Saudi 'explanation' of Khashoggi killing leaves many unconvinced

The government of Saudi Arabia confirmed yesterday that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.  But the Saudis refused to acknowledge that the killing was an assassination ordered by Crown Prince Salman, saying that Khashoggi died as a result of a disagreement and subsequent "brawl" between the journalist and several "unnamed" suspects that got out of hand.

Washington Post:

"The discussions that took place ... did not go as required and developed in a negative way," the statement continued, leading to a "fight and a quarrel" and a "brawl" that led to Khashoggi's death.  The unnamed suspects then attempted "to conceal and cover what happened," the Saudi government claimed, without elaborating.

The government of Saudi Arabia confirmed yesterday that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.  But the Saudis refused to acknowledge that the killing was an assassination ordered by Crown Prince Salman, saying that Khashoggi died as a result of a disagreement and subsequent "brawl" between the journalist and several "unnamed" suspects that got out of hand.

Washington Post:

"The discussions that took place ... did not go as required and developed in a negative way," the statement continued, leading to a "fight and a quarrel" and a "brawl" that led to Khashoggi's death.  The unnamed suspects then attempted "to conceal and cover what happened," the Saudi government claimed, without elaborating.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials, foreign policy experts and lawmakers were quick to accuse the Saudi government of a whitewash.

"They're buying time.  And they're buying cover," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal.  "They are seeking to, in effect, shift blame to a group of fall guys and confine the investigation to the Saudi government."

You don't say. 

President Trump has privately expressed skepticism that the operation could have taken place without Mohammed's knowledge, and the president has been told by a number of advisers that the Saudis would try to create a cover story that avoided blaming the crown prince, Trump's advisers said.

But Trump is also wary of overreacting to Khashoggi's death, his aim being to avoid aggravating an international crisis and rupturing U.S.-Saudi relations.

U.S. officials knew what the Saudis planned to say hours before they released their statement, a Trump adviser said.

"Trump's inclination is not to ruin the relationship," the adviser said.

Let's be clear about what's happening here.  In realpolitik terms, the Saudis are pretending to tell the truth about Khashoggi's murder.  No one believes it, but there's more at stake here than the death of a journalist.  So Trump is saying that the admission is a "good first step" and it sounds credible, even though it sounds like a crock.

So the Saudis are pretending to be transparent about the incident, Trump is pretending to accept the explanation, and everyone else is pretending to be super-outraged.  The moral preening and posturing associated with the entire Khashoggi affair are nauseating.  If those who are saying how horrible and evil the act of killing Khashoggi was would get half as worked up about the executions and deaths of Christians in Muslim countries, or human rights activists in Myanmar, or dissidents in Russia and China, they may have a moral leg to stand on.

But the Saudis murdered a high priest – a journalist for the Washington Post.  On a weighted scale of despicable acts, this tops the list.

Trump wants to avoid a break with the Saudis, which may be good policy but lousy politics.  The only nations that would benefit by punishing the Saudis the way Trump's political foes are screaming for him to do would be the Islamist dictatorship in Turkey and the terrorist state of Iran.

The killing of Khashoggi has become a domestic political issue and one more opportunity for Democrats to pummel the president.  And the hell of it is, I don't believe that Barack Obama would be acting very differently.