By Campaign Agent Samuel Rhydderch
On Tuesday 20th November 2018, the White House released an official statement by President Trump regarding the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia; this statement comes after the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey last month.
In the official statement the President says that the United States will maintain its alliance with Saudi Arabia, saying it would be “foolish” to punish the crown prince - Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) – who has reportedly “vigorously” denied any knowledge or involvement in the killing of Mr Khashoggi.
The President has suggested that there may always be uncertainty regarding the role of the crown prince, declaring that “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t” have prior knowledge of the killing – which allegedly involved a 15-man hit squad from Riyadh. Turkey has branded President Trump’s stance as ‘comic’, saying that: “It is not possible for an intelligence agency such as the CIA, which even knows the colour of the fur on the cat walking around the Saudi consulate’s garden […] to not know who gave this order.”
This statement from Numan Kurtulmuş, who is the deputy chairman of President Erdogan’s AK party, comes after a CIA report released on Tuesday reportedly linked the crown prince with the killing of Mr Khashoggi; CNBC conducted an anonymous interview with a U.S. official familiar with the CIA report. President Trump has disputed the U.S. intelligence report, instead citing that: “the world should be held accountable” and that “the world is a very, very vicious place”.
As we move further along, President Trump indicates Saudi Arabia’s importance as a strategic ally regarding the fight against Iran - describing Iran as “the world’s leading sponsor of terror”, and a major destabilising force in the region - which Saudi Arabia balances against. The President here is attempting to contrast and justify the death of one man versus the deaths of thousands in Iran and he subsequently points to Iran as the ‘real’ enemy in this situation.
One of President Trump’s key points relates to the strong and prosperous economic ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia – especially regarding military expenditure and oil wealth. The U.S. is a major exporter of arms and weaponry, accounting for 61% of major arms sales to the Saudis over the past five years. After Mr Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, he announced that the Saudis would “spend and invest $450 billion” in the U.S., though only $14.5 billion dollars have been received so far. In return the Saudis have reportedly lowered global oil prices down from $82 dollars to $54 dollars a barrel. The President is keen to avoid a dispute with Saudi Arabia which could affect the U.S. economy and see the Saudis doing potential arms deals with Russia and China – who according to Trump would be “very, very happy”.
Top Senate Republicans rallied against the President’s official statement, with the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker tweeting: “I never thought I’d see the day a White House would moonlight […] as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince”. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham also hit back, stating that it is not in the national security interests to “look to other way when it comes to the brutal murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi”. Both Republican and Democratic factions seem to agree that President Trump’s remarks are unfavourable, given recent events.
Saudi Arabia is one of America’s oldest allies. Trump’s critics want the U.S. to distance themselves from the Saudis and instead achieve a balance of power between Riyadh and Tehran. However, the Saudis could turn to Russia and China for military and economic support, which others claim could be much more dangerous for the United States both economically and strategically.
Sources and Further Reading
David Charter, ‘Trump: I’m sticking with Saudis even if MBS knew about Khashoggi murder’, The Times (21 November 2018)
Jamal Khashoggi, ‘Turkey attacks Trump’s ‘comic’ stance on Khashoggi killing’, The Guardian (21 November 2018)
Michael Doran and Tony Badran, ‘Trump Is Crude. But He Is Right About Saudi Arabia’, The New York Times (21 November 2018)
Kate Sullivan, ‘Top Republicans slam Trump for statement backing Saudi Arabia’, CNN (21 November 2018)
Anthony Zurcher, ‘Trump Saudi statement: What the president’s words reveal’, BBC (20 November 2018)
Angela Dewan, ‘These are the countries still selling arms to Saudi Arabia’, CNN (23 November 2018)
Image: Rogelio A. Galaviz C. @flickr