- Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman likely won’t be implicated for reportedly ordering the assassination of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, according to foreign policy experts.
- President Donald Trump has repeatedly refused to condemn bin Salman for his reported role.
- The Saudis, operating under historically brutal regimes, are beginning a trial against Khashoggi’s alleged killers.
It’s unlikely Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will face adequate punishment at home or from the U.S. for reportedly ordering the assassination of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, according to foreign policy experts’ comments, which were supported by President Donald Trump’s recent remarks on the matter.
Khashoggi, a journalist whose writings were often critical of the kingdom and of bin Salman, was murdered upon entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. The CIA determined that bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing, according to news reports.
Middle East policy experts and analysts, as well as congressional Republicans, including Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have splintered with Trump on this point, especially in regards to the upcoming Saudi trial of the 11 suspects accused of killing Khashoggi.
“The very people who are accused of orchestrating Khashoggi’s murder are now overseeing the investigation,” a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy, Shadi Hamid, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Brookings is a liberal-leaning think tank.
“That is beyond absurdity,” Hamid, who’s certain bin Salman was behind Khashoggi’s slaying, continued. “That’s why we can’t take this Saudi self-investigation seriously.”
Trump has received criticism from lawmakers on both side of the aisle for his refusal to acknowledge the crown prince’s role. The president called bin Salman, who’s often referred to as MBS, a “great ally” on Tuesday.
“[W]e may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” Trump said in a statement. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
But Hamid told TheDCNF: “It’s as inconceivable as inconceivable gets to think that MBS [bin Salman] is innocent.”
“MBS is someone who acts recklessly, who can’t be counted on, and who is quite frankly a danger to American interests and America’s national security and to regional stability in the Middle East,” he added.
Khashoggi was living in self-exile in the United States and contributing to The Washington Post after he was barred from writing or appearing on television in his home country of Saudi Arabia, reportedly due to his criticism of Trump.
The U.S. is undoubtedly in a strategical dilemma, especially given the Trump administration’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia, an ally in the Middle East, a conservative nonprofit vice president told TheDCNF.
“The Trump administration has put Saudi Arabia at the center of its Middle East policy,” American Foreign Policy Council Senior Vice President Ilan Berman said.
“No one I’ve talked to in the administration is interested in MBS stepping down or stepping away,” Berman added. “They see that as very disruptive, but they understand the optics demand that something happen.”
Trump has declined to listen to an audio recording circulating between global leaders that reportedly includes parts of Khashoggi’s murder, as well as the voice of one of the Saudi agents making a reference to a superior that’s purportedly bin Salman.
The president said there’s “no reason” for him to listen to the “suffering tape” because he’s been briefed on the recording.
A possible reason for not listening to the tape is due to the White House’s lack of a coherent response in punishing Saudi Arabia, Berman suggested.
“The White House wants to do as little as possible so it doesn’t nuke the relationship here,” Berman said. “There’s probably a way to signal our displeasure and force the Saudis to reform in a meaningful way without destroying everything we’ve built so far.”
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, has been heavily involved in the administration’s foreign policy strategy surrounding Saudi Arabia. He and bin Salman have formulated a close rapport over the months since the administration’s first overseas trip.
Kushner has faced scrutiny for this role, but Berman believes Kushner’s standing in the administration can be advantageous in reprimanding the crown prince. (RELATED: 5 Of Khashoggi’s Accused Killers Facing Death Penalty)
“The Saudi Arabia government is all about tribal and familial loyalty,” he told TheDCNF. “In this particular case, the MBS-Kushner relationship is strong precisely because it [plays] on this.”
“Because Jared has a good relationship with MBS, it also provides an opportunity in a meaningful way to press the Saudis in a way [an] ambassador wouldn’t be able to, [but] that doesn’t seem to be something [the administration has] done yet,” Berman continued.
Experts also say that Saudis speaking out against the kingdom and against the crown prince has severe consequences, making it unlikely that bin Salman will be implicated, despite that five of the 11 men in the Khashoggi trial face the death penalty.
One of Khashoggi’s sons said in a Nov. 5 interview with CNN that he’s put his faith in the kingdom and that he trusts King Salman to bring those responsible for his father’s death to justice.
“You probably want to be very careful if there’s anyone you care about that is still there [in Saudi Arabia],” Hamid told TheDCNF.
“For the safety of their family, you do not want to mess with regimes who can do terrible things to family members and friends,” he said, adding that the Saudi government can prevent relatives and friends from getting jobs, from getting into schools and universities and conduct other similarly debilitating interventions.
Regardless, the Saudis cannot afford to conduct a shoddy investigation into Khashoggi’s death, according to a conservative think tank director at The Heritage Foundation.
“The Saudis have to demonstrate a credible effort that the rule of law [is] followed,” Jim Carafano, director of Heritage’s Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, told TheDCNF. “There has to be a real investigation, and it has to be at least to the degree of transparency that their friends and allies around the world can say the Saudis have demonstrated that they’re following the rule of law.”
But Hamid isn’t as trusting of the Saudi regime, given its history of brutality, its human rights violations and its role in the Sept. 11 attacks, among other things.
“To even talk about the rule of law in the context of Saudi Arabia is somewhat laughable,” Hamid told TheDCNF. “It’s hard to take this trial, or what will become a trial, seriously. A lot of it’s a joke and a performance.”
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