PARIS -- Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist working for the Washington Post, is believed to have been murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul this month, and now the spotlight is shining brightly on U.S.-Saudi relations.
Saudi Arabia long ago hijacked American foreign policy with the blessing of self-serving Washington elites. President Donald Trump has done little to change that and may, in fact, have made things worse.
The Trump team's reaction to the news of Khashoggi's disappearance was like that of people doubling down on a lost bet. The president's son, Donald Trump Jr., retweeted an assertion that in the 1988, Khashoggi was "tooling around Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden" -- ignoring the fact that at the time, bin Laden was the CIA's man in Afghanistan in the covert war against the Soviet Union. Trump Jr. may not be aware of it, but Saudi Arabia has exploited the "terrorist" label to punish those who oppose Saudi leadership.
When President Trump visited Riyadh in May 2017, he opened Pandora's box.
"Above all we must be united in pursuing the one goal that transcends every other consideration," Trump said. "That goal is to meet history's great test -- to conquer extremism and vanquish the forces of terrorism."
By year's end, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had lured hundreds of wealthy Saudis to the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, where they were held hostage and interrogated under anti-corruption and anti-terrorism pretexts. It's not as if Saudi Arabia has a functional justice system to test the legitimacy of any such allegations.
Nonetheless, Trump and his administration have continued to praise bin Salman as some kind of reformer. Perhaps it's because the prince's crackdown coincided with the "women's rights" announcement that Saudi women who aren't already chauffeured everywhere by men would be allowed to get behind the wheel of a car? Yay.
Middle Eastern intelligence sources have told me that the bin Salman-led interrogations at the Ritz-Carlton were conducted by a team at his personal command as part of a $2 billion annual contract facilitated by allies in the United Arab Emirates.
Trump said there will be "severe punishment" if Saudi Arabia is found responsible for Khashoggi's disappearance, but he mitigated that statement by suggesting that "rogue killers" may be to blame.
To what extent is America responsible for any such rogue operators? We know that the U.S. sells the Saudis weapons, but how much American savoir-faire is also exported, only to later blow back in America's face with incidents such as this?
Trump boasted at a recent rally that bin Salman depends upon American protection: "And I love the king, King Salman, but I said, 'King, we're protecting you. You might not be there for two weeks without us. You have to pay for your military, you have to pay.'"
Why does Trump think it's Americans who are protecting Saudi power? Which Americans, precisely?
What kind of weird, opaque wheeling and dealing has been going on between the Trump administration and the Saudis? Why has Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly taken multiple unannounced trips to Saudi Arabia?
The optics are problematic. According to The Intercept, Kushner's father, Charles Kushner, met with the finance minister of Qatar in April 2017 in an attempt to secure financial backing for the family real estate firm. When Qatar declined to invest, Jared Kushner reportedly backed a blockade of Qatar by several Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia.
Is special counsel Robert Mueller looking into possible collusion between the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia?
The Saudis may try to weasel out of their current predicament by capitalizing on the rogue operator theory, but Saudi Arabia has little credibility left. King Salman, (technically still in power) is either so incompetent that he just sits there watching as his son, the crown prince, tosses his toys out of the pram, or else he's silently complicit.
Saudi Arabia spawned Osama bin Laden and the majority of the 9/11 hijackers, and it has backed various terror groups that have targeted Western nations, including the Islamic State. It has apparently taken the disappearance of a Washington Post columnist for America to wake up. But those who see Saudi Arabia as critical to America and Israel's plans to destroy Iran will still try to turn a blind eye.
Washington long ago bet on the wrong horse in the Middle East. Now that Russia and China have cornered the Iranian market, those who placed all their chips on Saudi Arabia won't be able to take a moral stand without taking a financial hit. Consider it just a long-overdue market correction for having sold out America to the Saudis.
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