Sen. Cory Booker forcefully condemned Donald Trump’s controversial defense of Saudi Arabia and the president’s obvious reluctance to hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the grisly murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, even after the CIA concluded the prince had ordered the brutal killing.
“I think we’re surrendering the leadership role that our country should play in this world,” Booker said. “To retreat from our values in this way and not to hold folks accountable is unacceptable. And you’re going to see in the Senate a bipartisan group of senators coming together demanding accountability from the leadership of Saudi Arabia.”
Trump said in a now-notorious statement Tuesday, “It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t.” Trump continues, “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight with Iran.” The statement concludes, “Very simply it is called America First!”
The president also noted the Saudis will buy $110 billion of American-made weapons — an amount disputed by experts — and sell the U.S. oil.
“We’re not going to give up hundreds of billions of dollars in orders and let Russia, China and everybody else have them. It’s all about, for me, very simple — America first. Saudi Arabia, if we broke with them, I think our oil prices would go through the roof,” Trump said Tuesday.
In a searing reply, Republican Sen. Rand Paul tweeted, “I’m pretty sure this statement is Saudi Arabia First, not America First.”
Foreign policy analysts expressed concern about damage to America’s moral standing.
“It seems that under the Trump doctrine, the moral calculus of one person’s life weighed against the interests of the balance of power in the Persian Gulf region, well, the one life doesn’t weigh as much in the scales,” said Seton Hall Professor of Diplomacy and International Relations Brian Muzas. “It calls into question the United States’ reputation going forward in that regard.”
Sen. Bob Menendez, ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, joined Republican chairman Sen. Bob Corker in a letter again invoking the Magnitsky Act, asking that Trump “specifically address whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s murder.”
The Magnitsky Act gives Trump 120 days to respond. In the meantime, senators on both sides of the aisle say they will use the budget and Saudi arms deals as leverage to promote sanctions.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham called the crown prince a “wrecking ball” in global politics and is behind pending legislation to impose a blanket ban on arms sales to the Saudis.
“You’re going to see Democrats and Republicans joining together with common voice, pushing sanctions against Saudi Arabia for the murder — the vicious murder — of a journalist. An American resident, no less,” Booker said.
But the president tweeted Wednesday saying, “Oil prices getting lower. Great!…Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower!” indicating Trump seems unlikely to abandon the nation he called our great ally.