As hotter heads among members of both parties in congress call for immediate punitive action, President Donald Trump is correct to proceed with due caution to fully assess the facts before enforcing any new sanctions on Saudia Arabia in the case of the disappearance and alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Early Monday morning, the President used his busy Twitter account to announce that he is sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud on the matter:
Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened “to our Saudi Arabian citizen.” He said that they are working closely with Turkey to find answer. I am immediately sending our Secretary of State to meet with King!”
Note that the President’s sending of his top international diplomat to the Kingdom comes despite the fact that 83-year-old King Salman has already given him his assurances that he has no knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi. It is also important to note that Secretary Pompeo is on his way to meet with the elderly King and not with his young son and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who has used his position to consolidate power in anticipation of his father’s ultimate passing. This bypassing of the crown prince becomes more notable given the fact that he and President Trump have established a mutual admiration for one another and a productive working relationship over the past two years.
Meanwhile, as grandstanding members of Congress continue to call for immediate sanctions and cancellation of a planned $110 billion sale of military arms to Saudi Arabia, the President and his administration are proceeding with caution, attempting to fully assess the facts before pronouncing the Kingdom guilty of the murder of Khashoggi. This overreaction by some in Congress was sadly predictable, fed largely by claims coming from anonymous “officials” of the Turkish government that it is in possession of proof that Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Turkey in the form of video and audio tapes.
Though they could exist, no such tapes have been made public. However, surveillance videos clearly show Khashoggi entering the Consulate last week but never coming out. With the governments of Turkey and Saudi Arabia performing a joint investigation into the matter, President Trump is taking a wait-and-see posture while also making it clear that there will be severe consequences should allegations of Saudi complicity in Khashoggi’s killing turn out to be true. This is the right position to assume, because there are global implications at stake in this situation.
While it is true, as some shortsighted TV talking heads claimed over the weekend, that the U.S. doesn’t necessarily need to use Saudi oil at this time thanks to its own booming oil and gas industry , the fact is that the rest of the world does need Saudi oil and eagerly consumes it each and every day . More to the point, the global economy needs the Kingdom’s willingness to raise its production levels in coming months to keep supply and demand for global crude oil in balance as Iran’s exports fall in the face of reimplemented U.S. sanctions. Squeamish members of Congress and shortsighted critics also ignore myriad other aspects of the U.S./Saudi relationship that come into play here, all of which could have been placed in jeopardy by a knee-jerk reaction coming from the Trump administration.
As we sit here today, oil markets have reached a tentative balance at a commodity price level that works for producers, consumers and the global economy. The outcome of the investigation into the presumed murder of Khashoggi, the Trump administration’s reaction to it, and the resultant behavior that induces from the House of Saud could change all of that with severe negative consequences for everyone.
It is a delicate balancing act, and everyone should be glad that, at least for now, President Trump is ignoring calls for rash action coming from critics in Congress and the news media before all the facts are known.