President Trump is clearly not being served well by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who relies on Israeli PM Netanyahu for direction and has apparently developed a closeness to Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman, “who has shown a tendency to be impetuous, ruthless, and power crazy.” Former U.S. presidents and European leaders, however, remain silent on the outrages of the Saudi regime, including its murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
By Richard Walker
Blaming President Donald Trump and his administration for the Saudi murder of a journalist, and for war crimes in Yemen by the Saudis and their Arab allies, is a distortion of the truth and excuses many of the real culprits, who include former presidents and European leaders who have been strangely silent.
In the midst of a tightly contested midterm election cycle, it has become somewhat fashionable on the left to direct all condemnation of Saudi transgressions at Trump. While he must share some blame for his unquestioned support for the Saudis and their Arab allies, it may well be that his biggest mistake was placing his rich son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of his Middle East policy. Kushner relies on his family friend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for advice about the Middle East.
Kushner has also formed a special bond with the young Saudi leader, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, who has shown a tendency to be impetuous, ruthless, and power crazy. Kushner is known to have had private late-night discussions with MBS, and some observers have remarked that they formed a special bond as the sons of rich men. The underlying problem is that neither has any history of political or foreign policy achievement, and Kushner in particular has only worked in the real estate business in New York. He has no serious knowledge of the Middle East, making him vulnerable to outside influence, in particular to Netanyahu and the Saudis, who share a desire to encourage America to go to war with Iran. Therefore, Trump has not been well served by Kushner.
What is clear about the blame game over the premeditated Saudi murder of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the war crimes the Saudi military has been committing in Yemen with Western weaponry, is that the royal princes in Riyadh feel empowered to do whatever they like, believing they will face no consequences from their Western allies. Their immunity from punishment for excessive use of violence, including their questioned support for al Qaeda, ISIS, and the al-Nusra Front, is not rooted in Trump’s arrival in the White House. On the contrary, it can be forcefully argued with considerable evidence that Trump inherited a Western political marriage with the Saudis that was consummated over decades by his predecessors and by the leaders of Britain and France.
These relationships have always been about the oil the Saudis are sitting on and the money they have pumped into the accounts of influencers and lobbyists in Washington, Paris, and London. There have been convenient arguments forged in Western capitals that the Saudis are critical to Western security and to our Middle East policies. No one pointed out that, like the Israelis, the Saudis have their own agenda for the Middle East and exploit Western politicians to achieve it. Even when the Saudis spread Wahhabism, their vicious form of Islam, across the globe and helped to bring about al Qaeda and the 9/11 atrocities they were shielded from blame.
Their familiar tactic is to buy weapons, especially American ones, but not exclusively. The French and the British have received enormous sums of money from selling them advanced missiles, while assisting them on the battlefield and in targeting Yemen.
Presidents Barack Obama and George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair have had little or nothing to say lately about the Saudis. They are content to let all criticism be fired at Trump, yet they were the leaders who cemented the Saudi political marriage, even after it became clear the Saudis had blood on their hands when it came to the 9/11 attacks.
The Saudis have learned how to deflect criticism. When they are in the crosshairs of a media blitz they simply funnel tens of millions of dollars to lobbyists.
They are sitting on an arsenal most nations only dream of and use their most advanced missiles to kill women and children in famine-ravaged Yemen. One wonders why the killing of a journalist got so much attention as compared to the relatively unreported war crimes they have committed in Yemen.
When the Saudis were threatened with being shamed as child-killers in Yemen they used financial blackmail against the UN. Money has always provided their political power.
One reason the Saudis have felt more emboldened of late to kill Khashoggi, continue their bombing of civilians in Yemen, and recruit al Qaeda fighters is their alliance with Israel, which reaches deep in Washington.
Netanyahu sees the Saudis as an ideal foil against Iran, and the Saudis regard Israel as a big influencer, which undoubtedly it is since Netanyahu has the ear of Kushner and therefore of Trump.
If the Saudis are to be reined in before MBS starts a war with Iran, Trump may have to take a tougher line with Riyadh and remove Kushner from the role of Middle East policymaker.
Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.