CNN reports on the stunning admission late yesterday from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that officials directly subordinate to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were indeed responsible for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul:
After 18 days in which Saudi Arabia adamantly denied that any harm had come to Jamal Khashoggi at its consulate in Istanbul, it committed a startling about-face. Not only did Riyadh admit that Khashoggi came to a violent end, it pinned the blame on some of the closest aides to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.
Ahmad al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani, both widely known figures who shot to fame during the crown prince’s rapid rise to power, were among five high-ranking officials who were dismissed over Khashoggi’s death. Eighteen others were detained…
In a flurry of coordinated statements, issued in the dead of night in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia claimed Khashoggi’s death was accidental. According to the Saudi Press Agency, preliminary investigations revealed that “discussions” between Khashoggi and suspects currently detained by Saudi Arabia developed into a physical altercation that resulted in Khashoggi’s death. Those responsible then tried to cover up the death, state TV said.
Outside the bubble of Saudi state media–and apparently, the Trump administration–it has been the consensus of investigators and reporters that Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Turkish investigators were said to have evidence from the beginning, though the source and manner has been in question, that Khashoggi was tortured and dismembered by a team of high-level Saudi agents who arrived in the country with this sole task. Given the autocratic control of every part of Saudi Arabia’s economy and government by the Saudi royal family, it’s an easy question even for non-foreign policy experts like this blog how this could possibly have happened without the Crown Prince’s express authorization.
Although Saudi Arabia appears to be working to insulate the royal family from responsibility for what is now indisputably a grave diplomatic crisis, this admission is still pretty close to the worst-case scenario for the Trump administration, who has spent the last two weeks more or less determined to blame anyone else for this killing they can. President Donald Trump in particular has gone on at great length about the purchases of arms and other American products the Saudis have committed to, in a grisly attempt to counterbalance the value of Jamal Khashoggi’s life against these purchases.
As this news was breaking yesterday, embattled Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, struggling for life in the 2018 midterms and triaged out of support from national Republicans, tried to get his name into the story:
— Rep. Mike Coffman (@RepMikeCoffman) October 19, 2018
After Mike Coffman called in penalty and repentance for the “immediate recall” of the “acting ambassador” to Saudi Arabia via Twitter, the internet remembered a fairly important detail: the United States doesn’t have an ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
Mike Coffman — locked in a tight election in Colorado — has called on the president to recall the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
There is no U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) October 20, 2018
To Coffman’s modest credit, the acting ambassador to Saudi Arabia is the chargé d’affaires, ad interim at the American Embassy in Riyadh, Christopher Henzel. But unlike most “interim” positions at this level, that’s not expected to change anytime soon. The reason for this is that President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has personally assumed responsibility for American diplomacy with Saudi Arabia, and this informal nepotistic arrangement has suited the Saudis just fine. Henzel doesn’t have the real power in relations with the Saudis, Kushner does. So if Coffman wanted to call for something that might actually matter, he would call for Trump to tell his son-in-law to do it. But for all the obvious reasons, Coffman’s not going to go there. So he makes a statement that dodges the whole issue.
And that, gentle readers, is how Coffman made himself into a punchline on foreign policy with just over two weeks until the election. Even The Hill, a notoriously incumbent-friendly publication, couldn’t fully spin it back.
With Coffman already well behind in the polls, nobody’s going to say in hindsight that this latest embarrassing demonstration of Coffman’s ineptitude when it comes to the biggest asset he offers the voters of swing CD-6–“standing up to his own party”–was the event that flipped this race. Especially since Trump’s election, Coffman’s inability to affect the course of his party’s unpopular agenda has proven the emptiness of this promise over and over.
But as a straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back, sure. This might do it.