Note: This is the last of a three-blog series discussing the desired outcome of the Khashoggi saga to Erdogan, Trump, and Muhammad bin Salman.
Speculating on the American response to Khashoggi’s murder is more complex than Turkey or Saudi Arabia. In part because both Turks and Saudis are monoliths. There are no official divisions between the state ministers. What Erdogan says goes in Turkey and MBS is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.
But in the United States, there are two prevailing ideas as to how to move forward with the Saudis. The division mainly exists between the executive and the Congress. This divide is solely political and has nothing to do with human rights.
Since assuming power, Trump and Jared Kushner have tried to bypass official channels to build their own lines of communication. They did so with Russia albeit with less success than with the Saudis.
Kushner, a lifelong Zionist, who had more conflicts of interest than a slutty nun is leading Trump’s Middle-Eastern policy. But it is ‘Trump’s policy’ only in the name. Kushner saw that MBS wanted all power in Saudi Arabia.
To pull him toward the Trump team by expanding his powers, Kushner handed him a list of his political rivals. MBS then arrested and tortured them all on the false pretense of a drive for austerity.
Congress did not like that. Politicians from both parties had spent years building ties with Saudi princes and MBS, an almost unknown figure, ripped them all of their money and power. The close ties between Kushner and MBS cut Congress out.
The Congress couldn’t raise the issue with MBS over the plight of Yemenis because they supported it. Then came Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. This was a God-send for the likes of Lindsey Graham. Here is a man who supported military tribunals that sentenced 15-year-olds to Gitmo and is now taking a stance on American values.
During his appearance on Fox and Friends, he called King Salman wise and asked him to replace MBS. Pity that no one was there to point out that King Salman has been doing to critics for decades what MBS did this month.
So to both Trump and Congress, this is not a human rights issue. It is a political game to get ‘our guys’ back into power.
To in this blog, I will describe what the Trump team wants separately from how Congress wants to end the Khashoggi saga.
How Congress Wants the Khashoggi Saga to End
What Congress wants is simple. They want to oust MBS. Not because of his human rights record but because he is a disruptor. The house of Saud that has ruled with an iron fist. The US Congress likes the steady oil outflow and the role Saudi money and clerics have played in riling up Islamic extremism.
Regardless of what MBS or some other Saudi Prince does, the US will not sever ties with Saudi Arabia.
Unlike most dictatorships where power rests with a single leader, Saudi Arabia of the past resembled a Polyarchy, very much like that of the United States. Multiple Princes ruled agencies and ministries under a sole King. But MBS is a power grabber and wants to control everything.
To Congress, the most desirable outcome is the ouster of MBS. Like most despots, MBS thinks that he knows everything and can govern by himself.
Even though MBS is close to the executive, Congress is taking a long-term view here. Trump and Kushner are businessmen and thus forging personal relationships as opposed to institutional partnerships are more natural to them. In a few years, Trump will be out and the next President might not have as good a tie with MBS.
So Congress would like to return Saudi Arabia to the time when it was ruled by a body of Princes. Back then, kidnapping of Saudis from Europe did not even concern the West. Thus, Khashoggi’s killing isn’t a matter close to their hearts. They are using it as a political ploy.
How Trump Wants to End the Khashoggi Saga
There are two things Trump wants out of the Khashoggi saga.
To Trump, this a different story. Despite a line or two against the Saudis, he is not even holding MBS responsible. Trump faulted Obama for every wrong that took place under his rule in America but he is unwilling to hold MBS to the same standard. He even said that it was possible that MBS did not know about the plot against Khashoggi.
But Trump too isn’t all in on MBS. For months now, he has rallied against the high oil prices and called on OPEC to bring them down. The Saudis ignored his calls to lower the prices. They knew that Trump wouldn’t do the one thing needed to bring the oil prices down to $55—not impose sanctions on Iran.
So the first thing he wants from Saudis in return of giving MBS a pass is lower oil prices. With midterms coming up next month, high gas prices are an issue. Trump has plans to lift the federal restriction on using ethanol-blends of gasoline to woo farmers. Low oil prices will help GOP a great deal.
The second thing Trump might want out of the Khashoggi saga is a Saudi endorsement of his Israel-Palestine peace plan.
When Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, King Salam vowed to reject any peace plan he put forth. That rejection from a close ally along with the Palestinian refusal to engage with the US is very embarrassing for the self-proclaimed dealmaker.
It is not just about the MBS. King Salman through his silence endorsed MBS’ drive against corruption. He cannot just appoint a new Crown Prince, he burnt that bridge a long time ago.
If Trump and Kushner were to join calls to oust MBS, King Salman’s power would weaken. So the best way for Trump and Kushner to move forward is to demand that King Salman endorse their Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
The merits of their plan will not matter. If King Salman endorses Trump’s plan, Palestinians will have to engage with the US. If they don’t, Trump will argue that they are the hindrance.
So in the end, the peace plan doesn’t even have to be implemented. Making Palestinians look bad will be big enough a victory for Kushner, Trump, and the Israelis. This impression will not be true but it will be very easy to spin thus ensuring a win for Hasbara.