President Trump has made a huge mistake placing all his chips on Saudi Arabia and Mohammad bin Salman in the Middle East. From Alastair Crooke at strategic-culture.org:
“Mr. Trump, nor anyone else in his administration, has announced any conclusions about how Mr. Khashoggi died, or who bears responsibility for ordering the killing”, a Washington Post editorial fulminates. “Instead, they have pretended to be waiting for the results of a Saudi investigation… the obvious problem with that stance is it assumes that Mohammed bin Salman himself is not at the bottom of the Khashoggi plot — though abundant evidence points to the crown prince. In truth, as the administration surely knows, there is no Saudi investigation — only a cover-up operation that has clumsily tried to disguise itself as an inquiry”.
One aspect to this affair is the US domestic issue. The White House is increasingly perceived – as the Washington Post implies – as engaged in a ‘soft’ cover-up of a cover-up. That is to say, the White House is being viewed as so set on keeping MbS in position as lynchpin to Trump’s entire Middle Eastern strategy that the White House and Mr Bolton will try to turn a Nelsonian ‘blind eye’ – or a ‘selective ear’ – to any audio evidence provided by the Turkish government that seems to implicate MbS.
President Trump is keeping his powder dry. He said: “I’ll have a much stronger opinion on that subject over the next week … I’m forming a very strong opinion.” But caution on his part might be wise: leading Turkish daily, Yeni Safak, which is close to the Turkish government, and which has been covering leaked details of the Khashoggi investigation day by day, has reported that Maher Mutrib, the Saudi intelligence official who led the 15-man assassination team in Ankara, spoke to Badr al-Asaker, the head of the Crown Prince’s private office, four times directly after Khashoggi was killed (if it was Mutrib who said “tell your boss” to MbS’ chef de cabinet, then the implication is clear). This has not been officially confirmed, but it is possible (and likely) that Turkish intelligence has yet further details to trickle out, piecemeal, to discredit the Saudi ‘line’ each time the kingdom tries to ‘draw the line’ under the case. Erdogan is determined to get MbS’ scalp, it seems.