U.S. President Donald Trump doesn’t want the Oct. 2 murder of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi to compromise America’s diplomatic relationship with Saudi Arabia. Serving as a counterbalance to Iranian regional hegemony, a long-term security partner and a stabilizing force for international oil prices, the Gulf monarchy has remained one of America’s closest allies in the tumultuous Middle East.
But Fox News anchor Shepard Smith is ready to throw the region into disorder and cancel a decades-old alliance over the Istanbul murder of a vindictive Muslim Brotherhood reporter and Islamist agitator. Responding to Trump’s announced intention to maintain a “steadfast” alliance with the Saudi government, Smith accused the president of ignoring intelligence reports and said he “insulted” Khashoggi’s memory.
“President Trump stands with Saudi Arabia,” Smith said on his afternoon news program. “Today, the president insulted the murder victim and sided with the Saudis, who said our CIA is wrong.”
Like much of the mainstream news media, Smith suggested that Trump was defying U.S. intelligence and whitewashing Khashoggi’s murder by refusing to outright blame Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is often referred to by the acronym MBS. Critics of the Trump administration may have trouble separating their emotional contempt for the president and considering the full geopolitical implications of an end to the U.S.-Saudi partnership.
“It’s a complex issue, it’s a shame, but it is what it is,” Trump said. “It is America first to me, it is all about America first. I’m not going to destroy the world economy and I’m not going to destroy the economy for our country by being foolish with Saudi Arabia,” Trump declared.
In his statement issued earlier Tuesday, Trump said: “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.
“King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi,” the statement went on. “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!”
Although the CIA report has not been shared with any members of the media, journalists have been quick to suggest that this analysis clearly identifies MBS as the mastermind behind Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Trump told reporters that the intelligence agency’s findings contain “nothing definitive,” and he insisted that he was waiting on the results of a “full report.”
“They haven’t accessed anything yet — it’s too early,” Trump said. “That was a very premature report. But that’s possible. We’re gonna see.”
Of course, reliably anti-Trump media networks like ABC News responded by citing anonymous sources from the State Department familiar with the CIA report who said it was “blindingly obvious” that the crown prince was involved. Washington Post Publisher and CEO Fred Ryan called the president’s statement “a betrayal of long-established American values of respect for human rights and the expectation of trust and honesty in our strategic relationships.”
However, Trump is simply advocating that his fellow Americans wait for all of the facts to emerge before rendering judgments that could have substantial geopolitical consequences. Yet, after the media’s rush to judgment during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, it is not surprising that many on the left have already made up their minds.
While Trump may be unwilling to fracture the Persian Gulf alliance over Khashoggi’s death, Smith noted that other U.S. lawmakers may work towards that end independently. Trump “may not have the last say,” Smith said — and one of Trump’s greatest Senate allies in recent months has voiced the same opinion.
“I firmly believe there will be strong bipartisan support for serious sanctions against Saudi Arabia, including appropriate members of the royal family, for this barbaric act which defied all civilized norms,” said South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. “While Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of the Crown Prince – in multiple ways – has shown disrespect for the relationship and made him, in my view, beyond toxic.”
Graham went on: “I fully realize we have to deal with bad actors and imperfect situations on the international stage. However, when we lose our moral voice, we lose our strongest asset.”
“We’re waiting for the full report from the CIA,” Smith said, wrapping up his coverage of the controversy. In the meantime, Smith, like many on both the left and the right, is prepared to punish the crown prince and sacrifice regional stability.