The ableist observers of Saudi Arabia and the US-KSA relationship have been saying for days that it appeared the US was holding off from saying anything too definitive about the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi to give the Saudis time to come up with at least a notionally plausible explanation of what happened – a rogue operation, an arrest or interrogation gone wrong, etc. We now see the choice. This morning President Trump announced a flat denial from Saudi King Salman (who is not really the effective ruler of the country) and his (Trump’s) suspicion that “rogue killers” are likely behind Khashoggi’s disappearance. Incredulity is warranted. But there is a bigger and, I would say, more important picture for the health of the US government. This is a carbon copy of what we’ve seen for the last two years in President Trump’s denials of Russian interference in the US elections and other bad acts.
You have the same credulous but strenuous crediting of implausible denials from the presumed culprits. You have the same kinds of alternative theories – 400 pound guy in a basement, “rogue killers”.
Now, it is important to note that we’re much earlier in any investigative process with the Khashoggi disappearance than we are in the case of Russia. Under President Erdogan, the Turkish police and security services are far from reliable narrators unfortunately. They’ve rounded up or purged a big part of the Turkish civil service in the two-plus years since the failed coup, which Erdogan blames on Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric living in exile in the United States. The Turks have also, at least as far as we know, not shared what they suggest is open and shut proof of the killing. Certainly they have not done so publicly.
The problem with disregarding their claims, however, is that given the geopolitical situation and the parlous state of the Turkish economy, there’s really no clear reason for the Turks to provoke a confrontation with the Saudis. It simply does not add up. And if that is not enough, we can return to the simple point: Where is he? Khashoggi is on camera entering the consulate. There’s no evidence he ever came out alive. Saudi claims that they don’t save surveillance tapes do not add up. So again, where is he?
This is a carbon copy of how President Trump deals with anything tied to Vladimir Putin and Russia. There’s every reason to think the reasons are also the same – some mix of threat or personal enrichment. President Trump says his $110 billion arms deal is too much to risk. That deal doesn’t exist. It’s a mix of Obama-era deals, a portion of genuinely new purchases and a lot of what amounts to letters of intent. It is all spread over many years. It’s another Trump smoke and mirrors claim. The geopolitics are much more of an issue for the US than those arms sales. And in any case, President Trump does not care about any of that.
President Trump acts likes this when there’s something personal or familial at stake. We already know the Trump Family and the Saudis have deep economic ties and multiple business deals. While Khashoggi’s disappearance is of course important in itself, in terms of the health and safety of the US government, this is where we should be focusing our attention. What are the business and other ties binding the Trump and Kushner families to the Saudi regime?