Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Trump attempted on Saturday to push back against his own Central Intelligence Agency’s assessment that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and his brother Khalid (the Saudi ambassador to the US) were behind the assassination at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Trump called the leak of the assessment to the Washington Post “premature” and pledged a full assessment on Tuesday.
Trump said he had earlier been told that Bin Salman had no involvement in the murder. Who told him that? Then he went on and on about how great an ally Saudi Arabia has been, and about all the jobs it creates in the US by its arms purchases (the military-industrial complex is typically not labor intensive and doesn’t generate that many jobs).
It seems obvious that CIA director Gina Haspel is attempting to sabotage the bromance between, on the one hand, Bin Salman, and on the other, Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Since Khashoggi’s murder was revealed by Turkish intelligence, which obviously had a way of listening in on events in the Saudi consulate, Trump has repeatedly said that Saudi purchases of US arms, worth over a hundred billion dollars, cannot be jeopardized by one mere murder.
It is not entirely clear to me why the CIA has it in for Prince Mohammed. The agency usually does what the president tells it to do and seldom has had independent policies like this one. In the past, it has often valued authoritarian allies over principles such as human rights or democracy. But the reason could be as simple as an assessment by agency analysts that Bin Salman is such a loose canon that he is damaging US interests in the region. He roped the US into giving logistical and planning support to the ruinous Saudi war on Yemen. He kidnapped and tried to push from office the prime minister of Lebanon. He kidnapped a whole slew of other princes and held them at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh until they coughed up money (allegedly $100 bin).
Khashoggi was a US resident, had two American-born children who are US citizens, and worked during the past year as a columnist for the Washington Post. If he can be murdered with impunity, anyone can be.
Trump talked about sanctioning the lower level Saudi officials who were clearly involved in the murder and who royally screwed it up, implying that the upper echelons of the Saudi government would be left untouched.