Trump vents at Saudis over Khashoggi killing
President Trump expressed irritation with Saudi Arabia’s government this week after Riyadh reversed weeks of denials and claimed that dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi had died after a confrontation in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul turned into a “brawl.” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Khashoggi’s murder was a “tremendous mistake,” and vowed that the government would punish those involved in his “murder”; the kingdom has arrested 18 people and fired five top officials. But the claims of an accidental killing were met with widespread skepticism. U.S. intelligence reports have tied Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to the operation, and Turkish authorities said that a team of 15 Saudi agents was lying in wait for Khashoggi when he arrived at the consulate. Turkish officials said they had audiotape of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, being murdered and dismembered; surveillance footage showed a Saudi look-alike dressed in the journalist’s clothes walking around Istanbul later that day. Trump called the Saudis’ explanation of events “one of the worst in the history of cover-ups,” describing the episode as a “total fiasco.”
The U.S. revoked the visas of 21 Saudis suspected of involvement in the killing, and CIA Director Gina Haspel was dispatched to Turkey to help investigate the murder. But Trump said he was not prepared to cancel an arms deal with Riyadh, claiming the agreement could create “a million jobs.” Speaking at an international business conference in Riyadh, Prince Mohammed condemned Khashoggi’s killing as a “heinous crime.” He also met with Khashoggi’s eldest son, Salah—who, friends of the family say, has been banned from leaving Saudi Arabia—and expressed his sympathies.
What the editorials said
The world needs an independent inquiry, said The Washington Post. Saudi Arabia can’t be trusted to investigate itself, and the slow drip of information by Turkey’s authoritarian government demonstrates their lack of interest in full disclosure. The most important question remains “who ordered the operation,” and all signs point to Prince Mohammed. “At this point, the burden should be on the Saudis to prove he is not responsible.” “By denying any knowledge of the dissident journalist’s fate for weeks,” said WeeklyStandard.com, the Saudis “forfeited the civilized world’s obligation to take the polite version seriously.” The kingdom’s attempts “to put daylight between Khashoggi’s murderers” is “in no way credible.” Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, and “there are no significant checks on the crown prince’s powers.” He alone bears direct responsibility for this brutal extrajudicial execution.
What the columnists said
“The power-mad and vicious” Prince Mohammed must be held to account, said Colbert King in The Washington Post. Yet Trump “has been equivocal and wispy” on the “state-sponsored murder.” If the president wanted to show he is serious in his outrage, he could invoke the Magnitsky Act and impose sanctions that would make it impossible for the prince and his inner circle to do business with almost any bank in the world.
Reality check: Turkey “currently ranks as the world’s leading jailer of journalists,” said Joshua Keating in Slate.com. So it’s strange for Ankara to stoke “American outrage” over the killing of a journalist. It’s worth remembering “the Turkish government’s penchant for conspiracy theories,” so we should take its “lurid reports” with a grain of salt. “For most governments,” said Tom Rogan in WashingtonExaminer.com, “a murder on their soil inside a foreign consulate” would be fraught with investigative complexity, diplomatic risk, and embarrassment. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has seized the opportunity “to portray himself as an unlikely humanitarian, or, at the very least, a not-so-bad leader.”
Trump won’t stop coddling Riyadh anytime soon, said Peter Beinart in TheAtlantic.com, because as far as the administration is concerned, “Iran is the problem and Saudi Arabia is part of the answer.” The Trump administration wants to squeeze Tehran by using sanctions to bring Iranian crude-oil exports “as close to zero as possible.” But to avoid sending oil prices spiking as Iranian exports dry up, Trump needs Riyadh to maximize its own oil output, even if that means “helping the royal family wage a war that’s killing Yemeni children or lie about murdering Saudi journalists.” ■