The Slatest

Trump: Who Can Really Say Whether the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Ordered the Killing of a Journalist? Also, Arms Sales!

Donald Trump speaking at the White House turkey pardon ceremony outside the White House
President Donald Trump speaks before pardoning ‘Peas’ the turkey during the annual ceremony at the White House in Washington on Tuesday Jim Watson/Getty Images

Donald Trump issued a statement Tuesday on the Saudi government’s killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October, saying it was an open question whether Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was responsible for the killing and pointing out that, hey, Saudi Arabia opposes Iran and buys lots of weapons from U.S. arms manufacturers.

The statement, which is subtitled America First! and starts off with “The world is a very dangerous place!” was unmistakably written with Trump’s heavy hand (it includes eight exclamation marks!) and reflects the president’s uniquely discursive and scattered intellectual style.

The real coup de grace comes in the sixth paragraph, when Trump deploys what the Greeks called apophasis to bring up that Saudis have privately said Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a Muslim Brotherhood member—something they have denied claiming and has only showed up in the more fringe and explicitly-pro-Trump corners of the right-wing media:

Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime.

He then moves on to what is now the central question about the killing. We know now—thanks to plentiful leaks from the Turkish government and leaked assessments of that information from American intelligence agencies—that Khashoggi died in the Saudi consulate, was killed by Saudi government agents, and was deliberately killed. What is still a somewhat open question is what the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman knew about the assassination or whether he explicitly ordered it.

While the CIA believes the prince was involved, a conclusion that quickly made its way to the Washington Post and the New York Times, Trump has waffled on the attribution of responsibility and has now settled into what seems to be just be a baseline of epistemological skepticism:

“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. 

Trump also celebrated the (largely inflated) $110 billion worth of weapons and military equipment the Saudi government has promised to buy from US companies, arguing that if arm sales were cut off as punishment, the Saudis would just turn around and buy that much from Russia and China (“It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!”).

And while he did condemn Saudi Arabia’s behavior in regards to Khashoggi, he devoted much of the statement to giving the Saudi line on its behavior all over the Middle East, including defending its intervention in Yemen, saying it was all Iran’s fault (“Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave”), and that the only thing stopping Saudi Arabia from alleviating the humanitarian crisis there was Iranian intransigence in supporting the Houthi government. (“They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance,” if only Iran withdrew.)

After all, Trump said, we live “in a very dangerous world” and Saudi Arabia has been “our great ally.” And what’s one assassinated and dismembered journalist to get in the way of that?