By Finian Cunningham
There was acute embarrassment among US politicians and media over Donald Trump’s shameful whitewashing this week of the Saudi regime in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
But rather than dealing with the obvious fact that US foreign power is evidently dependent on Saudi despotism, Trump’s critics tried to explain away that scandal by dragging Russia’s Vladimir Putin into the frame. A classic case of denial through distraction.
The Washington Post reported: “Trump’s defense of Saudi Arabia marks another instance when he has sided with the personal assurances of an autocrat, who has an incentive to deceive him, over the objective analysis of his own intelligence officials. Trump also took the word of Russian [President] Vladimir Putin that he didn’t meddle in the 2016 elections, despite the unanimous conclusions of the US intelligence community to the contrary.”
Other pundits, such as former US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and ex-director of national intelligence James Clapper, jumped to the same point, that President Trump was ignoring the advice of the CIA and aligning himself with “autocratic leaders”.
But the purported equivalence does not hold in the slightest. The US intelligence agencies – some of them, not all – previously made an assessment with “high confidence” that Russia interfered in America’s 2016 presidential election. But those intel agencies have never presented any verifiable evidence to support that sensational claim. Russia’s President Putin has denied any Kremlin-directed plot to influence US elections. His last statement on that was in Helsinki in June this year when he met Trump. The latter said then that he believed Putin’s assurances.
The case of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is totally different. Yes, the CIA has concluded with “high confidence” that the Saudi rulers, in particular Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were responsible for the killing. But numerous other observers have independently come to the same conclusion based on abundant evidence surrounding the disappearance of Khashoggi on October 2 inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Turkish authorities have provided audiotape recordings of the gruesome attack inside the consulate which strongly implicate the involvement of the Saudi Crown Prince, or MBS as he is known. There are also images of a Saudi death squad despatched from Riyadh to Istanbul, carrying murder tools in their luggage.
Even if direct evidence has yet to emerge demonstrating MBS being personally inculpated, the whole sordid affair and the brazen lies that have come out of Riyadh since October 2 are sufficient to conclude that, at the very least, the Saudi regime is answerable for the murder.
Just because the CIA has assessed “with high confidence” that MBS gave the murder order, does not mean that the CIA is wrong on this occasion. Admittedly US intelligence is not a reliable source, as shown in the “Russiagate” fantasy and, before that, the WMD allegations against Iraq, among many other propaganda operations. However, on the Khashoggi killing and the Saudi involvement we are not relying solely on the word of the CIA. We can permit US intelligence to get some things right, sometimes.
In any case, let’s just leave the CIA and US intelligence out of this. Their assessment is not needed. The conclusion that a brutal murder occurred in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul can be made from other sources and independent observations. What was perhaps significant about the CIA report this week on the killing is that it put a deadline on Trump’s prevarications. For nearly two months, the US president has dissembled and demurred about Saudi regime culpability and what the official Washington response should be.
This week Trump showed a shameful and callous indifference towards the gravity of the matter. The same day he whitewashed the Saudi regime and Crown Prince MBS in particular, Trump issued the annual presidential pardon to a Thanksgiving turkey in the White House Rose Garden, a jocular tradition that is said to go back to Abraham Lincoln’s time. “You’re one lucky turkey,” quipped Trump. The joking around could have easily applied to the Saudi Crown Prince whom Trump gave a reprieve in a statement released only hours earlier on the Khashoggi killing.
Incredibly in that statement, Trump actually admitted in a glib words that MBS may have been responsible for ordering the barbaric murder of Khashoggi.
“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” said the statement issued on behalf of Trump.
Trump’s reasoning was despicable and inane. “The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region,” added the president’s statement.
In other words, Saudi Arabia can do anything it wants, including murder, torturing political prisoners, waging a genocidal war on Yemen and sponsoring head-chopping terrorists, because it is a “steadfast partner” of Washington.
In absolving the Saudi rulers in the Khashoggi murder, Trump piled up the abject excuses, distractions and obfuscations. He accused Iran of being the problem of terrorism in the Middle East, not Saudi Arabia. He accused Iran of being responsible for millions of children starving in Yemen, not Saudi Arabia. He slandered Khashoggi as being an “enemy of the state”. He said Saudi Arabia was too important for US weapons sales, jobs and oil interests to be considered for sanctions over the “terrible killing”. Finally, Trump candidly blurted that “America First” national interests of profits and security were more important than any moral values.
In response, The New York Times sought to moralize over the president’s indecency, in an article headlined: ‘In Pardoning Saudi Arabia, Trump Gives Guidance to Autocrats’. It added: “The president laid out a foreign policy where alliances are transactional, jobs outweigh values and friends are excused for abhorrent acts.”
Of course, Trump’s whitewashing of Saudi despotism is abhorrent. But what is really upsetting the US media, pundits and other politicians in Washington is that Trump is laying bare the real nature of America’s “strategic” relationship with Saudi Arabia.
And not just Saudi Arabia. For decades, Washington has willingly consorted with the most barbaric, fascist dictatorships to mass murder its way to maintaining hegemony around the world. Journalists, trade unionists, teachers, peasants, priests, democracy activists and countless other civilians have been murdered by US-backed despotic regimes in order to keep the “world safe” for American corporate capitalism.
Trump’s brazen pardoning of the Saudi regime this week is merely a continuation of Washington’s policy. The difference on this occasion is that the veil of American moralistic pretense and virtuous rhetoric has been torn asunder.
That’s what is really vexing the US media, pundits and politicians. So in order to distract from the spectacle of sordid American calculation, there is a desperate attempt to blame Trump and explain away his indecency as an aberration of personal affinity with autocrats.
Even when the US ruling class is exposed in its corrupt dealings with murderous dictatorships, it finds some way of blaming others and smearing their bête noire – Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
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