In the wake of a deadly mass shooting by a member of the Saudi Air Force training at a U.S. military base, Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became virtual spokespersons for the Saudi regime.
On December 6, Trump tweeted a summary of his call with King Salman, which read like a press release from the Saudi government:
King Salman of Saudi Arabia just called to express his sincere condolences and give his sympathies to the families and friends of the warriors who were killed and wounded in the attack. The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people.
The next day, Pompeo tweeted a similar message summarizing his call with the Saudi foreign minister.
It is part of a disturbing pattern where, in the face of atrocities linked to the Saudi government, Trump and his administration operate as a propaganda arm for the Saudi regime.
Echos of Khashoggi
Trump's response to a mass murder at a U.S. naval base by a member of the Saudi Air Force mirrors his response to the brutal murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Shortly after Khashoggi's murder, Trump sent Pompeo to Saudi Arabia, where he "greeted King Salman with a warm handshake, smiling as the cameras flashed."
After the meeting, Pompeo released a statement thanking "the King for his commitment to supporting a thorough, transparent and timely investigation."
Shortly thereafter, as evidence of the Saudi government's role in the murder mounted, Pompeo released another statement praising the Saudi regime: "My assessment from these meetings is that there is serious commitment to determine all the facts and ensure accountability, including ... for Saudi Arabia’s senior leaders or senior officials."
Trump also took to Twitter to defend Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). "Just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate," Trump said last October.
In an interview with the AP, Trump compared the treatment of MBS to Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault before being confirmed to the Supreme Court.
"Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned," Trump said. In November, the CIA concluded that MBS ordered Khashoggi's assassination, but Trump never stopped defending MBS and the Saudi government.
The murder of Khashoggi was not an isolated incident. The Saudi government has "detained or disappeared hundreds of activists and political opponents."
Why is the United States training members of the Saudi Air Force?
The shooter was identified as Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. He "initially entered the United States in 2017, when his training with the United States military began." He first "attended language school at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas" before continuing his training in Pensacola, Florida.
The mass shooting shines a spotlight on a larger question: Why is the United States training members of the Saudi Air Force, which has been targeting civilians in Yemen?
The air war in Yemen "has killed thousands of Yemeni civilians since 2015." The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of waging "indiscriminate attacks." Last March, "mourners in northern Yemen...buried 17 civilians, including nine children." In addition to training, the United States "provides the warplanes, munitions and intelligence used in many of those strikes."
"[I]f your partner appears consistently unwilling to comply with international law, or to minimize harm to civilian life, then at some point you should not be partnering with them at all, as is clearly the case for Yemen," Kristine Beckerle, legal director of the human rights group Mwatana, said last May.
Trump uses veto pen to protect Saudis
Disturbed by the Khashoggi assassination and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, a bipartisan coalition in Congress took action this year to try to curtail the Trump administration's unflinching support of the Saudi regime.
In response, Trump repeatedly used his veto powers to protect the Saudi government. In July, Trump "vetoed a series of measures approved by bipartisan lawmakers that were aimed at blocking the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia." The resolutions were a response to Trump's decision in May to declare an emergency "to bypass Congress and expedite billions of dollars in arms sales to various countries -- including Saudi Arabia."
In April, Trump "vetoed a bill passed by Congress to end support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen." The Senate held a vote to override the veto, which garnered 53 votes, including seven Republicans, but ultimately did not receive the required super-majority of 67 votes.
Trump's extraordinary offer to the Saudis
Trump has shown extraordinary deference to the Saudi regime in a variety of circumstances. In September, after an attack on a Saudi oil facility briefly disrupted 5% of the world's crude oil supply, Trump pledged to retaliate on behalf of the Saudis, as soon as he received instructions from the Saudi government.
The U.S. has no mutual defense agreement with Saudi Arabia. Trump ultimately did not launch an attack but appeared willing to start a new war in the Middle East if that's what the Saudis wanted.
Follow the money
Why does Trump keep defending the Saudi government as the body count grows? Follow the money.
Lobbyists representing Saudi Arabia "spent $270,000" in 2017 at Trump’s hotel in Washington. Trump Organization documents obtained by the Washington Post reveal that his hotels in New York and Chicago have had "an influx of visitors from Saudi Arabia." Trump's New York hotel reported a surge in revenues in the first quarter of 2018 thanks to "a last-minute visit to New York by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia."
On the campaign trail, Trump was open about the fact that he liked Saudi Arabia because they made him money. "Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much," Trump said at a 2015 campaign rally.
As Popular Information reported in September, Trump could be positioned to make a lot more money in Saudi Arabia after his presidency.
As part of Saudi Arabia's "Vision 2030" initiative to diversify its economy, Saudi Arabia is building a new city from scratch called Neom. Saudi Arabia plans on spending $500 billion on Neom, which it bills as "the world's most ambitious project."
"Neom is positioned to become an aspirational society that promotes the future of human civilization by offering its inhabitants a lifestyle that surpasses that of any other," according to the project's promotional material.
...A few Trump-branded towers in Neom could be a massive payday for the Trump family.
This year, Saudi Arabia hired Teneo, an advisory group started by long-time Clinton adviser Doug Band, to advocate for the project. Saudi Arabia will pay Teneo $2.1 million, not including expenses, to work on the project for six months.
The managing director of Teneo, Tony Sayegh, has just taken a leave of absence from the firm to join the Trump administration. Sayegh was brought in to help the White House "with its impeachment communications defense."
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