If President Trump wants to make the case that it should be business as usual between the United States and Saudi Arabia despite the murder of a journalist on orders from the Saudi crown prince, he should make that case.
This would not be the first time our nation has maintained a working relationship with a thug for some overriding strategic purpose. Joseph Stalin comes to mind.
But there no longer is any reasonable doubt that Prince Mohammed bin Salman had the Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, strangled and dismembered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The longer Trump keeps up the charade that there is real doubt, the longer the delay in deciding the appropriate consequences, which there must be.
Trump can’t paper over this one. The American people know a hit job when they see one. Even leading Republicans in Congress are demanding sanctions. But the only sanctions by the Trump administration so far have been a U.S. travel ban and the freezing of assets for 17 Saudis accused of involvement in the killing.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, for one, has called on suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia as long as the prince effectively remains in charge in Saudi Arabia. Others have called for limiting all American business investments and making it clear the prince is persona non grata in the United States. No longer would he be allowed to tour American cities presenting himself as a champion of social reform.
The CIA concluded weeks ago that Khashoggi, who lived in the United States, was killed on orders from the prince, though Trump has waved off that assessment. Now this weekend, the Wall Street Journal revealed a key piece of evidence the CIA used in reaching that conclusion — a series of 11 communication exchanges between the prince and the aide believed to have been in charge of the murder team.
As a former CIA official told the New York Times: “This is the smoking gun, or at least the smoking phone call.”
To look away from such barbarity is not only inconsistent with our nation’s values; it is also a practical misjudgment. Once again, the prince has shown himself to be reckless in foreign affairs. In Yemen, he has commanded a military operation with utter disregard for civilian suffering. Now, with the murder of a journalist, he has misread the civilized world’s appalled reaction.
At the G20 summit in Argentina on Friday, Prince Mohammed exchanged a jovial high-five with another thug, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The United States, we would hope, is less forgiving.
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