President Donald Trump shocked many Americans and Republicans Tuesday when he chose to believe Saudi Arabia over his own intelligence agencies like the CIA regarding the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. We break down fact from fiction on how he made his choice.
Trump vastly inflated the value of planned Saudi investments in the U.S. on Tuesday, as he explained why he’s “standing with Saudi Arabia” despite the conclusion of his intelligence officials that the kingdom’s de facto leader ordered the murder of a U.S.-based journalist.
“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said in the statement, which featured a subheading that read “America First!”
“That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” he continued. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Trump cited a $110 billion arms package that he said is part of $450 billion in planned Saudi investments in the U.S. Actual orders under the arms deal are far smaller and neither country has announced or substantiated Trump’s repeated assertion that the Saudis are poised to inject $450 billion overall into the U.S. economy.
Trump’s economic argument was part of his case for deciding not to punish Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or cut arms sales to Saudi Arabia for the killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate.
An official familiar with the U.S. intelligence assessment said bin Salman is considered responsible for ordering the murder; others familiar with the case believe the crown prince was involved in the killing but are not sure to what extent. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss sensitive intelligence findings publicly.
Although it’s up to Trump whether to believe his officials’ conclusions and whether to give primacy to the broad benefits of the U.S.-Saudi alliance, the economic pillar of his argument does not hold up. A look at his words:
TRUMP: “After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries — and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business.”
THE FACTS: There’s less than meets the eye to the arms package. Partly negotiated under the Obama administration, it mixes old deals, some new business and prospective purchases that have not been worked out.
The Pentagon said last month that Saudi Arabia had signed “letters of offer and acceptance” for only $14.5 billion in military purchases and confirmed Tuesday that nothing further has reached that stage.
Those letters, issued after the U.S. government approves a proposed arms sale, specify its terms. Much of that $14.5 billion involves a missile defense system, a contract that appears to have advanced more than other significant investments but not been completed.
Moreover, the State Department estimated last year that if the full $110 billion in prospective business is fulfilled, it could end up “potentially supporting tens of thousands of new jobs in the United States.” That’s a far cry from the 500,000 to 600,000 jobs that Trump has said the arms deal is worth.
Details of the package have been sketchy, with no public breakdown of exactly what was being offered for sale and for how much.
The government’s Congressional Research Service has described the package as a combination of sales that were proposed by President Barack Obama and discussed with Congress and new sales still being developed.
“Very little has changed hands,” says Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution and former CIA and Defense Department official.
Meantime there has been no verification from either country that “the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States,” as Trump put it in his statement. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters did not respond to a request to explain the figure.
The U.S. exported only $16 billion in goods to Saudi Arabia last year, and imported even more. Saudi Arabia’s entire annual economic production is valued at $684 billion. A $450 billion Saudi investment in the U.S. would amount to about 6 percent of its entire economy going to the U.S. if spread, for example, over 10 years.
During bin Salman’s visit to the U.S. in March, he spoke vaguely of the possibility of Saudi investment opportunities in the U.S. that could be worth $400 billion, saying “A lot of things could be tackled in the close future,” according to the Arabian Business website.
The U.S. earlier sanctioned 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in Khashoggi’s death. Members of Congress want the U.S. to follow the lead of countries that have taken stronger action. Germany, for example, has banned new weapons exports to Saudi Arabia and halted previously approved arms exports.
Full Statement by Donald Trump on standing by Saudi Arabia:
The world is a very dangerous place!
The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more. Likewise, the Iranians have killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East. Iran states openly, and with great force, “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” Iran is considered “the world’s leading sponsor of terror.”
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave. They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism.
After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!
The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone. Indeed, we have taken strong action against those already known to have participated in the murder. After great independent research, we now know many details of this horrible crime. We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body.
Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!
That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!
I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction – and they are free to do so. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America. After the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world. They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world. As President of the United States I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!
In an echo of his campaign rhetoric, President Donald Trump is back to portraying himself as the Paul Revere of the terrorism age — the one who told the country Osama bin Laden was coming. There was less to his foreshadowing than he states.
Trump’s tweet about bin Laden on Monday has some truth to it: “I pointed him out in my book just BEFORE the attack on the World Trade Center.”
But the book, with only a passing mention of bin Laden, did not do more than point to the al-Qaida leader as one of many threats to U.S. security. Trump’s book, “The America We Deserve,” came out more than 1½ years before al-Qaida’s deadly attack on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, not just before.
Trump’s reason for resurfacing the matter: persistent criticisms from retired Adm. William McRaven, who has branded Trump’s laceration of the news media “the greatest threat to democracy” in his lifetime. As commander of the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command in 2011, he oversaw the raid that killed bin Laden in Pakistan.
Trump accused McRaven in a Fox News interview broadcast over the weekend of being a “Hillary Clinton backer and an Obama backer.” McRaven said he did not endorse anyone in 2016 and told CNN he is a fan of both former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, having served under them. “I admire all presidents, regardless of their political party, who uphold the dignity of the office and who use that office to bring the nation together in challenging times,” he said pointedly.
TRUMP’s tweet: “Of course we should have captured Osama Bin Laden long before we did. I pointed him out in my book just BEFORE the attack on the World Trade Center. President Clinton famously missed his shot. We paid Pakistan Billions of Dollars & they never told us he was living there. Fools!”
THE FACTS: There was nothing original or clairvoyant in the reference to bin Laden in Trump’s 2000 book. As part of his criticism of what he considered Bill Clinton’s haphazard approach to U.S. security as president, he stated: “One day we’re told that a shadowy figure with no fixed address named Osama bin Laden is public enemy Number One, and U.S. jetfighters lay waste to his camp in Afghanistan. He escapes back under some rock, and a few news cycles later it’s on to a new enemy and new crisis.”
Trump’s book did not call for further U.S. action against bin Laden or al-Qaida to follow up on attacks Clinton ordered in 1998 in Afghanistan and Sudan after al-Qaida bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The U.S. attacks were meant to disrupt bin Laden’s network and destroy some of al-Qaida’s infrastructure, such as a factory in Sudan associated with the production of a nerve gas ingredient. They “missed” in the sense that bin Laden was not killed in them, and al-Qaida was able to pull off 9/11 three years later.
In the campaign, Trump boasted even more expansively about being a soothsayer. He stated that his book said of bin Laden, “you better take him out,” which it did not say, and that he “predicted Osama bin Laden” back when “nobody really knew who he was.” Bin Laden was well known by the CIA, other national security operations, experts and the public long before 9/11; the debate is over whether Clinton and successor Bush could have done more against al-Qaida to prevent the 2001 attacks.
In passages on terrorism, Trump’s book correctly predicted that the U.S. was at risk of a terrorist attack that would make the 1993 World Trade Center bombing pale by comparison. That was a widespread concern at the time, as Trump suggested in stating “no sensible analyst rejects this possibility.” Trump did not explicitly tie that threat to al-Qaida and thought an attack might come through a miniaturized weapon of mass destruction, like a nuclear device in a suitcase or anthrax.