The US President has stunned observers by continuing to side with Saudi Arabia's crown prince even after the CIA concluded the latter had ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Just last week the CIA said it had determined the killing would not have gone ahead without Prince Mohammed’s approval.
The CIA had come to the conclusion after studying intercepted phone calls from a member of the ‘kill team’ to one of the crown prince’s senior aides.
The agency had long suspected Prince Mohammed was directly involved in the murder but had not made a definitive statement until mid-November.
BREAKING: The United States will continue to back Saudi Arabia even if MBS ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump announced in a bizarre statement filled with exclamation marks. https://t.co/DBHDlkADhH
— HuffPost (@HuffPost) November 20, 2018
Trump’s defiant statement on standing with Saudi Arabia
None of this seems to have swayed Trump, who released his own statement on 20 November local time saying he would not seek to punish Saudi Arabia even if the crown prince ordered the journalist’s death.
“The world is a very dangerous place!,” the statement begins, before stating that Iran is “responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen,” as well as outlining how it supports terrorism in Lebanon and enables the dictatorship of Bassar Assad in Syria.
The point seems to be that Saudi Arabia is a strategically important partner and bulwark against the rogue state of Iran and thus the US needs to maintain close ties with it. Trump has previously called Saudi Arabia a “spectacular ally.”
The often confusing statement also goes on to make an economic argument for the partnership remaining strong.
“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.”
US$110 billion of this money will apparently be spent on military equipment from companies such as Boeing, Lockheed, Martin and Raytheon. If Saudi Arabia takes its business elsewhere, Trump argues that Russia and China will be the beneficiaries.
Trump says selling weapons to Saudi Arabia will create a lot of jobs. That’s not true. https://t.co/eHTYOyexQQ
— Vox (@voxdotcom) November 20, 2018
Writing on Vox, Alexia Fernández Campbell disputed the claim that selling arms to Saudi Arabia will create many jobs. In the wake of Khashoggi’s death, Germany recently announced it was cutting all sales of weapons to the country.
The statement condemns the murder of Khashoggi but equivocates over who is responsible.
“It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!…we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder.”
Since Mr. Trump excels in dishonesty, it is now up to members of Congress to obtain & declassify the CIA findings on Jamal Khashoggi’s death. No one in Saudi Arabia—most especially the Crown Prince—should escape accountability for such a heinous act. https://t.co/exQrZKybhk
— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) November 20, 2018
Reactions to Trump’s statement
John O. Brennan, a former Director of the CIA and now a trenchant critic of the Trump administration, was unimpressed.
“Since Mr. Trump excels in dishonesty, it is now up to members of Congress to obtain & declassify the CIA findings on Jamal Khashoggi’s death,” he wrote on Twitter.
“No one in Saudi Arabia—most especially the Crown Prince—should escape accountability for such a heinous act.”
Trump’s colleague Jeff Flake also denounced the statement. “Great allies” don’t plot the murder of journalists, Mr. President,” he tweeted. “Great allies” don’t lure their own citizens into a trap, then kill them.”
— The Hill (@thehill) November 20, 2018
CNN anchor Brianna Kellar also highlighted the unusual nature of Trump’s stance as the broadcast showed the President performing the beloved tradition of pardoning the annual Thanksgiving turkey.
“Just the most unusual dichotomy here as this (turkey pardoning) comes on the heels of a statement that the president has put out essentially pardoning Saudi Arabia and the crown prince and the king there, despite what his intel community is expected to put out in a report today that Saudi Arabia is behind, that these leaders of Saudi Arabia are behind the killing of a Washington Post journalist,” she said.