Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed at the G-20 Summit
The Khashoggi murder crisis continues to ripple globally, far beyond U.S. domestic politics.
November 30, 2018
The killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi may have gotten more than they bargained for. The killing has sparked multiple battles that are likely in coming months.
The battles are likely to be fought on multiple fronts. One venue will be the G-20 summit in Argentina. Prince Mohammed, whom the Central Intelligence Agency and many in the U.S. Congress believe to be responsible for the killing, is supposed to be in attendance.
How Prince Mohammed is received at the summit is certain to indicate to what degree the crown prince’s international standing has been tarnished. It may constitute a reality check for him of the damage Saudi Arabia has suffered as a result of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing.
It will also serve as one indication of how much of a battle Mr. Trump may have to fight in seeking to ensure that Prince Mohammed remains insulated from consequences of Mr. Khashoggi’s death.
To be sure, Prince Mohammed decided to attend the G-20 summit prior to Mr. Trump’s decision to take no further action against Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, by attending the crown prince, emboldened by Mr. Trump’s support, “is daring his international critics to put their rhetoric into action and betting that they won’t,” said Gulf scholar Kristian Ulrichsen.
The stakes for Trump and MBS are high
In leaking its conclusion that Prince Mohammed was responsible for the killing, the CIA was sending two messages.
They are its willingness to take on Mr. Trump against the backdrop of a long strained relationship between the president and the intelligence community and the suggestion that the agency does not believe that Prince Mohammed’s survival as king-in-waiting is crucial to U.S. national security or the stability of the kingdom.
Both messages feed into what potentially constitutes the first major policy confrontation between Mr. Trump, the Republican Party and the U.S. Congress.
Anti-Saudi sentiment was mounting in Congress already before Mr. Khashoggi’s killing because of Saudi conduct of its war in Yemen. The Saudis have created the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two. The killing appears to be propelling the Congress into action.
Prince Mohammed’s reception at the G-20 summit coupled with the outcome of the potential battle between Mr. Trump, the CIA and Congress could also shape developments in Saudi Arabia.
The kingdom has so far dug in its heels with King Salman relying on concepts of prestige and honor as well as patronage to signal full support for his son while Prince Mohammed appears to be trying to show that Saudi Arabia is not wholly dependent on the United States.
Hundreds of thousands U.S. jobs at stake?
It does not help the Saudi case that the Washington-based Center for International Policy recently concluded that U.S. arms sales to the kingdom accounted for fewer than 20,000 U.S. jobs a year – a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of jobs asserted by the president.
In addition, as former U.S. Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller pointed out in an article for CNN co-authored by Richard Sokolsky:
The real facts are: 1) the Saudis need U.S. weapons and equipment more than we need to sell them, in part because they demonstrate the U.S. security commitment to the kingdom; and 2) it would be very difficult and expensive for the Saudis to make good on their periodic threats to ‘buy foreign’ if they can’t get what they want from the United States.
Countering Trump’s self-serving rationale, Messrs. Miller and Sokolsky then went on to question Saudi Arabia’s importance in countering Iran and forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. “Saudi Arabia has proven to be too weak and incompetent to be a bulwark against Iran. On the contrary, it has been an enabler of Tehran’s influence,” the two men said.
Close ties with the United States have long been at the core of the ruling Al Saud family’s survival strategy. Mr. Trump’s decision to stand by Saudi Arabia and its rulers no matter what positions the president as the kind of friend the kingdom can rely on.
The coming weeks and months are likely to be a litmus test of Mr. Trump’s ability to keep his end of the bargain.
The Khashoggi murder crisis continues to ripple globally, far beyond US domestic politics.
The CIA does not believe that Prince Mohammed’s survival as king-in-waiting is crucial to US national security or the stability of the kingdom.
In Yemen, the Saudis have created the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two.
How Prince Mohammed is received at the G20 summit might be a reality check of the damage Saudi Arabia has suffered from Khashoggi’s killing.