Tuesday, November 20, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He took sides with Saudi Arabia against the CIA and the American journalist their government had murdered.

Trump issued a statement today on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist and Virginia resident who was murdered in Istanbul last month. Its tone and formatting were slightly bizarre—it used eight exclamation points and began with a Trump campaign slogan—and suggested that it had been dictated by Trump and then rushed into publication and before aides could intervene

Trump's main purpose seems to be exonerating the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In the statement, Trump said that "we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi," and suggested that it was impossible to know if bin Salman had known about the plot.

But in reality, all of the relevant facts—including an audio recording of Khashoggi's torture and murder that Trump has publicly said he refuses to listen to—are already known. The CIA has informed Trump in no uncertain terms that Khashoggi's murder was ordered by bin Salman

Trump did not explain, in the statement or afterwards, why he thought he knew better than the CIA. But it would not be the first time that he has chosen to take the word of a dictator over his own intelligence agencies' findings. 

The statement insisted that the United States had, essentially, no choice but to let Saudi Arabia off the hook, because of the economic ties between the two countries. (Trump once again cited a figure, $110 billion in arms sales, and implied that he had negotiated some kind of deal. In reality, the "deal" was finalized by President Obama and is merely a non-binding expression of Saudi Arabia's intent to eventually buy weapons.)

Trump is personally financially beholden to the Saudis.

Why does this matter?

  • The principles of the United States are not supposed to be up for sale to anyone who promises to buy enough weapons (or rent enough hotel rooms).
  • A president who is too compromised to act in defense of the United States is too weak to hold office.
  • It's bad if the president just ignores what experts tell him whenever he doesn't like the news.