When President Trump chose Riyadh to make his debut on the world stage last year, he was placing a bet on Saudi Arabia, which serenaded him with military bands, dazzled him with a flyover of fighter jets and regaled him with a traditional sword dance.
The mastermind behind that wager — the White House adviser who convinced Trump to visit Saudi Arabia for his maiden foreign trip and who choreographed a veritable lovefest between the new American president and the desert kingdom’s white-robed ruler, King Salman — was Jared Kushner.
The presidential son-in-law has carefully cultivated a close partnership with the heir to the Saudi throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom Kushner has championed as a reformer poised to usher the ultraconservative oil-rich monarchy into modernity.
But the U.S.-Saudi alliance — and the relationship between Kushner, 37, and Mohammed, 33 — is now imperiled by the unexplained disappearance and alleged gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who had been living in the United States and wrote columns for The Washington Post. The suspected killing has sparked international outcry and calls for tough punishment of Riyadh.
Kushner, however, has already signaled that he has no intention of turning his back on the crown prince, known by the initials MBS. Trump himself has threatened “extreme punishment” even while repeatedly casting doubt on the Saudi regime’s guilt or the effectiveness of tough measures.
“It’s placed President Trump and the administration now on a tightrope and we will see how they perform,” said James C. Oberwetter, a U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia under former president George W. Bush.
As Kushner and his father-in-law see it, the partnership has paid dividends in the form of Saudi pledges to purchase billions of dollars worth of U.S. weaponry as well as the kingdom’s position as an Arab ally in countering Iran and in fighting extremism throughout the Middle East, according to administration officials. [Continue reading…]