Santorum: US and Saudi media not 'apples to apples'

Former Republican Senator Rick Santorum said President Trump's criticism towards American media comes with a tradition of free press in the US, contrasting other systems in the wake of Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance.

Posted: Oct 19, 2018 8:43 PM
Updated: Oct 19, 2018 9:04 PM

President Donald Trump's worldview is black and white. He can divide the world's population into winners and losers.

Frequent reminders of his 2016 election victory -- and Hilary Clinton's loss -- are a long-running thread stitched in to many of his speeches.

The winners and losers motif is marvelous for his base, requires little explanation and fits his cursory rhetoric. Yet every time he deploys it, he erodes his and America's global standing.

His current conundrum with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, is no exception.

The Crown Prince -- the kingdom's de facto ruler -- has yet to explain how a Washington Post journalist and vocal critic of Saudi Arabia disappeared while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul more than two weeks ago.

Trump's go-to position after taking a call from the Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on Tuesday was to accept not only that did the King and the Crown Prince have no involvement in what Turkish officials maintain was Khashoggi's brutal murder and dismemberment, but to push the idea that "rogue elements" were responsible for it. The King is the father of the Crown Prince.

In the increasingly autocratic kingdom, even the prospect of the ambitious Crown Prince blaming underlings for an operation that required 15 men to fly from Riyadh to Istanbul, according to Turkish investigators, beggars belief.

But Trump chose not merely to buy it, but endorse and propagate it, too.

A little later, after a barrage of criticism and having dispatched his secretary of state to Riyadh to impress upon the King and his son how much their accounting means to Trump and America, Trump seemed to waver.

He said: "I just don't know. I'm going to have to see what they say ... Nobody knows if it's an official report. So far it's just the rumor of a report coming out."

Trump's instinct with the Saudis is reminiscent of his dealings with other autocrats. Think of Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

How many times have we heard Trump say about Putin or Kim that maybe they'll get along, or maybe they won't? More often than not, it turns out they get along just fine.

It's become his standard dodge when criticized for cozying up to autocrats.

For a man who used to build and sell property for a living, it's a wonder he ever turned a profit.

As President in charge of the bank of American goodwill, he is extending credit where it is at risk of never being paid back in full -- never mind making a profit.

In the case of Saudi's young Crown Prince, he may lose his investment all together.

He seems to be going out on a limb, backing the Saudis so much that if they mess up he will pay a price too.

The well-oiled Saudi DC spin machine is in overdrive, sowing seeds of concern about Khashoggi, which don't stand up to scrutiny. They are also pumping out lines about Saudi Arabia's long and important relationship with the United States, which, while factually correct, conflates the kingdom with the Crown Prince.

The implication: Lose faith in the Crown Prince and lose all those benefits.

Both Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been repeating those lines in earnest over the past few days.

On Thursday, Pompeo told reporters: "I think it's important for us all to remember, too, we have a long, since 1932, a long strategic relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They continue to be an important counter-terrorism partner. They have custody of the two holy sites. They're an important strategic alliance of the United States. We need to be mindful of that as well."

In an interview with the Associated Press Thursday, Trump raised the emotional stake with an open appeal to his base of support. He said of the Saudi Arabia/Khashoggi situation: ""Here we go again with you know you're guilty until proven innocent. I don't like that. "

He added: "We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I'm concerned. So we have to find out what happened."

Trump seems to be circling his own wagons in defense of the Crown Prince, also known by his acronym MBS, in a way he can sell it to his base. But murkiness in this investigation created by Saudi intransigence and at times obfuscation defies a simple binary analysis.

The rogue operation or rendition gone wrong narrative, helped by the President and leaked by others, will struggle to stand up to scrutiny.

Turkey has been leaking just enough to keep the issue in the headlines, judiciously serving up a soupçon of evidence at a time.

Imagine a scenario where Saudis offer their version of events and fire -- or worse -- a few top officials for dereliction of duty, even treason. And Trump, over the heads of senators and intelligence advisers, buys the narrative.

Imagine the same scenario a few days later, when Turkey drops another evidential bombshell. Not only is MBS burned, but so is Trump and big dollop of American credibility is spooned out of the pot and into the fire.

Trump's secretary of state says he impressed upon the King and his son the importance of coming clean in Khashoggi's disappearance.

