Late last week, the CIA made little effort to hide the fact that it believes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi. That information was, of course, shared with Donald Trump, who made little effort to hide his skepticism.
The president announced plans to release a statement on his position on Saudi Arabia soon. Today, the White House released that statement, which came as a surprise – not necessarily because of the details of the administration’s foreign policy, but because of the way in which the statement describes that policy.
President Donald Trump, in exclamation point-filled formal presidential statement, said Tuesday that his administration would stand by Saudia Arabia’s rulers and take no actions against them over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In the extraordinary statement, which featured six exclamation points from the president, Trump called the “crime” against Khashoggi “terrible” and “one that our country does not condone.”
But he again stopped well short of pointing blame at Saudi Arabia – despite NBC News and other reports last week that the CIA concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing – and cast questions over who killed the journalist.
It’s a bit too long to republish in its entirety here, but open a tab and take a couple of minutes to read the whole thing. Often, official White House statements are issued on behalf of the president, though it’s obvious that Trump played no role in writing the document.
Today’s statement, however, was very clearly crafted by the president himself – and I don’t mean that as a compliment.
It starts with two sentences that make it seem as if the White House statement is a fourth grader’s book report: “America First! The world is a very dangerous place!”
It went downhill from there, including a reference to Trump’s absurd claim about a $110 billion Saudi arms deal that doesn’t really exist.
And what of the CIA’s conclusion about Mohammed bin Salman’s direct role in ordering Jamal Khashoggi’s execution? The Republican president’s statement added, “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! That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi.”
Trump has heard the findings of American intelligence professionals, and he’s heard Saudi Arabian denials. In his mind, they’re roughly equivalent, and the search for truth is folly.
Joe Cirincione, the president of the Ploughshares Fund and an MSNBC contributor, wrote a tweet in response to Trump’s statement that said, “This is, without a doubt, the most uninformed, imbecilic, toady, poorly-written, categorically untrue statement I have ever seen from a president of the United States. A complete disgrace.”
The bottom line remains the same: Trump has been under pressure to hold Saudi Arabia responsible for the slaying of an American journalist and change the nature of the relationship between the United States and the Kingdom. The American president obviously has no intention of doing anything of the kind.
The CIA hoped to force Trump’s hand, putting him in a position where he’d have no choice but to be responsible. That didn’t work.