Monday, October 22, 2018

Trump bases support for Saudi Crown Prince in Tales from Arabian Nights

Trump cleans up Saudi mess
The clean-up crew

Well, that’s one. He’s got 1,000 more to go.

The Editorial Board of the New York Times lampoons A Saudi Prince’s Fairy Tale. The crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, issues another incredible explanation for the death of Jamal Khashoggi.

The question now is not whether the Saudis’ latest explanation for Jamal Khashoggi’s death is credible, but whom do they think they’re fooling. In the autocratic world of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, what common people think is irrelevant; what matters is whether throwing his hit men under the bus is enough to satisfy President Trump.

Mr. Trump has been longing for some way to hang on to his soul mate Prince Mohammed and lucrative Saudi arms deals from day one, and he seemed to breathe a sigh of relief over the story the Saudis concocted after more than two weeks of lies and evasions. It was a “good first step” and a “big step,” Mr. Trump said Friday night. Asked whether he found it credible, he replied, “I do.”

He is in a distinct minority. The Saudi story has been widely dismissed as a pathetic attempt to acknowledge what has become undeniable — that a band of 15 Saudi agents flew in to Istanbul on the day Mr. Khashoggi was expected at the Saudi consulate and killed him there. It also insulates Prince Mohammed, the wielder of real power in Saudi Arabia, from any responsibility.

In this narrative, there went out a general order to round up dissidents living abroad, but somehow it got garbled in transmission, so when the Saudis learned of Mr. Khashoggi’s plans, the deputy director of intelligence, Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, dispatched a team to pick him up. According to this version of the tale, Mr. Khashoggi put up a fight and got killed, and a local collaborator was given the body to dispose of, perhaps in pieces and in suitcases.

Among the many problems with this story is that nobody will seriously accept that a mild, 60-year-old journalist put up such a fight that he had to be killed, and it does not explain why one of the agents sent to Istanbul was carrying a bone saw, or why the Turks said they had evidence that Mr. Khashoggi was tortured and dismembered. Nor does it explain why it took the Saudis more than two weeks to acknowledge even that Mr. Khashoggi was dead.

And even in this narrative, why was Mr. Khashoggi deemed so great a threat that the Saudi security apparatus tried to kidnap him, even if the goal was not to kill him? A well-connected Saudi journalist, he had fled into self-imposed exile in the United States when Prince Mohammed began rounding up critics at home and frequently criticized the prince in his Washington Post columns. That is a deadly threat?

But then the only thing we are asked to believe in this yarn is that Prince Mohammed, the reformer who allowed women to drive, would never condone such violence. No, not the royal strongman who imprisoned many of his cousins to shake them down, kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister, started a disastrous war in Yemen, broke relations with Canada over a critical tweet, rounded up critics, sentenced a blogger to 1,000 lashes and much more.

Mr. Trump is deluded if he really believes the Saudi cover-up can end the matter. The president seemed to acknowledge a few days ago that the Khashoggi murder is “bad, bad stuff,” but he seems reluctant to understand that so is his (and his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s) buddy the crown prince.

Nothing more honest can be expected from Saudi Arabia. If America’s leadership in the world is to retain any credibility, the president must demand a United Nations-backed investigation by respected and independent officials, and he must ask Turkey to provide its tapes and other evidence. He should suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and ask NATO allies to do the same. And, what may be most salutary, he should signal to members of the House of Saud that he believes what so many of them believe, that Mohammed bin Salman has become toxic.

Finally Mr. Trump must ensure that the remains of his American neighbor, an honest Saudi journalist who suffered a barbarous end for simply speaking truth to power, be returned to his family.

Nicohlas Kristof debunks More Insulting Lies From Saudi Arabia. What we face now is a test for President Trump and America itself. Kristof has a list of concrete actions the world, and especially, NATO led by the US, should take against the Saudis.

After lying for more than two weeks about the death of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi government has now announced a series of new lies about his murder in ways that insult both Jamal’s memory and our intelligence.

The Saudi government on Friday issued a statement claiming that Jamal was killed when a fistfight went bad in its consulate in Istanbul. Really? This is a fistfight to which the Saudi goons reportedly brought a bone saw so that they could dismember him afterward; by some accounts, they began the dismemberment while he was still alive.

It’s also grotesque for the Saudi authorities to claim that a journalist whose fingers they reportedly amputated as part of their torture somehow managed to engage in a fistfight. Jamal had no fists left.

These lies are so blatant and implausible that they underscore how out of touch M.B.S. is, and also suggest M.B.S. believes that he will have the backing of the United States in this cover-up. That’s a good bet, since Trump has lately celebrated the assault on a journalist by a Montana congressman and previously suggested that maybe a rogue killer was responsible for killing Jamal.

So what we really have now is a test of Trump and of America itself. Will Trump go along with the cover-up, or will he attempt to uphold America’s honor and dignity in this instance? Here’s what he should do:

(1) Since this happened in a NATO country, the NATO nations should jointly seek a United Nations-backed international investigation of the murder. This could be ordered by the United Nations Security Council, the General Assembly or the Human Rights Council.

