|EVAN VUCCI / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|
It should be noted from the jump that U.S.-Saudi Arabian relations have long been an accident waiting to happen. Successive American presidential administrations dating back to Harry Fricking Truman have embraced the extremists in Riyadh, who honor their goats over their wives and daughters, because of their fabulous if diminishing oil wealth. Never mind their appalling human rights violations in Yemen and Middle East meddling in general, and the fact that Osama bin Laden and most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis.
Still, it is deliciously ironic that the crackup would occur with Donald Trump in the White House and Jared Kushner, his felonious loose cannon of a son-in-law, calling the U.S. policy shots in the Middle East, central to which is his bromance with Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS for short.
The MBS-ordered torture, murder and gruesome dismemberment of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a 15-man hit squad at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago should be deeply embarrassing to Trump and Kushner, but of course it is not. It should be heartening that U.S. tech, media and entertainment companies are withdrawing from a Saudi investment conference "as dismay over Saudi agents’ alleged murder of Khashoggi spread to companies that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has tried to woo," in the words of the WaPo, where Khashoggi was a columnist.
The president's reaction is, of course, straight out of the Trump Playbook -- utter disinterest masquerading as feigned concern about a man whose passion was getting to the truth, which is kryptonite for Trump.
While MBS is yet another autocratic thug in the mold of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, Trump will tolerate a messy assassination and human rights outrages because of his fawning admiration for the crown prince, so all the back-and-forth between Washington and Riyadh as the scandal has grown is the equivalent of a diplomatic pillow fight. Championing "democratic values" abroad is so . . . , uh, Obama.
Besides which, Khashoggi is "not a U.S. citizen," in Trump's words. (Never mind that he was a U.S. resident who lived in suburban Washington.) The U.S., notes Trump, is not about to squander the precious $110 billion Saudi Arabia is paying for U.S. weapons systems and all the jobs that lethal windfall creates. (Never mind that the actual figure is $20 billion and the jobs were there to begin with.) And how about all those economic and social reforms that MBS is advocating? (Never mind that while widening women's limited rights, he's jailing the most outspoken of them.)
Trump's fondness for Saudi Arabia may have something to do with all the times the royal family has bailed him out.
In 1991, teetering on the verge of personal bankruptcy and scrambling to raise cash, Trump sold his 282-foot yacht "Princess" to billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin-Talal for $20 million, a third less than what he reportedly paid for it.
In 1995, the prince came to his rescue again, joining other investors in a $325 million deal for Trump's money-losing Plaza Hotel.
In 2001, Trump sold the entire 45th floor of the Trump World Tower for $12 million to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi government also is a prime customer at Trump's New York and Washington hotels.
You can't turned around these days without bumping into another scandal. That is the Russia scandal, and there are several Russia scandal-related tentacles attached to the Khashoggi drama, which stems from his disappearance and presumed murder inside the Istanbul consulate while his fianceé, Hatice Cengiz (photo, above), waited outside. And waited and waited.
Take the August 3, 2016 Trump Tower meeting convened by Donald Trump Jr., who has promoted a tweet calling Khashoggi a "jihadist."
The president's son met with an Israeli social media specialist whose company had drawn up a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Trump, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, whom we'll call MBZ, who was the effective ruler of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who was advising Mohammed bin Salman.
The meeting was arranged by former Blackwater mercenary goon squad boss Erik Prince, whose current private security company is actively working to screw up the Middle East even further.
We only know the outlines of the meeting and trust Special Counsel Robert Mueller knows more since Nader has become a cooperating witness. But from what we gather, Nader graciously offered to also help the campaign and was quickly embraced as a good buddy who subsequently met frequently with Kushner, Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon. At the time, Nader was promoting a secret plan to use private contractors (read Prince's) to destabilize Iran, the regional nemesis of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
During a private meeting in early November after Trump's victory, MBZ told an unidentified American close to Trump that Putin might be interested in resolving the conflict in Syria in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions, which is a recurring theme in the many contacts between Trump's campaign and nascent administration and Russia and its proxies.
The incestuousness of the scandal's many characters cannot be overstated.
Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese professor who enticed Trump campaign coffee boy George Popadolpoulos with the disclosure that the Kremlin had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails -- perhaps the first such reference to them whispered to drooling campaign officials -- is a bit player in the Khashoggi scandal. He attended a seminar in Moscow on Yemeni security issues as a member of the delegation of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is MBS's titular boss.
Mifsud disappeared in November 2017 three days after Mueller's office announced that Papadopoulos had been indicted, pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to FBI agents and agreed to cooperate with Mueller's. There is little question that Mifsud was deaded, possibly on Putin's orders, but absent a corpus delicti he still is considered just missing.
And we can't forget Elliot Broidy, a top fundraiser for Trump, who has worked with Nader to isolate another Saudi enemy -- Qatar -- and undermine the Pentagon's longstanding relationship with the Gulf country.
Broidy's security firm, Circinus LLC, has secured at least $800 million in foreign defense contracts since Trump took office and Broidy began advocating for outcomes favorable to Saudi Arabia and other countries Circinus lists as clients. The Justice Department is investigating whether Broidy sought to sell his influence with the Trump administration by offering to deliver U.S. government actions for foreign officials in exchange for big bucks. A slam-dunk case if ever there was one.Meanwhile, Steve Mnuchin, Trump's Treasury secretary, is still going to that investment conference even as others are pulling out. This is because of the one thing we, Trump and Mnuchin can be certain about. Even though Trump has belatedly vowed to inflict "severe punishment" if it is found the Saudis killed Khashoggi, the scandal will soon sink into the vast sands of Saudi Arabia without a trace.