Washington Post slams Trump for "statement smearing Jamal Khashoggi and giving Saudi Arabia a pass"

Trump explained his stance on Saudi Arabia in a letter that began with a proclamation of "America First!"

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published November 20, 2018 4:14PM (EST)

Mohammad Bin Salman; Jamal Khashoggi (AP)
Mohammad Bin Salman; Jamal Khashoggi (AP)

President Donald Trump released a public letter on Tuesday that defended his policy of continuing to have America do business with Saudi Arabia despite Prince Mohammed bin Salman's alleged role in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

After opening with his catchphrase "America First!", Trump's letter criticized the nations of Iran and Syria in order to contrast their human rights violations with the policies implemented by Saudi Arabia, according to CNN.

"Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave," Trump wrote in the kingdom's defense. "They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism."

The president then characterized Saudi Arabia's promise to invest $450 million in the United States as "a record amount of money," arguing that it makes both economic and geopolitical sense for America to avoid jeopardizing its relationship with Saudi Arabia over that money.

"It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States," Trump wrote. "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. 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!"

After condemning the assassination of Khashoggi, Trump repeated his earlier claims that it is unclear with the Saudi crown prince ordered the journalist's murder.

"King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi," Trump wrote. "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!"

After reiterating that "we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi," Trump insisted that "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!"

Trump also called into question the motives of his critics saying that he should take a harder stand against Saudi Arabia, writing that "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."

Aaron Blake of The Washington Post wrote annotations to Trump's letter on Tuesday, challenging many of Trump's assertions.

"The death tolls for the Syrian civil war are in the hundreds of thousands, not the 'millions,'" Blake observed at one point, in fact-checker mode. He also called out Trump's assertion of Saudi Arabia investing $450 billion in the United States as a "fantasy" and described the sanctions against 17 Saudis believed to have been involved in the murder as "significant but mostly related to these men’s finances." In addition, Blake criticized Trump for mentioning Saudi Arabia's description of Khashoggi as an "enemy of the state," observing that "this is a baseless smear against a slain journalist, and the president is repeating it while insisting that it doesn’t matter to him. Then why include it? Trafficking in this kind of innuendo in a presidential statement is remarkable, and will likely be criticized even by Republicans."

He also dissented from Trump's assertion that America will never know for sure what happened to Khoshoggi.

"To be clear: The CIA is preparing to report that it has high confidence that Mohammed was behind Khashoggi’s killing. Trump is basically arguing that we’ll never know for sure," Blake wrote. "As I argued this weekend, intelligence is an imprecise business, but if you require 100 percent proof of anything, you’ll never hold countries accountable for taking advantage of you. It’s an impossible standard. Trump is also bucking his own intelligence community again – just as he did with Russia’s 2016 election interference."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Donald Trump Jamal Khashoggi Mohammad Bin Salman Saudi Arabia