President Trump said Wednesday that while he was worried about the fate of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, halting arms sales to Saudi Arabia in response would be a step too far.
Horrifying details have emerged surrounding the disappearance of Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi national who was last seen a week ago entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. According to a Wednesday report in The New York Times, a 15-man Saudi “assassination squad” flew to Istanbul to deal with Khashoggi, bringing a bone-saw with them.
U.S. intelligence intercepts obtained by the Washington Post showed the operation was ordered by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
None of this, however, seemed to affect Trump, who on Wednesday spoke with Fox News @ Night, and was asked about economic measures he could take to punish Saudi Arabia for the alleged murder.
“I think [blocking arms sales] would be hurting us,” he said. “We have jobs, we have a lot of things happening in this country. We have a country that’s doing probably better economically than it’s ever done before.”
Reporter: Have you spoken to the Saudis about Khashoggi?
Trump: “I’d rather not say. But the answer is yes."
Trump is just dumb, from the standpoint of stupid.
— Bishop Talbert Swan (@TalbertSwan) October 11, 2018
“Part of that is what we’re doing with our defense systems and everybody’s wanting them,” Trump continued. “And frankly I think that that would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country.”
In May, Trump signed a multi-billion dollar arms agreement with Saudi Arabia, worth $110 billion immediately and $350 billion over 10 years, which would supply Saudi Arabia with tanks, missile defense systems and fighter jets. The shocking disappearance of Khashoggi, however, has led to many lawmakers demanding repercussions.
On Wednesday, 22 senators, including Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), signed a letter asked Trump to investigate the incident under the Magnitsky act, which could potentially lead to sanctions against Saudi Arabia. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) also vowed to vote against future arms sales to the Kingdom.
Riyadh has denied all allegations. Letter: pic.twitter.com/Tog1y2U6yo
— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) October 10, 2018
The response from the Trump administration so far however has been lackluster. On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence said that the United States “stands ready to assist in any way” in investigating the disappearance. A State Department spokesperson emphasized that both national security adviser John Bolton and presidential adviser Jared Kushner had spoken to Mohammed bin Salman recently and called “for a transparent investigation.” The spokesperson said the advisers had no advance knowledge of the plot, despite U.S. intelligence intercepts indicating the opposite.
Since coming into power in 2017, Mohammed bin Salman has moved to cement his grip on Saudi Arabia, purging his rivals and escalating a military intervention in Yemen, which has killed thousands, displaced millions and left millions more vulnerable to famine. The Kingdom has also cut ties with Canada after the foreign ministry urged the release of civil rights activists.
Despite this, many western media outlets have been fawning over the crown prince. During his first interview with an American TV network, CBS introduced him as a “revolutionary” and said he has been “emancipating women, introducing music and cinema and cracking down on corruption.” Last November, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times wrote a gushing profile on him, doubling down in another column this September.
On Monday, Friedman, who is a friend of Khashoggi, wrote that, if it turned out Mohammed bin Salman had indeed ordered the assassination of Khashoggi, “it would be an unfathomable violation of norms of human decency.”