‘Insultingly Stupid’ Treatment in Khashoggi Affair



Just when we think that even Donald Trump has limits on how much he can disregard the truth comes the monumentally incompetent mishandling of the disappearance and apparent murder and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The president’s minute-by-minute revisions of his version of the episode proved that he can always make a bad situation worse.

A splendidly crafted analysis by Susan B. Glasser in the Oct. 19 edition of The New Yorker is aptly headlined, “Trump Never Handles Anything Right: The President Is Acting Like Saudi Arabia’s Lawyer in the Khashoggi Affair.”  In her comprehensive analysis, Glasser notes that Khashoggi, a Washington Post editorial columnist living in self-imposed exile in Virginia, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 and never came out again.

His death, she notes, has turned into an international crisis, fueled by implausible denials from the Saudis and by Trump himself.

“Well into the third week since Khashoggi’s disappearance,” Glasser adds, “Trump never even admitted the obvious fact of Khashoggi’s likely death, and he continues to act more like the Saudis’ lawyer in the court of world opinion than the aggrieved defender of human rights and free speech that an American President is supposed to be at such a moment. The belated announcement, late Friday evening, by the Saudis that Khashoggi was dead, and their new claim that he died in a scuffle with Saudi agents, will hardly quell the controversy. Nor will Trump’s near-instant pronouncement that the Saudi excuse was credible.”


Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” called the Saudi “explanation” that Khashoggi died in a fistfight “insultingly stupid.” He was exactly on point on this increasingly bizarre affair. Outsiders need to take over whatever probe will be conducted into Khashoggi’s murder. Asking the Saudi regime to investigate is like asking Al Capone to investigate the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. 

In a week when Trump seemed to be gaining traction on issues like the economy and jobs, he managed once again to self-destruct. His inept actions forced members of his own party, such as Senators Lindsay Graham and Marco Rubio, to vigorously denounce the obvious lies coming out of Riyadh that are no doubt designed to protect Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He is as much in full control of his brutal regime in Saudi Arabia as Vladimir Putin is in Russia.

The hasty and poorly executed trip to Riyadh by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for what The Wall Street Journal branded a “cheery photo op” with Salman, hardly sends a message of strength to the world. Nor does the praise of Saudi Arabia, which does more than any other nation to export radical Islam around the world, as a “major ally of the United States since 1932.”

Until this episode, the crown prince had been hailed as a reformer, eager to transform his desert kingdom into a high-tech modern nation-state.  Perhaps such praise went to his head and made him think he could follow the examples of Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and order the outright murder of dissidents and political and ideological opponents.

Ironically, Khashoggi was a supporter of some of the crown prince’s reforms, but the fact that he felt free to criticize the regime in Riyadh seems to be all that Salman needed to justify the apparent hit in Istanbul.

Trump’s bromance with Putin and statements that he is “in love with Kim Jong Un” could be seen as a sign of encouragement to these tyrants to commit murder with no consequences from the leader of the free world. Trump even praised Kim as a “tough cookie” for having ordered the assassination of his own uncle with a rocket launcher and his half brother with a lethal chemical agent.

Unbelievably even for Trump, in the very thick of the Khashoggi crisis, he praised Rep. Greg Gianforte,  R-Montana, for his assault on a reporter during his bid for Congress.  Gianforte “body-slammed” a reporter for The Guardian, a crime for which he was duly punished and for which he apologized. The timing of Trump’s outrageous comment could not have been an innocent coincidence. Trump continues to gin up his rallies with attacks on what he calls the “fake news media,” which is says is the “enemy of the people.”

Meanwhile, the mercurial and opportunistic Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a sworn enemy of Saudi Arabia, has adopted what the Wall Street Journal calls a “drip-drip” tactic “to leak evidence gradually in the days after the killing (of Khashoggi) as part of an effort to blunt the international standing of rival Saudi Arabia, according to Turkish officials.”

Erdogan’s comments should be taken with skepticism. He is the same Erdogan who ruthlessly put down a coup attempt in July 2016, which resulted in at least 240 dead and the closing down of over 100 media outlets seen as critical of his brutal regime. He is hardly a champion of a free press and his conduct in office equals or exceeds that of Saudia Arabia. His “expertise” on authoritarism is based on his own dictatorial rule. His numerous and sometimes conflicting statements are similar to the ever-changing shifts in how Trump has responded to the unfolding scandal.

Richard Nixon famously said that his own misconduct gave his political enemies a sword to use against him. Trump’s mishandling of the Khashoggi affair has given a scimitar to his many political opponents and even some of his ardent supporters. Enough is enough, Mr. President. This is a serious matter that deserves a serious and responsible response, not more torrents of tweets designed to deflect public attention from a shameful response from the White House.