Disappearance of Saudi journalist becomes a hot domestic political issue
The disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has become more than an international incident. Democrats have seized upon the issue to criticize Donald Trump for not calling out the Saudi government, who Turkey says is responsible.
Khashoggi disappeared after going into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and apparently not coming out, according to his fiancée. Evidence is mounting that the journalist, a prominent critic of the Saudi regime who wrote for the Washington Post among other U.S. publications, was murdered by Saudi intelligence on the direct orders of Crown Prince Salman. It's been reported that U.S. intelligence knew of the plot to kill him, which is raising questions about why the government didn't warn the journalist.
When it comes to the mystery surrounding Khashoggi, the administration is "trying to sweep it under the rug," said Randa Slim, an analyst with the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
Still, Slim and others warned that, if the worst proves true, the Khashoggi case could cause lasting damage to the U.S.-Saudi relationship. For one thing, there is intense anger in Congress, where many lawmakers from both parties were already increasingly uneasy over Saudi actions in places like Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition battling Iranian-backed rebels stands accused of potential war crimes.
There's also frustration among reporters and U.S.-based foreign policy analysts, many of whom knew Khashoggi.
For now, the case "doesn't break the U.S.-Saudi relationship," predicted Gregory Gause, a Saudi expert at Texas A&M University. "What it does is, it makes it even more difficult to get anything through Congress that is seen as pro-Saudi."
It could get worse, said a D.C.-based Middle East analyst, who requested anonymity to speak frankly: "If the Saudis don't come up with a credible answer to this, they're done in this town."
For the U.S. to accuse the Saudis of murder based on media reports is absurd. In fact, the Washington Post is reporting that Crown Prince Salman wanted to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and detain him, not kill him in Turkey. The Post says there may have been a "backup" plan to kidnap the journalist and perform a "rendition" to bring him back to the country. In this scenario, something went horribly wrong, and Khashoggi was killed. But that's entirely speculative.
The issue has galvanized some senators to call for an investigation.
Top U.S. senators are triggering an investigation into the disappearance of a prominent Saudi journalist that will require President Donald Trump to consider possible sanctions on officials in Saudi Arabia.
Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and top Democrat Bob Menendez triggered the probe Wednesday under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. Trump will be required to give a report to Congress within 120 days.
The senators said in a letter that Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance suggests "a gross violation of internationally recognized human rights." More than a dozen Republican and Democratic senators signed it.
Democrats are accusing Trump of being too close to the Saudi regime and condemning his "milquetoast" response to the disappearance of Khashoggi. Trump apparently can't please anyone. The administration is being prudent and circumspect in its measured response to the incident. Are we really supposed to believe the Islamist government of Turkey and accept without question its explanation that Khashoggi was murdered by an elite hit squad sent by the Saudi government?
You have to wonder what the media would be saying if the Trump administration flew off the handle and harshly criticized the Saudi government with little or no proof. It would have been more "evidence" that Trump can't conduct foreign policy intelligently.
U.S. intelligence will no doubt discover the truth of what happened. It's doubtful the Saudis would ever come clean and admit responsibility for Khashoggi's death. But Washington insiders are saying it will be hard to maintain good relations with the kingdom if a Saudi journalist who was living in America was murdered by the regime.