(2) The NATO countries should, in coordination, expel all Saudi ambassadors.

(3) NATO countries should suspend all weapons sales, including of spare parts for aircraft, to Saudi Arabia. This would put substantial pressure on Saudi Arabia, which depends on the United States for its security.

(4) The Trump administration should in the meantime call for the release of political prisoners in Saudi Arabia such as Raif Badawi, a blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, and Loujain al-Hathloul, a women’s rights activist. Jamal’s relatives should also be allowed to leave Saudi Arabia.

(5) The United States should quietly make clear to the Saudi royal family that the Mad Prince has gone too far — not just with this murder, but also with his war in Yemen, his confrontation with Qatar, his kidnapping of Lebanon’s prime minister — and will forever be tainted. A murderer belongs not at state dinners but in a prison cell. The obvious precedent: In 1964, the Saudi royal family forced King Saud to abdicate and replaced him with the far preferable King Faisal.

I also hope that some country will pursue universal jurisdiction for this murder and be ready to prosecute any killers who can be taken into custody. And Turkey should note that under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, consular officers can be arrested “in the case of a grave crime”; Turkey should consider prosecution.

We could also use some investigation here in the United States. As I’ve previously noted, the Saudis poured money into Trump’s hotel properties after his election. Was this an attempt to buy good will, and did it affect policy? And should the American intelligence community have warned Jamal of the dangers he faced from the Saudis?

In the coming days and weeks, we also face special risks. We should be particularly alert to the risk that M.B.S. will try to divert attention by provoking some incident with Iran in the Persian Gulf, and then trying to get the American military to bail Saudi Arabia out. The White House should make it very clear that we will not let the Saudis drag us into a war with Iran.

Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post) takes offense at the spin from the Saudis and our own President: The Saudis and Trump insult our intelligence. Congress shouldn’t. Rubin cites

After 17 days during which the Saudi government refused to acknowledge responsibility for the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it released a ludicrous account claiming the former contributing columnist for The Post and critic of the regime, died in a fistfight with 18 Saudi officials. As evidence mounted over more than two weeks that he was slaughtered and dismembered by a 15-person hit squad (with bone saw in hand) flown in and out of Turkey, the regime lied to President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, over and over again. Mohammed bin Salman is now going to oversee further investigation — for a month.

Rarely have we seen such a patently stupid coverup for a crime of this magnitude. “After 2+ [weeks] of dissembling, the Saudi ‘explanation’ is not remotely credible,” Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution tweeted. “Nor is the MBS myth, at least not anymore.” She continued: “The end result of this horrific saga is a weaker, more isolated Saudi Arabia [and] a less effective US-Saudi partnership. And no justice for the innocent victim.”

The administration appears willing to go along with this farce. Unbelievably, President Trump called this nonsensical explanation and stalling a “great first step” and immediately took off the table the best leverage we have, arms sales. …

There was no actual condemnation by the administration of this human rights atrocity, no defense of a free press or of the right of Americans (residents or citizens) to travel safely. The administration looks feckless, and if it continues down this road, will earn the ridicule and disdain of Americans, our allies and all free peoples.

In allowing the Saudis to delay this long and failing to demand audio recordings allegedly capturing the murder, the administration has become an accessory after the fact, an enabler of nearly unimaginable evil.

What’s more, Trump looks pathetically weak. His childlike willingness to adopt a transparent lie so as to avoid taking action will certainly entice other despots to engage in similar acts of brutality. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), one of many 2020 possible presidential candidates, issued a blistering statement: “This is the most corrupt administration in living history. Do we need a strong response on Saudi Arabia? Absolutely. And Donald Trump is showing he is not capable.”

In addition to the steps listed by Kristof, Rubin adds actions that should be taken by Congress.

If there is a ray of hope here, it is Congress, even one presently controlled by Republicans. …

… if Democrats win control of at least one chamber, they will have the power of oversight. In that case, they must demand every scrap of evidence the administration had concerning the murder. What did it know, and why, as it appears, did it feign ignorance of the crime?

Pompeo, intelligence chiefs and others with knowledge of the facts must be questioned under oath. At the same time, Congress must have robust hearings enlisting human rights and national security experts concerning the Saudis’ human rights abuses and the regime’s influence-buying in the United States. (Every think tank, university and nongovernmental organization that accepts Saudi or Gulf-state money should be required to disclose its funding.)

Finally, in addition to suspending our arms deals (which do not amount to $110 billion as Trump claims), Congress should insist on application of Magnitsky Act sanctions against all involved in this despicable crime. That should include MBS, if as knowledgeable intelligence experts say, he was fully aware of the plot and involved in the coverup.

If Trump and the Republicans want to defend the Saudis, they can try. It will prove to be politically disastrous. Maybe instead of defending the indefensible and appearing utterly foolish, the president and his minions should start a review and reassessment of their already incoherent Middle East policy.

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