- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 29, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

You can’t help pumping your fist and mouthing “yes!” on watching Sen. Lindsey Graham spring to action again on Wednesday. You could almost hear him going after Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other Senate Democrats during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings last month.

This time, the South Carolina Republican says he’ll vote against all Trump-GOP must-dos unless the CIA briefs Mr. Graham and fellow lawmakers on who ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Otherwise, legislators and their staffs dreaming of heading home to get ready for Christmas can forget about it.

“I’m talking about any key vote,” Mr. Graham said. “Anything that you need me for to get out of town, I ain’t doing it until we hear from the CIA.”

Presumably that CIA briefing would fill the senator’s bill only if the briefer were Director Gina Haspel herself. But she has already told Mr. Trump that the CIA has concluded the culprit is Saudi Arabia’s day-to-day despot, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Of course, Crown Prince Mohammed, King Salman’s favored but not necessarily brightest son, ordered the bestial and idiotic assassination of a Saudi citizen who dared criticize the crown prince’s despotism and who was contributing opinion columns to a major U.S. daily newspaper and living temporarily in northern Virginia out of fear of him.

No one else but the crown prince could have ordered the killing, except — shh! — his dad, King Salman himself. After all, the king put his kid in charge of every leaf that falls, every bird that takes wing and every torture-assassination that takes place in a kingdom that has comfortably ensconced itself in a past century too dimly remembered to name precisely.

This is part of what makes it so complicated for Mr. Trump, Mr. Graham — lately a super-glue Trump ally — and for the rest of us. Mr. Trump is right in not fingering the crown prince unless papa Salman, the king, does it first. Mr. Trump is probably right in putting himself through awkward contortions to try to keep the U.S.-Saudi alliance intact.

Mr. Graham is right in not wanting to let the crown prince get away with the kind of murder that tells other overreaching autocrats that messing with the U.S. president, government and people is practically risk-free, so disrespect away with the vilest deeds imaginable against an American or someone under America’s protection.

But then Crown Prince Mohammed, touted as the most forward-looking man in the ruling family, can’t seem to arrive on time for his kingdom’s rendezvous with modernity — except for his allowing Saudi Arabian women to drive automobiles (when not being publicly stoned to death for infidelity.)

And, yes, yes, we understand the American national interest behind Mr. Trump’s sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James N. Mattis to brief senators on Wednesday and in effect having them do a mumbo-jumbo routine on whether it was the crown prince who had flown 17 of his finest assassins to kill Mr. Khashoggi in Istanbul.

“There is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order to kill Khashoggi,” Mr. Pompeo said. Mr. Mattis resorted to the no “smoking gun” explanation for letting the crown prince off the hook.

Mr. Graham isn’t the only one asking why Ms. Haspel did not join in briefing senators on Wednesday. In twice dodging that question from a reporter, Mr. Pompeo twice smiled wryly and said, “I was asked to be here, and I’m here.”

I like to think Mr. Pompeo was wryly saying to himself, “Haspel’s not here because, in the absence of a smoking gun, Mattis and I think the butler did it. And she doesn’t.’

Hope so. Humor is all that can save us from feeling that by botching the Khashoggi affair, the Saudi royal family put Mr. Trump, Mr. Graham and the rest of America in an impossible feces crater.

Only a man living in a galaxy far, far away from what’s acceptable to America would consider carving up, on a table in Turkey, a Saudi dissident living in northern Virginia and writing opinion columns for a U.S. newspaper.

Countries with disgusting behavior pockmark the world. Not our business. Can’t afford to police the world. Nor are we so entitled. Mr. Trump ran on that contention and is trying to stay true to it without sacrificing his and our honor.

Mr. Trump waited weeks for King Salman and his brain trust to figure out a way to tag the royal son as the dumbbell who did the deed and either replace him as the kingdom’s CEO or at least punish him somehow without jeopardizing U.S.-Saudi ties. Turns out that was a hill too steep for all the king’s men.

Mr. Trump wants to think Ms. Haspel’s conclusion isn’t conclusive — not a “slam dunk” in sometimes CIA lingo. Why? Because “America first” means preserving vital U.S. interests in the Middle East (where Muslims carve up Christians but only when temporarily distracted from blowing fellow Muslims to bits). And because “America first” means keeping China, Russia and others from grabbing hundreds of billions of dollars in contracts that the Saudis normally send our way.

That’s why you see Mr. Trump struggle to keep a straight face when he says there’s at least the possibility someone other than the king’s son ordered Mr. Khashoggi’s murder in retribution for having called Crown Prince Mohammed a despot.

Some despots are touchy about being called despots, just as a mafioso may take umbrage (or anything else lying around) at being called a mafioso (or mafiosa, if a female could be a “made-women” in the mafia, and if there were a mafia, as clearly there isn’t, if you value your life).

Mr. Trump doesn’t like the Saudi despot any more than Mr. Graham does — or than I do. National necessity says Mr. Trump is right in creating a special Saudi despot pass, for now at least. Pride in America’s standards says Mr. Graham is right to insist on hearing in person from the nation’s top spy to either finger the despot and risk a break with Riyadh or explain away his obvious guilt.

There’s a peculiar solace in knowing that the president and the senator are both right, even though that leaves us all deep in the smelly stuff.


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