President Donald Trump defended his administration’s cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia Tuesday, despite the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in October. In a stream-of-consciousness statement, Trump parroted the Saudi royal family's talking points and cast doubt on his own intelligence community’s findings regarding the dissident journalist’s death.
“Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an ‘enemy of the state’ and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that — this is an unacceptable and horrible crime,” the president wrote, seemingly confirming Saudi smears against Khashoggi that the Kingdom has previously denied.
The president’s exclamation mark-riddled letter defended the U.S.’s relationship with the royal family just days after the CIA reportedly determined that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he was strangled and cut into pieces with a bone saw.
Khashoggi had served as an adviser to the royal family before becoming one of its most prominent critics. He was especially critical of the young, powerful crown prince.
“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!,” Trump wrote. "That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi."
Trump also defended Saudi Arabia’s involvement in one of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophes by blaming their regional nemesis: Iran.
“The country of Iran, for example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen,” the president argued.
“On the other hand, Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if Iranians would agree to leave. They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance.”
The U.S. is tethered to Saudi Arabia’s disastrous war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, where the U.S. military has provided strategic help and refueled Saudi jets. The war has killed tens of thousands and left millions on the brink of famine and in desperate need of humanitarian aid. Though both sides are to blame for mounting civilian casualties, Saudi Arabia's costly airstrikes are responsible for the majority of deaths.
“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," Trump continued. "It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!”
Hours later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the president's statement by saying that it's a "mean and nasty world out there." Pompeo also repeated his boss's position that America's "long, historic commitment" to Saudia Arabia was "vital to America's national security."
The president's statement, which ended by celebrating low oil prices, has stirred immediate outrage among human rights proponents and journalists, who warn that the president’s rhetoric risks promoting further violence against dissidents under repressive governments.
Cover image: In this Tuesday, March 20, 2018 file photo, President Donald Trump holds a chart highlighting arms sales to Saudi Arabia during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)