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Opinion Jared Kushner strikes a dubious deal with Saudi Arabia’s dictator

Jared Kushner at the Royal Court in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)
3 min

“Opportunity Beckons in the Mideast” was the headline of an op-ed by Jared Kushner in the March 15, 2021, edition of the Wall Street Journal. The high-minded article about prospects for Arab-Israeli peace, sprinkled with free advice for the then-new Biden administration, cast former president Donald Trump’s son-in-law and erstwhile Middle East envoy as an elder statesman of sorts. Recent news puts him — and his definition of “opportunity” — in a rather different light.

The New York Times reports that Mr. Kushner’s new real estate private equity venture took a $2 billion investment from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund in 2021. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, reportedly ordered the investment personally, over the objections of the wealth fund’s experts, who saw Mr. Kushner as too inexperienced and his business plan too risky. Other Gulf states had rebuffed Mr. Kushner, for similar reasons. Thus, the Saudi stake represents the vast majority of his firm’s $2.5 billion capital. Mr. Kushner and partners stand to get a $25 million per year management fee, plus a share of any profits, according to the Times.

It’s a troubling arrangement — in many ways. Mr. Kushner is well-known as having been the crown prince’s top advocate within the White House during the four years Mr. Trump occupied it. His ostensible rationale for courting MBS was to win Saudi backing for Arab recognition of Israel, which several countries did confer — though not Saudi Arabia. Mr. Kushner’s solicitude continued even after it became evident that MBS ordered the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a regime critic and Post Global Opinions contributing columnist, at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. Playing down that crime and the MBS regime’s cover-up, the Trump administration later blocked efforts in the United Nations and Congress to curb Saudi excesses in its proxy war with Iran over Yemen. Instead, Mr. Trump boosted U.S. arms sales to Riyadh.

The crown prince’s financial backing despite contrary business considerations looks to all the world like a lucrative reward to Mr. Kushner. And it creates the additional impression that what MBS is really investing in is not some real estate venture but the Trump family’s political future — specifically, a possible White House comeback by Mr. Kushner’s father-in-law if he runs again, and wins, in the 2024 presidential election. It is yet another sign — along with his refusal to raise crude oil production when the Biden administration sought help tamping down gas prices — that MBS sees his government not as a U.S. ally, but as the ally of one side in domestic partisan politics.

Mr. Kushner’s dealings are, to be sure, similar in kind to the influence-peddling in Ukraine and China of President Biden’s son, Hunter. The important difference is that Mr. Kushner, unlike the younger Mr. Biden, was not just a high official’s family member, but a high official himself: assistant to the president and senior adviser. We look forward, though not with bated breath, to Republican outrage over the Saudi-Kushner connection being at least equal to that being vented over Hunter Biden. There should be nothing partisan about ridding U.S. foreign policy of even the appearance of self-interest by those who conduct it.

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