Senior American officials were worried. Since the early months of the Trump administration, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser, had been having private, informal conversations with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the favorite son of Saudi Arabia’s king. . . . The exchanges continued even after the Oct. 2 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who was ambushed and dismembered by Saudi agents, according to two former senior American officials and the two people briefed by the Saudis. . . .
According to the Saudi, Mr. Kushner has offered the crown prince advice about how to weather the storm, urging him to resolve his conflicts around the region and avoid further embarrassments.
As a preliminary matter, we should recognize this as yet another example of why a president should not put a relative in a position of power — especially if the relative possesses questionable judgment and is utterly unqualified for the job. “In one way it makes sense, I suppose — irrationally self-confident princeling confabulating with irrationally self-confident princeling,” Eliot Cohen, a frequent critic of President Trump and veteran of the George W. Bush State Department, said in an interview. “But in every other way, it is profoundly inappropriate and typical of the administration’s failure to use the organizations and processes that were, after all, created for a reason.”
The Times article should be deeply troubling on multiple levels. First, it’s obvious Kushner was as gullible and unsophisticated on foreign policy matters as his father-in-law, making him a sitting duck for manipulation by the Saudis (“The prince and his advisers, eager to enlist American support for his hawkish policies in the region and for his own consolidation of power, cultivated the relationship with Mr. Kushner for more than two years”). If you want to know how an administration could so naively and completely base its foreign policy on the Saudis and come to believe the kingdom was actually going to sponsor the peace process and get away with denying culpability in the gruesome murder of Khashoggi, one should start with the easily snowed Kushner.
Second, what in the world is a U.S. official doing advising a foreign leader on how to escape blame for the murder of a U.S. national, a crime so repulsive that a bipartisan push is underway in Congress to enact sanctions and end arms sales to the Saudis? Giving advice to Mohammed bin Salman under these circumstances demonstrates the sort of moral blindness we rarely witness (aside from Trump). “Success” — letting MBS get away with murder — would be a moral abomination quite apart from the foreign policy implications.
Third, Kushner — whether because he has financial interests or because he’s easily bamboozled — has lost track of where his loyalties should lie. He owes the United States his undivided loyalty and should never be in a position in which he assumes defense of any foreign leader. He has created a classic conflict of interest in which we cannot determine if he is motivated solely by concern for U.S. foreign policy (which he foolishly and excessively tilted in the Saudis' direction) or because of personal loyalties or business interests.
Tim Mulvey, communications director for the Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tells me, “The Foreign Affairs Committee will conduct a top-to-bottom review of American policy toward Saudi Arabia, including what drove the administration’s response to the Khashoggi murder.” He adds, "No specific hearings have been scheduled yet, but nothing is off the table.”
In the course of the investigation, the committee may want to call public hearings and subpoena all relevant documents regarding Trump’s financial interests and benefits relating to the House of Saud, Kushner’s business interests relating to Saudi Arabia and why, despite public evidence that he was being manipulated by foreign governments, he continued to play such a critical role in foreign policy. (“Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter,” The Post reported in February. “Among those nations discussing ways to influence Kushner to their advantage were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico, the current and former officials said.”)
It’s not hard to figure out how the United States became effectively the junior partner in the U.S.-Saudi relationship. “Donald Trump runs his White House like a Middle East dictator,” says Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress. “His move to empower his son-in-law on many fronts including Middle East policy is just one example of it — and this nepotism helps explain the bad results America has gotten under Trump.” He adds, “Kushner and his team squandered the leverage the United States has with countries like Saudi Arabia, which depend heavily on the U.S. security umbrella to survive. Instead of pressing a newly assertive Saudi Arabia to serve as a source of stability and genuine reform, the Trump administration gave MBS a blank check — unconditional support no matter what, including murdering a journalist.”
One would be tempted to say that, in any other administration, Kushner would be fired for rotten judgment and perpetuating, at a minimum, the appearance of a conflict of interest. But, of course, it’s hard to imagine a 37-year-old old real estate scion with no government experience and no foreign policy experience working in such a high-level post in any other administration. Like I said, don’t hire relatives — especially incompetent and foolish ones.