The bizarre optics of Pompeo’s trip to Saudi Arabia

Pompeo is there to "investigate" a brutal murder, but you wouldn't know it by looking at him.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was dispatched by President Trump to Riyadh as part of the president’s purported effort to “investigate” what happened to Virginia resident, Washington Post columnist, and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi — who entered a Saudi consulate in Turkey on October 2 and hasn’t been seen since.

Hours before Pompeo’s arrival on Tuesday morning, news broke that the Saudi regime is prepared to confirm widespread suspicions that Khashoggi was brutally murdered by Saudi agents. Yet video of Pompeo’s meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman belied the serious subject matter, instead showing America’s top diplomat smirking and laughing with the Saudi leader.

The bizarre optics of the Pompeo /MBS meeting were immediately noted by CNN’s John Berman, who asked viewers to “look at the smiles here. Look at the body language. Look at the demeanor. They are talking about the apparent murder and dismemberment of a Washington Post journalist!”

Before his 35 to 40 minute meeting with MBS, Pompeo had a very brief meeting and smiling photo op with Saudi King Salman. The State Department released a four-sentence statement about the event that managed to thank Salman twice.

The optics of Pompeo’s visit stood in stark contrast to comments Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made about Khashoggi’s appearance on Tuesday morning’s edition of Fox & Friends. Graham described MBS as “a wrecking ball” and “toxic.”

“He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey,” Graham said. “The MBS figure is to me toxic. He can never be a world leader on the world stage… this guy’s gotta go.”


Graham isn’t the only lawmaker who’s outraged about the apparent murder of Khashoggi. A bipartisan group of senators has pushed for a human rights probe into his disappearance, warning that Khashoggi “could be a victim of a gross violation of international recognized human rights.”

President Trump is less worked up about the Saudi regime’s apparent role in Khashoggi’s disappearance than these members of Congress are. Trump has repeatedly cited arms sales to Saudi as a reason he’s reluctant to sanction the regime, and has emphasized Khashoggi’s non-citizen status as part of an effort to downplay the significance of his disappearance.