Fuel, Firearms and the Murder of Journalists
“America First!” - The first line of Trumps statement on US-Saudi Relationship.
Try as they might, the White House cannot shake the spectre of Jamal Khashoggi's brutal murder at the hands of Saudi Arabian Intelligence Agents. The story has enjoyed unusual longevity in a climate where news cycles typically come in 72 hour stints, and Trump news cycles generally defined by the time between tweets.
There are two worthwhile questions posed by this predicament, why has the story had such staying power? And why is Trump determined to take the hits rather then let it die down?
The first is easily answered in three parts. The first is who they murdered - a Washington Post Journalist. The second, the way he was murdered - brutal, visceral and personal - it's caught the imagination of the public in a way that uncountable casualties in Yemen at the hands of Saudi Arabia have not. The third - the Turkish President Erdrogan, who has mercilessly drawn out the story as part of his power play to weaken the Kingdom's position and bolster Turkey's in the region.
For the second question, the answer is more complex, but if you ask the President it's quite simple: money.
''After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs' - Trump.
Analysts , and the White House, are unable to explain the $450 Billion figure. Or how it creates hundreds of thousands of jobs. Although the job number has fluctuated in estimates from Trump himself, from three hundred to five hundred thousand and at one point a million. More conservative estimates put it at between ten to thirty thousand jobs.
The President's stated reasons are clear, but his actual reasoning remains open to interpretation. Cynical claims have been made that he has an eye on his own Business interests in the region, and his son-in-law's close relationship to MBS (the crown prince, now formally considered the architect and approver of Khashoggi's murder - according to the CIA) is also a plausible reason, as Jared Kushner's middle east strategy hinges heavily on support from the Kingdom.
In grander strategic terms, and perhaps most likely beyond economic considerations, is that Saudi Arabia is critcal to the Administrations plan's to further isolate Iran. American withdrawal from the controversial Iran deal has pushed Iran back to pariah status, and with European resistance to sanctions on Iran (the main European powers of UK, France and Germany remain committed to the Iran deal), and Israel already a 'priced in adversary' for Iran, Saudi Arabia has the most key strategic lever the US can pull to pressure Iran : Oil.
Saudi competition with Iranian Oil, will limit Iran's economic recovery as much as any sanctions regime the US may reimpose (especially in the face of European efforts to circumvent the same).
With that in mind, whatever tidbits of intelligence that may still be to come from Turkish intelligence are unlikely to affect Trump's position.
The unanswered question at this point, is will the new US congress take the matter out of Trump's hands and impose its own sanctions?