Khashoggi and Trump

Saudi media: Any US sanctions over Khashoggi would ‘stab its own economy to death’

But in a strongly worded op-ed published later on Sunday, Turki Aldakhil, general manager of the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel, warned that if the US imposed sanctions on Riyadh “it will stab its own economy to death,” cause oil prices to reach as high as $200 a barrel, lead Riyadh to permit a Russian military base in the city of Tabuk, and drive the Middle East into the arms of Iran.

Given all the attention this story has gotten, I naively assumed Khashoggi was/is a U.S. citizen, but he is/was a Saudi national. If he were a U.S. citizen, yeah, that would be a big deal, but he’s not. Call me cynical, but I don’t see what the big deal is. Saudi Arabia is not exactly renowned for its human rights and treatment of journalists. Khashoggi is a reporter for the Washington Post, so that carries some importance, but I’m sure he was aware of the risks. Trump should not intervene here. This is a matter that does not concern U.S. interests, imho.

Also, in mid 2017, Trump was embraced by the Saudi royal family with open arms, so is he going to renege on his good will over this mishap? Also, given Khashoggi’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is fundamentally opposed to Wahhabi branch of Islam and hence the Saudi family, siding with the Brotherhood seems especially counterproductive and is an about-face. Being the ‘world police’ is how the U.S. gets mired decade-long unwinnable wars.

But Trump deserves credit for using sanctions as leverage for helping to get American pastor Andrew Brunson freed. That was a huge diplomatic win, but threatening economic warfare over actions that do not concern the U.S. or its allies, seems like overreach. Although the Saudis have much less influence over oil prices than they did decades ago, increased tensions will likely cause oil prices to spike, leading to high gas prices and bad press coinciding with the 2020 election, similar to how high gas prices in mid-2008 hurt Bush’s popularity. Trump can expect the Saudis to retaliate, possibly in collaboration with the rest of OPEC, by curbing oil output in time for the election.

Trump is in a difficult situation. Do nothing, and he risks being seen as weak by the media. If he does too much, then he risks geopolitical instability. Implicitly Siding with the Saudis by doing nothing is like choosing the less-awful form of Islam. But I don’t think he has much of a choice.