ABOUT TWO weeks after the disappearance of our colleague Jamal Khashoggi, and before much was known about his fate, President Trump warned of “very severe” consequences if Saudi Arabia was responsible. Now, eight months later, this comment has been tossed aside by Mr. Trump, just another outburst of bluster that he either forgot or never meant. Instead, Mr. Trump has become a steadfast champion of the royal court that sent a team of killers to murder Khashoggi.
We now know, thanks to a report by the U.N. special rapporteur, Agnes Callamard, that the killing of Khashoggi on Oct. 2, 2018, in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul was premeditated. Two Saudi officials on the team held a discussion just minutes before Khashoggi walked in. “Joints will be separated,” one of them said. “It is not a problem. The body is heavy. First time I cut on the ground. If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished. We will wrap each of them.” Moreover, Ms. Callamard said Khashoggi’s death was an “extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.”
Mr. Trump disclosed during an interview with “Meet the Press” that aired Sunday that he had a “great conversation” on Friday morning with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose team was dispatched to dismember Khashoggi. Did Mr. Trump bring up the murder? “I did not,” he said, “because it really didn’t come up in that discussion.” Mr. Trump said the call was to discuss his pressure campaign against Saudi Arabia’s arch foe, Iran, after the shoot-down of a U.S. drone.
Mr. Trump then immediately deployed a favorite evasive technique, saying Iran “killed many, many people a day” and the Middle East is a “vicious, hostile place,” as if that were enough to explain Khashoggi’s death.
Next, Mr. Trump pirouetted to arms sales to Saudi Arabia, tossing out wildly exaggerated estimates of the value. “So Saudi Arabia is a big buyer of America product,” he said. “That means something to me.” He added, “Take their money.” Moderator Chuck Todd asked: Should there be FBI assistance to the investigation of Khashoggi’s death? “I think it’s been heavily investigated,” Mr. Trump replied, not answering the question. In fact, the Saudis have yet to reveal how they disposed of Khashoggi’s body, never mind hold the masterminds to account for his murder.
On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Saudi Arabia, smiling at King Salman and hailing a “productive meeting” about regional tensions. No doubt Mr. Pompeo also did not offend the king by raising the cases of numerous women imprisoned and tortured for their advocacy of women’s rights.
Is this what Mr. Trump meant by “very severe” consequences? The premeditated murder of a contributing columnist who believed in democracy does not concern him, but the care and feeding of the dictatorial kingdom that sent the killers gets his lavish attention and slavish devotion. What does the United States get in return? Complicity in a criminal war in Yemen, and an indelible stain on its moral record.