Reprinted with permission from Independent media institute.
The disappearance and apparent assassination of Jamal Khashoggi have disrupted the Saudi governmentâs charm offensive in the United States. Think tanks areÂ returning Saudi money. Defense contractors are worried about theÂ end of lucrative arms deals. Sen. Marco Rubio says âno more business as usual.â TheÂ otherwise friendlyÂ editorial page of the Washington Post is calling Crown Prince Mohammed bin SalmanÂ âa murderer.â
But one thing is unlikely to change as a result of a brazen killing of a regime critic: the Trump administrationâs warmongering policy toward Iran. The emerging damage control storyâthat Khashoggi died duringÂ âan interrogation that went wrongââis designed to protect the strategic alliance that seeks to confront the Islamic Republic, say Iran experts.
âThatâs why youâre seeing the administration working with Saudi Arabia come up with some kind of plausible explanation that limits the damage to the bilateral relationship,â said Kenneth Katzman, senior Iran expert at the Congressional Research Service, in a telephone interview. âAt the end of the day, the two countries want to work together against Iran. They donât want Iran to benefit from a rift.â
âThe Saudis are the driving force behind the policy of confronting Iran, not the United States,â Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian-American Committee, said in an email. âThe United States does not need to have this policy of confrontation with Iran, because the nuclear deal was working. So while the United States needs Saudi Arabia to confront Iran, it actually doesnât need to confront Iran at all. It can pursue a much more effective policy of diplomacy.â
But thatâs not going to happen given the Trump administrationâs belligerence toward Iran. Last year Trump called Iran somewhat awkwardlyÂ âthe Number One State of Sponsored Terror,âÂ Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a report calling Iran anÂ âoutlaw regime,âÂ Before that, national security adviser John BoltonÂ told reportersÂ that if Tehran continues to âcrossâ the United States,Â âthere will be hell to pay.â
This is exactly the aggressive policy that Saudi Arabia has encouraged ever since Jared Kushner took over his father-in-lawâs Middle East policy and bonded with MBS asÂ âthe change agentâÂ in the Middle East. And this is the policy that will be endangered if the flap over Khashoggiâs disappearance amounts to anything more than a flap.
âIn a rational world, you would look at this incident [Khashoggiâs disappearance] and ask, what is good for U.S. policy?â said Paul Pillar, former CIA analyst for the Middle East. âThis incident demonstrates that there is not a strong reason to take Saudi Arabiaâs side in its regional rivalry with Iran.â
âBut the Trump administration seem so determined, so set on stoking maximum hostility, that I do not see them being fundamentally diverted [by the Khashoggi affair], however inconvenient it may be for them. It may slow things down, making it harder to portray Saudi Arabia as a U.S. partner, but thatâs about it.â
Pillar says Trumpâs message to MBS, delivered by Pompeo on hisÂ emergency visitÂ to Riyadh, will likely be, âHelp us help you get over this in a way that doesnât spoil our relationship.â
Congress could intervene, but it seems unlikely. Twenty members of the Senate Committee on Foreign RelationsÂ sent a letterÂ to Trump last week requesting an investigation under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. The White House now has 120 days to report back to the committee on whether it will levy sanctions against the country in question. But the law allows the administration to waive sanctions for reasons of ânational security.â
âGraham and Rubio talk a good game about Khashoggi, but they usually just fold in the end,â said one aide to a Senate Democrat.
If Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives in November, they could also complicate Trumpâs Iran policy by investigating Kushnerâs business ties with the Saudi regime. But however embarrassing that might be, it would not force any change to Trumpâs policy.
One coming test of Trumpâs policy concerns oil. The Trump administration and the Saudis are hoping to implement a full embargo of Iranian oil by early November. To keep gas prices down in the United States, the Saudis need to increase production. If the Saudis do that, Trumpâs anti-Iran policy will be intact.
The Khashoggi affair, says the Senate aide, âblunts the drive to war. It doesnât end it.â
This article was produced by theÂ Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Jefferson Morley is a senior writing fellow at theÂ Independent Media Institute. He is the editor theÂ JFK FactsÂ blog and author ofÂ The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus AngletonÂ (St. Martin’s Press). Follow him on TwitterÂ @JeffersonMorley.