- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2018


The national furor over all those fake bombs sent to prominent Democrats has President Trump off the U.S.-Saudi relations hook for a while.

The seemingly endless discovery of bombs designed never to explode allowed the president to put off telling us what CIA Director Gina Haspel told him on Thursday, after her return from Turkey.

She presumably has the scoop on the role of the king of Saudi Arabia and his No. 1 son in the murder of the son’s high-profile critic.

The White House had dispatched Mrs. Haspel to listen to secret Turkish recordings of the Oct. 2 murder of that critic, Saudi journalist, Islamist and sometimes spy Jamal Khashoggi. The poor guy expired without a grace in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

If you believe the Saudi royal family, also known as the government of Saudi Arabia, Mr. Khashoggi, 59, met his maker because he started a fistfight with 15 Saudis.

They included royal security personnel and a bonesaw-carrying Saudi forensic pathologist. This beneficent aggregation was flown from Riyadh to Istanbul, according to the Saudi government, to politely try to persuade Mr. Khashoggi that he not only can but should go home again to his beloved desert kingdom.

Turkish authorities say the gang of 15 was really there to send him to a different kind of kingdom, much farther away. So, as planned, the 15 assassins did what assassins do. Then they cut his body into manageable pieces and disposed of them somewhere in the environs of Istanbul.

How did it come to pass that until the No-Explosion Bomber stole the headlines, the U.S. and much of the rest of the known world had focused on the fate of this bit of an oddball Saudi gentleman who once advised Saudi royalty?

I mean, why care so much about a one-time (maybe permanent) fan of the Muslim Brotherhood who was an Islamist yet reformist when it came to women’s rights in a socially backward kingdom?

Well, let’s flash back a year in this murder tale. Fearing imprisonment in Saudi Arabia by a crown prince who doesn’t take kindly to criticism, Mr. Khashoggi found refuge in the U.S., took up residence in Virginia and contributed opinion columns to The Washington Post.

All that raised his profile here and abroad and made it inevitable that his killing would put an American president on the spot in dealing with the murder. He would have to find a way to keep America’s interests ahead of all others and yet not disrupt relations with a top U.S. Middle East ally whose leaders, logic dictates, had to have ordered the murder.

The president committed himself to doing this, if humanly possible, without upending the two countries’ mutually beneficial relationship.

OK, but how, you ask, did the Turks get mixed up in this American republic-Arab kingdom’s murder story? Mr. Khashoggi was of part Turkish descent and was planning to move to Turkey, presumably out of the Saudi crown prince’s reach. He underestimated that reach. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s minions lured him to their Istanbul Consulate where they said he could pick up the marriage documents he needed.

In the aftermath of this international incident, everyone involved including the U.S. and Turkish officials — but not the Saudi royals — has said it’s unimaginable that the killing of a high-profile critic of the crown prince’s could have taken place without the knowledge of Saudi Arabia’s highest officials. Well, the kingdom’s highest officials happen to be King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed.

If that doesn’t make the situation icky enough for Mr. Trump who made Saudi Arabia his first foreign visit as president, it so happens that Crown Prince Mohammed is a close chum of Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

Remember, the Saudi government really did aver that Mr. Khashoggi met his demise in a fistfight he started with the 15 fellow Saudis who were in the consulate not to kill him but to cajole him to return to Riyadh.

Mr. Trump has called it the worst cover-up in the history of cover-ups.

Apparently out to illustrate Mr. Trump’s observation, Prince Mohammed has said flatly he had nothing to do with the killing. What possible motive could the prince have, other than Mr. Khashoggi’s having regular access to the pages of a major U.S. newspaper as a platform for criticizing the crown prince’s authoritarian ways?

What the president has here is billions of dollars in military hardware and software contracts and thousands of American jobs possibly at risk, as well as our reliance on the presumed near omniscience of the Saudi spy network in a region rich with terrorists.

That’s why Mr. Trump has been looking for a tolerable way to punish the crown prince without breaking up the U.S.-Saudi financial-military-intelligence alliance. In case you’re wondering, you don’t presume to punish kings. Which is why advanced countries don’t have them and backward counties do.

Realistically, resolving the punishment question means the Saudi royals take it upon their themselves to do the punishing — or face Mr. Trump’s wrath. So either the crown prince fesses up and voluntarily resigns his crownship, or his dad, Saudi King Salman, fires his son Prince Mohammed and names another son or grandson as crown prince.

None of this seems likely to transpire so long as the crazed — or crafty — fake bomber and his non-exploding ordnance continue to grab the eyeballs and ears of the nation.

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