Now that President Trump has decided not to have a sideline conversation with President Putin in Buenos Aires—at least for the moment—the world and the America people are waiting to see what the atmospherics will be like between Trump and the Saudi Crown Prince, Muhammad bin Salaam (MBS). In light of the President’s rejection of the intelligence community’s apparent report linking MBS with the kidnapping and murder of Jamal Khashoggi, attention will now fall on whether a new sideline meeting will happen.
Within an hour after taking off from Washington, the President tweeted that the meeting he had extolled on the White House lawn that the was looking forward to with Putin, was now off. The President had been scolded roundly by not only Democrats but by Republican Senators for his handling of private Saudi-Yemen War briefing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, by not permitting CIA Director Gina Haspel to appear. From Air Force One Trump announced the cancellation of the meeting with Putin and garnered some praise from Senator Lindsay Graham for his willingness to challenge the Russian leader for his attack on a Ukrainian battleship and capturing of Ukrainian soldiers. Using Graham and others’ praise of Trump’s sensitivities to Ukrainian human rights, the President now can turn around and sit down with the Saudi Prince.
There is an interesting policy lesson to be learned from the turmoil that the President created over the last month in his response to the events in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. There is no way to minimize the horrific act apparently committed by a Saudi death squad ordered by MBS. Khashoggi’s murder, however, escalated into a domestic as well as international scandal because President Trump is unable to address international incidents without viewing them either as personal challenge to him or about a potential financial loss. The sturm und drang that Trump created in his unwillingness to fight his instincts led to the diplomatic and political turmoil which the President now is attempting to repair.
The events in Istanbul, awful though they were, should never have escalated to this point. The Saudis are familiar with being criticized for a failing human rights record. Trump could have finessed this entire incident as the U.S. has for years. Everyone gets it and knows how it plays out. Instead it became a inflammatory issue which ultimately will reduce U.S. power and prestige in the Gulf.
President Trump ought to recognize that the noose may be tightening. He may believe that cancelling the Russia meeting will counteract the Mueller’s Russia probe, but it is too late. Time is running out. Manafort may no longer be credible and Corsi appears to be crazy, but Michael Cohen is singing for all it is worth. The President is also awaiting what will happen when Michael Flynn is sentenced on December 18.
Christmas at Mar-a-Lago may not be much fun this year.