The Trump administration’s cynical indulgence of self-serving Saudi claims has been on full display this week:
The secretary of state was all smiles, his hand outstretched, as he approached the crown prince.
“We are strong and old allies,” Mohammed told Pompeo before reporters were ushered out. “We face our challenges together — the past, the day of, tomorrow.”
Pompeo replied with enthusiasm: “Absolutely.”
BREAKING: Trump tells AP that Saudi Arabia being blamed for missing journalist is another case of “guilty until proven innocent.”
— The Associated Press (@AP) October 16, 2018
Between Pompeo’s embarrassing sycophancy and Trump’s disgraceful attempts to cover for the Saudis, the Trump administration has lived down to my extremely low expectations for how they would respond to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. It comes as no surprise that they are making excuses for Mohammed bin Salman and his government, since this has been an important part of the “Saudi first” foreign policy that the administration has been conducting for the last twenty months. If Pompeo was willing to lie to Congress for the Saudis and their allies last month in his bogus Yemen certification, we should expect him to endorse Saudi attempts to whitewash their role in the murder of a prominent critic. Pompeo may not realize how much damage he is doing to his reputation and his relationship with members of Congress, especially those on the Foreign Relations Committee, but the damage is significant and lasting.
Pompeo’s behavior during his visit to Riyadh was extremely inappropriate under the circumstances, and many observers remarked on how wrong it was.
This was a shameful photo op and it raises questions about Pompeo’s basic political acumen https://t.co/GFKvYTdMVF
— Suzanne Maloney (@MaloneySuzanne) October 16, 2018
The pictures of Pompeo grinning, smiling, and laughing with the crown prince—as if a journalist wasn’t just murdered—are remarkable. Not only is it bad policy; it’s downright embarrassing. It makes Pompeo look like an unserious pushover. It’s really indefensible on any grounds pic.twitter.com/qwgs9LK9VH
— Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid) October 16, 2018
Chilling message of impunity in this photo. You can brazenly murder a journalist in full view of the world and the U.S. Secretary of State will still be glad to appear smiling in public with you a few days later: pic.twitter.com/LN9inysbBs
— Murtaza Mohammad Hussain (@MazMHussain) October 16, 2018
— Kate Kizer (@KateKizer) October 16, 2018
The president has a knack for offering the most preposterous defenses for the most obviously guilty people. The Saudi government is being blamed for Khashoggi’s death because there is no one else that could be responsible. When a government critic is detained and killed by agents of that government in their own consulate, that government is undeniably guilty of murdering him. Trump keeps mentioning the official denials from the crown prince and others as if those matter, but we are far past the point of pretending that we don’t know what happened. The president wants to obfuscate and distract for as long as possible in the hopes that all of this will soon be forgotten, and so he keeps trying to buy time by stalling and refusing to take any action that might put pressure on Riyadh to admit the truth. It doesn’t fool anyone, and it isn’t helping the Saudis very much, because it just convinces members of Congress that they will have to do what the president won’t.
The good news is that Trump is making the relationship with the Saudis more politically toxic by embracing it, and the Saudis are bringing discredit on the Trump administration for its uncritical, reflexive support for them. The more that Trump and his officials lie and cover up for a reckless client, the worse it is for both the administration and the Saudis.