The president reportedly bragged to Bob Woodward about shielding Mohammed bin Salman from the backlash over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi that the crown prince had ordered:
“I saved his ass,” Trump had said amid the US outcry following Khashoggi’s murder, the book says. “I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop.”
The report isn’t so much a revelation as it is a confirmation of our worst assumptions about Trump’s dealings with the Saudis. He takes pride in shielding a despot for the murder of a journalist and regime critic when there is every reason to believe that the crown prince was responsible for ordering the murder, and he boasts about “stopping” Congress as if protecting a foreign political figure from the action of our elected representatives was part of his job description. It’s also worth noting that the president didn’t really “stop” Congress from acting in response to the murder. On the contrary, the backlash to the killing and Trump’s attempted whitewashing was so great that Congress passed a number of resolutions the next year to oppose U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen and to block proposed arms sales to the Saudis and the UAE. He vetoed the resolutions, but by taking the crown prince’s side against Congress and the Constitution he made critics of the U.S.-Saudi relationship even more determined to downgrade it. This is the disgraceful record that the president wants to celebrate.
“He says very strongly that he didn’t do it,” Trump said. “Bob, they spent $400 billion over a fairly short period of time.”
The $400 billion figure seems to have been invented out of thin air, but the amount is beside the point. Trump is confirming that the crown prince and the Saudis get a pass from him because they buy U.S.-made weapons, and that is the only thing that really matters to him here. It is important to remember that in light of the president’s more recent remarks where he criticized “the top people at the Pentagon” for wanting to start wars and enrich weapons manufacturers. Trump’s public and private statements about the Saudi relationship and his multiple vetoes of Congressional resolutions opposing arms sales make clear that he thinks selling weapons to client states and boosting profits for weapons manufacturers is his priority. No one has been more interested in ensuring that the “companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy” than Trump, and he has done that at the expense of civilians in Yemen, justice for Mohammed bin Salman’s victims, and the Constitution.
Trump repeated something to Woodward that he has said before publicly about the Saudis’ dependence on U.S. support:
“They wouldn’t last a week if we’re not there, and they know it,” he said.
If that were the case, that would make Trump’s complete failure to use this extraordinary leverage all the more damning. The president has had many opportunities to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war on Yemen, and instead he has fought to keep that involvement going at considerable political cost to himself. He boasts to Woodward that he “saved” Mohammed bin Salman from backlash over the Khashoggi murder, and he makes it clear that he did this to keep U.S. weapons flowing to a kingdom that uses them to massacre civilians in Yemen on a regular basis. The latest report from the book doesn’t tell us much that we didn’t know before, but it underscores just how despicable the president’s support for the Saudis and their war truly is.