Saturday, October 20, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He called Saudi Arabia's absurd explanation for the death of Jamal Khashoggi "a good first step."

Since Khashoggi's disappearance on October 2, Trump has been desperate to avoid saying or doing anything about the apparent murder of the Washington Post columnist. He has feigned ignorance of the matter when U.S. intelligence agencies had already been informed of it, claimed that (fictional) arms deals with the Saudi government mean he is helpless to act, and unsubtly tried to inject the fact that Khashoggi was not an American citizen into the coverage. (Khashoggi was a permanent resident, and entitled to the full protection of U.S. law, just like Trump's in-laws were until recently.)

Asked about the Saudi government's latest story en route to yet another campaign rally, Trump said that "it was a big first step. It was a good first step."

The latest version of the official Saudi account has the 59-year-old Khashoggi entering the consulate in Istanbul, starting a fistfight with fifteen men, and dying. It does not explain why those men traveled to the consulate, why Khashoggi was recorded being tortured and dismembered, or what happened to his body. The Saudis are "investigating" under the supervision of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman--who almost certainly ordered Khashoggi's murder in the first place.

It's not clear whether Trump genuinely believes this absurd version of events, or if he simply feels he cannot afford--because of financial or political debts--to contradict it.

Why does this matter?

  • A president who can't (or won't) condemn outright murder can't do his job.