"We're going to give them the space to complete their investigations of this incident, and when they issue their reports, we'll form our judgment about thoroughness, depth, and the decisions they make about accountability connected to that."

But what if the response is shades of gray peppered with dark corners and doesn't fit Trump's black and white world?

What if it's like so many other global challenges that Trump tilts at for which there is no immediate quick headline grabbing solutions? Like North Korea, where, despite Trump's hyperbole at the Singapore summit with Kim this summer, there has been no confirmed nuclear disarmament by the Hermit Kingdom. In fact, some analysts believe that it might have increased its nuclear weapons systems.

But what if the Saudis produce an ambiguous explanation? What if common sense and US intelligence ultimately points toward containing the fallout from an ally gone rogue?

Trump is already giving us a curtain raiser on his intent, tilting toward a pass for his autocratic ally in the Middle East.

On Thursday, a few hours after Pompeo asked for Saudi investigators to be given a little more time to complete their investigation, Trump faced reporters. When asked if Khashoggi was dead, he told them "it certainly looks that way to me. It's very sad ... It certainly looks that way."

Asked about consequences for those involved, Trump vowed it would be "very severe ... It'll have to be very severe ... But we'll see what happens."

And there we have it. Trump's code for "I have already made up my mind."

He still has space to back out of full-throated support for MBS and even put sanctions on the kingdom. But right now, his relationship with one of the Middle East's most powerful autocrats could be Trump's biggest gamble yet.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 147382

Reported Deaths: 3763
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto973199
Hinds9668197
Harrison6898109
Jackson6178119
Rankin5319100
Lee487695
Madison4666106
Forrest371386
Jones346788
Lauderdale3355144
Lafayette317549
Washington3122107
Lamar283449
Oktibbeha240861
Bolivar240184
Lowndes229763
Neshoba2177115
Panola215849
Marshall209650
Leflore201490
Pontotoc196128
Monroe191477
Sunflower190555
Lincoln186865
Warren172657
Tate165451
Union163925
Pike160658
Copiah159540
Yazoo152039
Scott150729
Coahoma148743
Itawamba148234
Pearl River146567
Alcorn146327
Simpson145153
Prentiss141230
Adams137949
Grenada137745
Leake131943
Holmes126561
Tippah123030
George122324
Covington119737
Winston119124
Wayne116223
Hancock115939
Marion111646
Attala109833
Tishomingo106542
Chickasaw104132
Newton103629
Tallahatchie96327
Clarke88853
Clay87127
Jasper81222
Walthall75328
Stone73114
Calhoun72913
Montgomery72125
Carroll70614
Lawrence70314
Yalobusha70027
Noxubee69717
Smith69616
Perry65426
Tunica59619
Greene58422
Claiborne57616
Jefferson Davis55017
Humphreys52918
Amite51814
Benton48717
Quitman4816
Webster42114
Kemper41918
Wilkinson38722
Jefferson34211
Franklin3265
Choctaw3117
Sharkey30717
Issaquena1124
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 239318

Reported Deaths: 3532
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson31391491
Mobile19562361
Tuscaloosa12813154
Madison12741146
Montgomery12198235
Shelby1000577
Baldwin847398
Lee764466
Morgan634348
Calhoun6112115
Marshall607954
Etowah606565
Houston517038
DeKalb474736
Cullman428038
Limestone413744
St. Clair409055
Elmore400762
Lauderdale393653
Walker3588108
Talladega343453
Jackson307624
Colbert301941
Blount285539
Autauga268641
Franklin247833
Coffee239715
Dale230354
Dallas224531
Russell22053
Chilton219638
Covington216833
Escambia197431
Chambers173749
Tallapoosa173391
Pike157514
Clarke156319
Marion136535
Winston129923
Lawrence124836
Geneva12028
Pickens119418
Marengo119124
Barbour117010
Bibb116217
Butler114441
Randolph100921
Cherokee100824
Hale94531
Clay90223
Washington90219
Fayette87316
Henry8496
Lowndes79129
Monroe78111
Cleburne75714
Macon72321
Crenshaw70730
Bullock69119
Conecuh68314
Perry6756
Lamar6508
Wilcox63118
Sumter57122
Choctaw41913
Greene41418
Coosa3374
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