It seems nearly certain now that Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist, died a slow and agonizing death, the kind that none of us could dare imagine for ourselves. It seems equally clear that Khashoggi, a Virginia resident and a columnist for the Washington Post, was murdered, probably on orders of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The latest evidence pointing to M.B.S.’s direct involvement is the identities of members of the team sent to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi: several of the individuals identified by Turkish officials were part of the Royal Guard, responsible for protecting senior members of the House of Saud. “They answer directly to M.B.S.,’’ Bruce Riedel, a former Middle East specialist for the C.I.A. and National Security Council, told me.
Khashoggi was warm, generous, and funny—and loyal to his principles, like the virtues of open and accountable government. His refusal to compromise his values prompted the Saudi government, in 2016, to silence him, and it led him to conclude, the following year, that he needed to flee to America. I saw Jamal whenever I visited Washington. (Whenever he came to New York, we met at Katz’s Deli for giant reuben sandwiches.) Jamal and I spoke for the last time six days before he vanished. He was writing to tell me about the latest crackdown on the Saudi press, which had led to several reporters being imprisoned. He sent me clips from Saudi newspapers documenting their detention. “I hope you are interested in the story,” Jamal wrote in an e-mail. “Saudi authorities are making a mockery of justice while the world celebrates MBS’ reforms!”
Indeed, if there is any lesson to be learned from this terrible affair, it’s how blind so much of official Washington and the American press were to M.B.S.’s true nature. When the crown prince visited the United States earlier this year, he was fêted in Hollywood and Silicon Valley, on Wall Street, and, of course, by the Trump White House, as a messiah—in the mold of Gorbachev or Gandhi. “Historic night it was,’’ Dwayne (the Rock) Johnson, the actor, wrote, on Instagram, of a dinner with M.B.S. hosted by Rupert Murdoch at his vineyard in Bel Air.
It was the Trump White House that went the furthest, basing its entire Middle East strategy on the vision and maturity of the thirty-three-year-old monarch. [Continue reading…]
Trump is now on the defensive about his ties to the desert kingdom, which date back more than two decades in various business deals. The Saudis are also now central to his foreign policy. On Tuesday, Trump tweeted, “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter). Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS (of which there is plenty)!” Three years ago, as he announced his candidacy, Trump boasted, “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend forty million dollars, fifty million dollars. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.” [Continue reading…]