It pays to be friends with Jared Kushner. You can get away with murder. Or so thinks Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Early in his tenure as a special adviser to his father-in-law, Kushner went out of his way to become Best Friends Forever with the monarchical autocrat.
Last year, Kushner travelled to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, to promote a multi-billion-dollar arms sale, encourage MBS - as the prince is known in diplomatic circles - to take part in Kushner’s plan for peace in the Middle East, and privately discuss other matters of importance. Exactly what they talked about is as clear as the private discussion the president had with Vladimir Putin earlier this year.
The two must have hit it off. The Intercept reports that in the wake of their meeting, MBS bragged to Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed that Kushner was “in his pocket.”
MBS rose to power after ousting his cousin as next in line to the Saudi throne and installing himself as heir apparent. A week after meeting Kushner last October, the prince further consolidated his power by arresting dozens of family members and associates, calling it an “anti-corruption crackdown.” He extracted billions of dollars from them to gain their release. One of them wasn’t so lucky. Multiple news outlets reported that Saudi general Ali Alqahtani died of a broken neck while being tortured by government operatives.
Mounting evidence now indicates that, at the direction of MBS, a government hit team was responsible for the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey. MBS wasn’t happy that Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post and a legal resident of the U.S., made a point of speaking truth to power and calling out the Saudi regime for rampant corruption and its autocratic rule.
Silencing its enemies has long been a practice of the House of Saud. And with an American president who continually calls the press “the enemy of the people,” why wouldn’t MBS think he could get away with one more atrocity?
President Trump initially said there would be “serious consequences” if allegations that Khashoggi was murdered were true. Within days of saying so, he flip-flopped, claiming that the killing may have been done by “rogue killers.” This was after a phone call with MBS, during which the prince used those very words, “firmly denying” he had anything to do with Khashoggi’s murder. Trump believes MBS. Because he said so. Just as the president believes Putin didn’t meddle in our elections. Because Putin “strongly and powerfully denied it.”
The Saudi government has now concocted a scenario admitting their involvement in Khashoggi’s murder, claiming it was an “interrogation” gone awry. And that Mohammed bin Salman had absolutely nothing to do with it, yet nothing in the kingdom is done without his blessing.
The Saudis are now relying on plausible deniability to get MBS off the hook and keep his friendship with Kushner and Trump alive and intact. Yahoo News reports that Jared Kushner is “deeply involved” in the White House response to the Khashoggi assassination. What are friends for?
Saudi Arabia is of strategic importance in the Middle East, but there is such a thing as taking the moral high ground. Turning a blind eye to autocrats prone to punishing their so-called “enemies” does not bode well for America’s reputation or standing in the world. And it certainly isn’t in the best interests of the American people. It does, however, appear to be in keeping with the president’s foreign and domestic policy, and his desire to defend anyone with whom he or his family - including Jared Kushner - have a personal relationship.
When she recently announced her resignation as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley called Jared Kushner “a hidden genius.” Cozying up to Mohammed bin Salman, however, may not have been the smartest move he could have made.
Blair Bess is a Los Angeles-based television writer, producer, and columnist. He edits the online blog Soaggragated.com, and can be reached at BBess.firstname.lastname@example.org.