It was a rather difficult week for U.S. President Donald Trump. Domestically, the Mueller investigation and the recent court filings of the Special Counsel on Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort revealed a more complicated picture of the relations between some of the Trump campaign staff with Russia and also generated questions about possible campaign finance law violations. Largely redacted documents raised questions in regards to the direction of the Mueller investigation.
In addition to that, there were rumors of deteriorating relations between President Trump and his chief of staff, John Kelly. On Saturday, Trump announced that Kelly is leaving office by the end of the year. Two chiefs of staff in two years and other movement in high levels of government elevated the perception of increasing instability within the administration.
Meanwhile, Trump’s former secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, harshly criticized Trump for being undisciplined, whereas in return Trump tweeted calling him “dumb as rock,” something very unusual indeed. Of course, the crisis with China over the arrest of an executive of Huawei escalated and the Russian connections of former Trump associates also put relations with Russia into a tight spot.
Despite various tensions in the last few years, including the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), the Trump administration’s approach to the Middle East and its cozy relations with the royal family made many believe in the emergence of a new type of partnership between the two countries.
However, in the last three months, things started to unravel with the killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi. Denials from Saudi officials were in a very short period of time contradicted by the investigation by Turkish prosecutors.
From the very early stages in this crisis, Trump tried to defend Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and emphasized the significance of U.S.-Saudi relations for various reasons, such as the Saudi support against terrorism, Saudi resistance to Iran, Saudi protection of Israel and finally for cheap oil prices. However, other branches of government and different agencies have not been very happy about Trump’s attitude.
First, following the briefing by the CIA director, most of the senators in the hearing asserted that they believe MBS was directly involved in this crime. For instance, Senator Lindsey Graham called MBS a “wrecking ball” and said he thinks MBS is complicit in the crime. Senator Richard Shelby emphasized, “All evidence points to that, that all this leads back to the crown prince.” Senator Bob Corker said that he has no question in his mind that the crown prince is involved in the crime.
Second, the rapid deterioration of the image of Saudi Arabia among political elites in Washington despite the administration’s efforts also revived the issue of Yemen, which has been not on the agenda of many lawmakers for a while. The Senate is preparing a new resolution as a result of which the U.S. needs to “withdraw troops in or ‘affecting’ Yemen within 30 days, unless they are fighting al-Qaida.”
The new proposed bill aims to end U.S. assistance for the Saudi war efforts in Yemen. The humanitarian disaster in the country and rapid increase in the starvation of kids and epidemics are also among the issues that have started to be more frequently discussed in Congress. This bill can also be a major challenge in relations between Congress and the White House in regards to foreign policy issues.
Under these circumstances, it will be very hard for the administration to conduct its desired foreign policy with the Saudis. Without resolving the Khashoggi mystery, it will be even be challenging for Trump’s team to welcome MBS and his associates to the White House. If it is not resolved, we will continue to see the incident as a major source of disruption in bilateral relations that can lead to geopolitical outcomes.
In this article
- Donald Trump
- Foreign Policy
- Jamal Khashoggi
- Jared Kushner
- King of Saudi Arabia
- Middle East
- Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud
- Saudi Arabia
- Saudi Arabia Consulate in Istanbul
- Saudi Arabia's Foreign Policy
- Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
- The New York Times
- Turkish-Saudi Relations
- U.S.-Middle East
- U.S.-Saudi Relations