Clearly, Donald Trump’s “strategy” when it comes to dealing with the Jamal Khashoggi debacle has backfired.
Back on November 9, when The New York Times first reported that Steve Mnuchin was likely to move ahead with sanctions against a handful of Saudis in connection with the Khashoggi murder, we suggested that Treasury’s announcement was likely to be coordinated with the Saudis’ unveiling of the results from their internal “investigation” into the extrajudicial killing.
That is precisely what ended up happening just six days later. The Saudis claimed five people confessed to Khashoggi’s killing and will face the death penalty. 11 people were charged in the plot and another 10 on top of that were jailed.
Hours later, Mnuchin sanctioned the same group of people, although there’s no way to know that for sure, because Riyadh didn’t immediately release a list of names.
Shortly thereafter, the CIA concluded that Prince Mohammed was likely behind the murder, a common sense assessment that Donald Trump subsequently rejected in a bizarre official statement that conveyed the White House’s intention to stand by Riyadh no matter who ordered the killing.
Congress wasn’t amused with that and as noted weeks ago, the administration’s move to end air refueling flights for the Saudi military campaign in Yemen likely wasn’t going to cut it when it came it to placating angry lawmakers.
Fast forward to Wednesday and the Senate advanced a resolution aimed at ending America’s military support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen. Long story short, lawmakers are furious that Gina Haspel wasn’t present during a briefing about Yemen that included Mike Pompeo and Jim Mattis. Haspel’s presence was requested in order to allow her to tell the Senate what she knows about the Khashoggi murder and to say Senators were irritated that she didn’t show up would be an understatement.
Even Trump’s most ardent supporters are livid. Lindsey Graham, for instance, said this about what he’s going to do if he doesn’t hear from Haspel like, yesterday:
I’m talking about any key vote. Anything that you need me for to get out of town, I ain’t doing it until we hear from the C.I.A.
“When you lose Lindsey”…
Anyway, the Senate action was remarkable. “The vote was striking for its defections by Republicans who in the past had supported the yearslong military alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia”, the New York Times notes, adding that “Graham initially rejected Wednesday’s measure, then huddled with colleagues and switched his vote [while] thirteen other Republicans joined all Senate Democrats to end American military action in Yemen — with the exception of operations against Al Qaeda.”
Pompeo continues to insist – absurdly – that there’s “no direct reporting connecting bin Salman to the murder.” That’s like saying there’s “no direct reporting to connect Ronald McDonald to Big Macs. Bob Corker is incredulous. Here’s what he said on the Senate floor:
As to whether the crown prince was involved in this killing, it’s my belief that he was. It’s my belief that he ordered it. [He’s] done nothing to show ownership over what has happened. And that is an affront — not just to the American people, but it’s an affront to the world.
This is far from a done deal. A final vote in the Senate will likely come next week but it will still need to get through the House. Of course Democrats take control in the new year, which obviously increases the chances of it getting approved.
Meanwhile, Pompeo’s State Department is super excited to announce that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have signed letters of offer and acceptance to seal the deal on the sale of some $15 billion in THAAD arms. “With the deal, about $30 billion of total sales outlined during President Trump’s May 2017 visit to Riyadh have now been initiated”, a spokesperson for State said, adding that “the U.S. plans to stay a firm partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure its interests.”
I guess that depends on what State means by “the U.S.”. Because clearly, the Senate has no such “plans” with regard to remaining a “firm partner of Saudi Arabia.”
So again, if there’s anything positive that came out of Khashoggi being suffocated and chopped up with a bone saw in the Kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, it’s that the U.S. Senate actually cares about the plight of Yemen, which is mired in one of the most horrific humanitarian crises in recent history.
We’ll leave you with one last quote from Bob Corker:
There’s ways that the administration, even rhetorically, can help change the dynamic. Saudi Arabia is an ally, of sorts, and a semi-important country, we’ve watched innocent people be killed. . . . We also have a crown prince who is out of control.