Over the weekend Donald Trump warned of “severe punishment” if an investigation concludes that a Saudi hit team murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Riyadh then counter-threatened, reminding us that, as the world’s largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia “plays an impactful and active role in the global economy.”
Message: Sanction us, and we may just sanction you.
Some of us yet recall how President Nixon’s rescue of Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War triggered a Saudi oil embargo that led to months of long gas lines in the United States, and contributed to Nixon’s fall.
Yesterday, a week after Jared Kushner had been assured by his friend Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that Khashoggi walked out of the consulate, Trump put through a call to King Salman himself.
According to a Trump tweet, the king denied “any knowledge of whatever may have happened ‘to our Saudi Arabian citizen.’”
Trump said he was “immediately” sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh to meet with the king on the crisis. The confrontation is escalating. Crown Prince Mohammed and King Salman have both now put their nation’s honor and credibility on the line.
Both are saying that what the Turks claim they can prove — Khashoggi was tortured and murdered in the consulate, cut up, and his body parts flown to Saudi Arabia — is a lie.
For Trump and the U.S., this appears a classic case of the claims of international morality clashing with the claims of national interest.
The archetype occurred in the mid-1870s when Ottoman Turks perpetrated a slaughter of Bulgarian Christians under their rule.