Donald Trump will probably try to strike a middle ground to quiet the flap over Jamal Khashoggi.
First, consider an overall theme. Human rights need to be factored into national interest; then, there might be a balance between them. Too often, there is stress on one at cost of another.
President Obama overemphasized human rights, President Trump stresses national interest. Where’s Goldilocks? Is it a role for the Fourth Estate? Others — president and courts — may not be up to task. But the press is.
Second, breaking news below suggests a propensity to accept the Saudi pledge to investigate, rather than leave the door open to alternative explanations.
Also, a split between Germany, France, and the UK to require dispositive evidence of Khashoggi’s probe can be used as a wedge to convince Canada to come on board, regarding what happened to him, to persuade Ottawa from selling arms to Saudis.
Third, a there’s the “rogue” questioning hypothesis that went askew. Why accept this interpretation, when others are available? Perhaps MSB decided to throw a trusted associate under the bus, to stall.
In view of murder of Khashoggi, there’re other princes and investors who should be considered besides MSB.
In view of these themes, now on to the breaking news of the day.
A surfeit of news dominates the airwaves since disappearance of “liberal,” activist, and prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Claims by the government of Saudi Arabia that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi died in a physical altercation inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul drew immediate skepticism and contradicted earlier dueling accounts from Saudi and Turkish officials.
The Saudi findings, which all but absolved the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), increased pressure on the Trump administration to mount an independent investigation into Khashoggi’s death, per WaPo.
President Trump said Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is likely dead and Secretary of Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin called off plans to attend a Saudi investment conference next week, amid strains over the suspected death, per Wall Street Journal.
On Oct. 10, the White House announced National Security Adviser John Bolton and senior adviser Jared Kushner spoke with MSB a day earlier about Khashoggi, followed by a call by Secretary Mike Pompeo.
The White House announcement is consistent with the President’s National Strategy of Counterterrorism. Per our research, we find the statement is also in accord with views of members of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB).
Among the issues between the two NATO Allies are: Ankara’s proposed acquisition of Russian S400 missile/air defense system; the delivery of F35 aircraft; sanctions and recently imposed punitive tariffs; but, most importantly, the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran and those doing business with Iran starting Nov. 4., per Fox Radio, on Aug. 8.
There is no expectation National Security Advisor Bolton will counsel Trump to waive provisions to allow Turkey to purchase Iranian oil, while still accessing the U.S. financial system, per WSJ.
Turkey plays the treaty Ally card too many times, treating it like a “Get out of jail pass” in the game of Monopoly. Turkey pursues whatever policies it chooses and expects its Allies to go along. A similar assessment has been made of the American practice in NATO.
Turkish and U.S. interests in the greater Middle East continue to diverge. At the foundation of this deviation are differing attitudes toward Israel. Whether one believes Erdogan is anti-Israel there is no mistaking his hostility to its policies in West Bank and Jerusalem.
Think of the Israeli boarding of a Turkish ship carrying supplies to Gaza. Israel Defense Force, marines, stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza, May 31, 2010; at least nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed, triggering a diplomatic crisis and an emergency session of UNGA, per Reuters.
Trump’s move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem places in relief the two leaders’ attitude toward Israel per The Independent, May 15, in a Joint Press Conference with Prime Minister May.
Targeting Khashoggi is reminiscent of “a target package [that] could enable a neutralization plan, which may include apprehension, recruitment, cyber exploitation, or capture/kill operations [by two Iranian agents].”
The DOJ indicted them, on Aug. 20. They had targeted, with intent to kill, members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran Washington Office (NCRIUS), on Sep. 10, per Newsmax.
Consider Turkey’s dealing with Iran. For Trump and Bolton, an Ally’s willingness to support U.S. sanctions against Tehran is mark of friendship — failure to support sanctions the opposite. Decision time is approaching for Turkey and Erdogan, per Hindustan Times, as stated above, May 9.
It takes, “Two to Tangle,” as Erdogan drifts toward political Islamism and authoritarian rule and purchasing Putin’s arms, Erdogan is jeopardizing relations with Trump.
Selecting between U.S. banks and Iranian oil isn’t a Sophie’s Choice. Rather, Turkey has scant room for maneuver, but to come on board the American position.
How about KSA and Iran? KSA may be more blameworthy than Erdogan.
THE WAY FORWARD
Is it time for a summit, with Trump mediating among Erdogan, Mohammed bin Salman, and Netanyahu? Not really.
Our research suggests Trump is the only one with the diplomatic power to mediate among Ankara, Riyadh, and Jerusalem, yet Trump has a very thin record of serving as a mediator among others, preferring bilateral negotiations on behalf of the United States.
That said, perhaps a presidential envoy enjoying White House backing might serve to reduce tensions among the three nations, none of which wishes to see Iran preeminent or dominating the Middle East.
If Secretary Pompeo concurs, our research suggests Jared Kushner for the task, backed up by Assistant Secretary for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance Dr. Yleem D.S. Poblete.
Dr. Poblete has a unique advantage of being close both to Secretary Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, when she worked for Bolton. She is an Iran specialist as well as an expert on arms control verification, who was then Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.
Prof. Raymond Tanter (@AmericanCHR) served as a senior member on the Middle East Desk of the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration, Personal Representative of the Secretary of Defense to international security and arms control talks in Europe, and is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan. Tanter is on the comprehensive list of conservative writers and columnists who appear in The Wall Street Journal, Townhall.com, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Human Events, The American Spectator, and now in Newsmax. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
Edward Stafford is a retired foreign-service officer; he served in Political-Military Affairs at the State Department, as a diplomat with the U.S. Embassy in Turkey and taught at the Inter-American Defense College. You can follow him @egstafford.
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