It seems that the latest weapon in the hands of the American forces that are pressing US President Donald Trump to take a position in line with American values regarding the Saudi leadership is the CIA leaks to the Wall Street Journal. The leaks indicate that the Saudi Crown Prince had extensive contact with Saudi’s royal court advisor Saud Al-Qahtani shortly before and after the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi and his dismemberment. This is a significant indication of his involvement in the crime.
President Trump’s justifications for ignoring the issue are weak in the eyes of the American public, the press and senior members of Congress. Hardly a day goes by without the crime being mentioned and without stressing the need for the US to take measures that are in line with its values, as the matter for them has become too big to cover up.
While the US has historically put its interests ahead of its values and the historical alliance with Saudi Arabia has lasted for decades – despite the different political culture within the two countries – this is the first time that internal division has occurred between the US and Saudi. After Saudi Arabia’s oil became less important to the Americans we began to see rifts within the American administration itself regarding what should be done with Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi’s assassination.
Even Saudi Arabia’s friends in the media, such as Thomas Friedman and David Ignatius, have turned against it and Ignatius even wrote a long investigative piece a few days ago in which he discusses the establishment of the “tiger team” that works with the Saudi Crown Prince in order to silence opponents, kidnap them, and kill them if the need arises. David Ignatius uncovers a fierce struggle between the wings of the ruling family in Riyadh, especially between Mohammad Bin Salman and King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz’s sons. These writers have turned a blind eye to many of Saudi Arabia’s actions in the past but the brutal manner in which Jamal Khashoggi was eliminated, the war in Yemen, and being more assured regarding the nature of the Saudi Crown Prince’s personality have all prompted the writers and others to reconsider their position on the Saudi state.
The general impression that the Saudi Crown Prince has a gambling mindset is starting settle in. This means that the CIA will conclude that the strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia requires someone wise to be at the head of the Saudi leadership. This is a clear indicator that the most important conclusion the Americans have come to is that MBS is no longer suitable to take over after his father.
So, in my opinion, I believe that President Trump will continue to remain isolated, as he still relies on the factor of time and the huge support he receives from the Israeli lobby. I predict that once the Democrats take over the House of Representatives in about a month investigations will begin. Adam Schiff, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has vowed to open an investigation that will reflect negatively on the US President, who some accuse of supporting MBS in service of personal agendas unrelated to the US’ strategic interests. It seems, therefore, that only a few members of the administration believe President Trump’s justifications and his desperate defence of Mohammed bin Salman. The majority of observers in the United States believe that Trump does not want the truth to be revealed so he does not find himself besieged from all sides to take a stand against Mohammed bin Salman.
I predict that the ruling family in Saudi Arabia is watching the American scene closely and if their main ally, Trump, is not able to withstand the insistence of Congress, the family may resort to other options, including the rearrangement of the House of Saud and clipping the wings of the aspiring Crown Prince.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Sharq on 3 December 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.