WASHINGTON — President Trump released an exclamation point-filled statement on Tuesday about the assassination of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. It took him some time to get to Mr. Khashoggi. But bear with it. The statement is a fascinating journey into the mind of the president. Mr. Trump, when he is not obfuscating, is sometimes startlingly transparent about why he makes decisions.
Here is the president’s statement, as released by the White House, with additional context.
Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Standing with Saudi Arabia
The world is a very dangerous place!
Well, indeed it is! But not so dangerous, perhaps, that one should expect to be assassinated in a consulate while going to collect paperwork for a wedding.
The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more.
Mr. Trump, here, is trying to remind the public who the United States’ real enemy is. Hint: It is not Saudi Arabia. Riyadh’s strong support for the Trump administration’s hard line on Iran is a prime reason that the White House has maintained support for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.
Likewise, the Iranians have killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East. Iran states openly, and with great force, “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” Iran is considered “the world’s leading sponsor of terror.”
The Iranian government has been prone to shout the equivalent of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” But officials say Iranian terrorist activity is down recently. Tehran is seeking to keep Europe on board with the 2015 nuclear deal, from which the Trump administration withdrew.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave. They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance.
Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen is a humanitarian disaster that has created the worst famine the country has seen. Despite calls from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for a cease-fire, Saudi Arabia has stepped up its military operations. The Saudi military’s lack of discipline and planning in its airstrikes has resulted in high numbers of civilian casualties, according to American officials. Regional experts say the Trump administration’s most decisive action against Saudi Arabia so far has been to cut off aerial refueling flights for Riyadh’s military campaign in Yemen.
Additionally, Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism. After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors.
This is a prime example of Mr. Trump’s brutally transactional foreign policy. He is supporting Saudi Arabia because he thinks it is critical for the United States’ defense industry. Saudi Arabia spends huge amounts on its military, and the United States is a beneficiary. However, the president’s numbers are exaggerated. Trouble in the Saudi economy has led the government to slow roll some of the pledges to buy high-ticket items, including the missile defense system known as Thaad.
If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries — and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!
Baloney! The Saudis cannot hang a Russian or Chinese bomb on American-built F-15s or Apache gunships. They don’t fit. Won’t work. Saudi Arabia has heavily invested in American-made and NATO-standard weapons. Where do you get munitions and spare parts for those planes and helicopters? The United States.
The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone. Indeed, we have taken strong action against those already known to have participated in the murder. After great independent research, we now know many details of this horrible crime. We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body.
Here, at last, we get to Mr. Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist and Virginia resident who was assassinated last month in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The Trump administration’s sanctions have mostly targeted the members of the Saudi kill team who traveled to Turkey to kill Mr. Khashoggi. Interestingly, the administration’s list included Saud al-Qahtani, a top adviser to Prince Mohammed, but it did not include Ahmed al-Assiri, a former deputy head of the Saudi intelligence service, who Saudi officials said masterminded the plot to confront Mr. Khashoggi in the consulate on Oct. 2.
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.
Mr. Trump is repeating some of the phrases that the Saudi government has used to discredit Mr. Khashoggi. The president is pointedly not rebutting those claims, just saying his decision is not based on them. Arguably, he is being a bit backhanded.
King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. 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!
Who knows! Can we ever really know what happened behind closed doors? Mr. Trump is clearly waiting for the kind of evidence shown on television: a recording of the crown prince giving the order or a confession of one of the kill team members. But former intelligence officers say that is not how it works. The puzzle pieces are never all present. Even without the smoking gun, enough evidence has emerged for C.I.A. officials to conclude that Prince Mohammed gave the order, according to current and former officials.
That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. 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. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!
Remember who the bad guy is here! Another hint: It is not Prince Mohammed.
I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction — and they are free to do so. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America. After the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world. They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels — so important for the world.
Other presidents have often shied away from talking about what lies at the heart of the strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia — oil production and low gas prices. Not Mr. Trump. And, surprising as it may seem, he is correct about the United States being the world’s largest oil producer.
As President of the United States I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!
In 1979, William Safire, the New York Times columnist and former presidential speechwriter, offered readers of this newspaper some sage advice: “Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!”