Photo: Bandar Algaloud/Saudi Kingdom Council via Getty Images
“Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them,” said Donald Trump as a candidate for office in 2015. “They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”
Today, the Trump administration released an official presidential statement on Saudi Arabia and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Written in Trump’s authentic dialect, and featuring no fewer than eight exclamation points — or approximately eight more than the number of exclamation points normally found in a diplomatic statement about a murder — there is no doubt that this statement was written, or at least dictated, by the president himself. Its reasoning more or less tracks his reasoning from three years before, only now applied to the entire country rather than Trump’s own bank account.
The first two sentences — “America First! The world is a dangerous place!” — set the basic predicate for his argument. People get murdered, dismembered, dissolved in acid, all the time, and we need to look out for our interests.
Trump points out that Iran has also done many bad things in the world, though of course nobody is proposing a geopolitical alliance with that country. He then transitions to pointing out that the Saudis “agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States,” which “will create hundreds of thousands of jobs.” These figures are in fact ludicrously inflated.
From there, the statement becomes increasingly deranged. The Saudis have tried to smear Khashoggi as a secret radical Islamist, and Trump repeats this smear only to casually mention that he has not taken it into account: “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.” People are saying!
Trump then asserts that the question of responsibility for Khashoggi’s death is unknown and unknowable. “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!” he writes. “That being said, we may never know all of the facts.” In fact, U.S. intelligence has resolved this question. The CIA concludes that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder.
Having embraced radical uncertainty, like the science of global warming, Trump pivots to his real point: “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” The Saudis, he notes, have “have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels.”
One might assume that Saudi Arabia’s decisions both to sell oil to the West and to import weapons from the United States represent business transactions carried out in its self-interest. You’d especially think the famously cynical nationalist Donald Trump, who habitually complains that every country in the world is taking advantage of the United States, would see the deals in these terms.
Instead, he presents both transactions as favors from the Saudis to the United States. When the Saudis agree to buy our weapons, or when they agree to sell us their oil, they are doing us favors. We must show them proper gratitude.
Nowhere in his statement does Trump reiterate the point he made in 2015 — he personally has business with the Kingdom, including $270,000 in spending in Trump’s Washington hotel alone, just last year.