not expanded as quickly as expected and thus demand is lower, and other economic reasons, not Mr. Trump’s relations with the Saudis.
I could go on and on debunking the myths and out right lies in Mr. Trump’s statement. You get the idea. Here is the worst part in my opinion. The President of the United States clearly states that “it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event” but that it doesn’t matter to the president because their money and the price of oil is more important than upholding human rights, American values and freedom of the press. Yet another signal to any dictator or would be autocrat that not only will we allow journalists to be killed if they are an “enemy of the state” but that if you pay us enough money, we’ll look the other way. Unbelievably, the president finishes his statement by saying “maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t!” (are we in the fifth grade?). In other words, it just doesn’t matter.
Anyone that reads the paper and follows this story knows that the preponderance of evidence is that Mr. Khassoggi was murdered and that the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States calculates that there is the highest probability that the Crown Prince was behind the entire sordid affair. (That is about as close as the CIA will come to saying he all but dismembered the guy himself.) Not to worry. Mr. Trump assures us that he personally talked to the Crown Prince and to the King and that they “vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder.” Just as he accepted President Vladimir Putin’s vigorous denial that Russia interfered with the 2016 election, despite the conclusion of the entire intelligence community of the United States.
Once again, as happens in case after case after case with Mr. Trump, he refuses to believe what he does not want to believe and will look for any out available be it an opinion expressed on Fox News, a piece on an alt-right blog, or “the word” of ruthless dictators and autocrats. Merely deny any wrong doing and the best intelligence agency in the world cannot convince him of anything else. If one doubts that words have consequences when spoken by the president, consider that Mr. Trump continually belittled U.S. intelligence agencies because they were wrong about WMD in Iraq in 2002. This weekend the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia used that same argument to say that the CIA’s conclusion that the Crown Prince was involved in murder was wrong.
The real reason Mr. Trump will not come down hard on Saudi Arabia and especially the Crown Prince is because he likes them. More accurately, he liked the way that they played him during his visit to Riyadh and treated him, literally, like visiting royalty. He has a misguided view of the Saudi ability, or desire, to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They can act as a counter weight to Iran, but not without U.S. backing which could suck us into a war that we do not want. In particular, Mr. Trump frequently expressed his appreciation to the Saudis for bailing him out of one of his many bankruptcies. Likewise his son-in-law Jared Kushner has particularly close ties with the Crown Prince and his company was also intimately involved with Saudi bail outs in the past.
Make no mistake about it. I am not advocating for breaking diplomatic or military ties with Saudi Arabia. The world is indeed a dangerous place and we should use all assets at our disposal to promote our national security interests. That said, Mr. Trump speaks as if the Saudis hold all of the cards. They do not. We have vastly more leverage over them than the other way around if Mr. Trump had the ability to utilize the advantage. He either chooses not do so (because of his personal financial ties?) or is lost in the 70’s with a misguided view of the world, or he is incompetent.
There are numerous ways to make clear our disgust and dissatisfaction with Mr. Khassoggi’s murder. Here are only a few examples of actions we could take:
- Sanction the Crown Prince or parts of his world-wide investments and hurt him where it counts. The 17 Saudis Mr. Trump says we sanctioned include 15 relatively low-level security (hit?) men. Those assessed by the CIA as primarily responsible for ordering the murder are not sanctioned.
- Stop supplying the Saudi military in Yemen. The U.S. is providing assistance that, should it be with held, would severely limit their ability to continue the war in Yemen. The United Nations assesses the situation in Yemen as the biggest humanitarian crisis taking place in the world. Their calculations indicate that roughly 85,000 young children have died of hunger during the war. About 2 million are homeless. 22 million are in need of assistance, especially food. 1.1 million suffer from diarrhea and cholera. The war is portrayed as a proxy war with Iran to stop Islamic terrorism but in fact, Mohammad Bin Salman intervened in a civil war for his own purposes. Iran supports the opposition but the Saudi involvement is far larger, bloodier and indiscriminate in hitting civilian targets.
- Push Mohammad to actually get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and take concrete steps to help the Palestinians form a functioning government and offer substantive proposals for resolving the situation. Put some of that oil money to use providing for investment in the West Bank and to raise the average Palestinian out of the depths of poverty. (Fun fact: Many mid-level to upper-level bureaucrats in Arab countries are of Palestinian heritage. They make the countries run. The Arabs have no desire to resolve the situation because it is a convenient scapegoat for distracting their own people by providing a cause to rally around and to continue to rant against Israel.)
- Stop the Saudi economic and diplomatic attacks on Qatar. (The headquarters for U.S. forces in the region are in Qatar and it is the location of the largest U.S. air base in the region. Mr. Trump supports the Saudi assault on the integrity of Qatar.)
- Stop Mohammad from meddling in Lebanon. (Last year he kidnapped the Prime Minister of Lebanon while he was in Saudi Arabia, forced him to resign and held him hostage until world diplomatic pressure caused his release. Theoretically this was to put pressure on Iran and to lessen the influence of Hezbollah in Lebanon.)
These are but a few ideas off the top of my head. I am sure the regional experts at the State Department and CIA could come up with many more. Instead, the United States capitulated lock, stock and barrel to the murderous whims of a 33-year-old autocrat in the Middle East.
The president’s statement is really “Saudi Arabia First!” Bipartisan efforts in the Senate to make Saudi Arabia feel the pain are talked about, but only time will tell if they can get a bill together during the lame duck session coming up given all the rest of the issues they have to deal with in the interim. Realistically, it could be months before the Congress takes action, if at all. Meanwhile, the Crown Prince goes his merry way having learned the lesson that he can con Mr. Trump out of anything with a little flattery and some money.
The President of the United States betrayed American values. He pretends that the facts are unknowable but asserts that they are irrelevant in any case. He bases his decision on a widely discredited claim that they are spending hundreds of billions of dollars in the U.S. and keeping oil prices low, when in fact, the Saudis are espousing a cut in their oil production in order to try to increase prices. He disparages the victim by falsely hinting that he was a member of some terrorist network, a claim originally floated by Mohammad in a phone call to the White House and then denied when the world condemned the allegation as totally false. (Parts of Mr. Trump’s statement were clearly word for word restatements of things the Saudi Crown Prince told him.) He belittles and ignores the best analysis by his own intelligence agencies. He shows the worst of his talents and little disposition to take appropriate actions if it does not meet his personal needs, desires and perceptions. Again, Mr. Trump demonstrates that under his leadership, the United States is weak.
In short, Mr. Trump sold out the United States and our values. Dictators and autocrats around the world now know that they can kill journalists with impunity if they flatter the president and pay enough money.
The United States is fast losing its place in the world as a leader. Congress must act to rectify this situation and to set the standard that we will not forsake our values or place in the world for a few dollars more.