Over the course of the last several weeks, we’ve variously described the Jamal Khashoggi murder as one of the most hapless cloak-and-dagger operations in the history of shady geopolitical dealings.
Assuming the Turkish government wasn’t aware of Riyadh’s plans to kill Khashoggi (which may be a naive assumption), the plot was doomed from the word go. The idea that the Saudis were going to get away with flying 15 people on two Gulfstream IV jets into what amounts to a police state, murder a dissident in the middle of Istanbul and beat a hasty retreat back to Riyadh without Turkish intelligence catching on is laughable.
Whatever Turkey did or didn’t know ahead of time is now irrelevant. Erdogan clearly intends to take advantage of the Saudis’ ineptitude on the way to pushing for the Crown Prince to be replaced.
Whether Erdogan is successful or not when it comes to forcing a royal shakeup largely depends on Washington and the extent to which lawmakers on Capitol Hill are willing to apply pressure to the Trump administration.
The President has, on too many occasions to count, insisted that canceling a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudis in retaliation for Khashoggi’s death is a non-starter. Between Crown Prince bin Salman’s cozy relationship with Jared Kushner and the fact that Riyadh is a valuable ally in Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran, the White House is reluctant to turn the screws on the Saudis. Throw in King Salman’s begrudging willingness to placate Trump when it comes to oil prices and it’s not hard to explain why the President and Mike Pompeo have been so careful these past few weeks in condemning the monarchy for an extrajudicial killing.
Late last week, as the evidence to support Turkish intelligence’s account of the murder mounted, it became abundantly clear that Trump and Pompeo intended to help the Saudis buy time, where that means pretending the Kingdom’s internal “investigation” is some semblance of credible. On Friday, the Saudis admitted to killing Khashoggi, but claimed his death was the result of a “fist fight” gone wrong.
Now that there can be no denying what really happened, Trump is stuck. Nobody is going to take the results of Riyadh’s farcical probe seriously and the White House knows it. So, on Tuesday afternoon, Trump essentially threw in the towel.
Asked by reporters about the latest revelations on Khashoggi’s death, Trump regaled the media with one of the more absurd rambles in the history of Trump rambles. Rather than condemn the killing itself and/or express how horrified the administration is about the murder of a journalist, Trump instead lampooned how incompetent the Saudis were in carrying out the killing and the subsequent coverup.
“They had a very bad original concept”, Trump said, adding that “it was carried out poorly and the coverup was one of the worst in the history of coverups.” Just watch this:
Yes, “it’s very simple.” Murdering journalists is a “bad concept”. A “bad deal.” And generally speaking, “it should have never been thought of.”
In addition to being mind-bogglingly tone deaf, Trump’s assessment of this situation seems to suggest that the President thinks the bad coverup job is the real tragedy here, not the crime itself.
Additionally, he continues to obfuscate by pretending as though he has no idea who in Saudi Arabia might have “thought of” murdering a journalist and chopping the body up with a bone saw.
Of course this makes sense coming from Trump because in his mind, the worst part of this is in fact the botched coverup. Had the Saudis somehow managed to get away with this, it wouldn’t have put him in the rather awkward position he now finds himself in.
Asked what will ultimately come of this, Trump said he’s going to “leave it up to the Senators” – unless of course that means hurting “investment”, in which case maybe the U.S. will just have to let the whole thing slide.
Oh, and Mike Pompeo took the “bold” step on Tuesday of saying the U.S. could revoke some visas, because that sends a really strong message – he also promised that wouldn’t be “the last step”.