Giulia Petroni is a journalism student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
US President Donald Trump has sparked uproar once again, after issuing an extraordinary public statement declaring his administration's support for Saudi Arabia.
US officials said last week that the Central Intelligence Agency had concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia had ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. But yesterday, President Trump dismissed the assessment, while making clear that the benefits of good relations with the kingdom outweigh the possibility of Washington turned its back on its Middle Eastern ally.
"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 Tuesday in the statement. “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.”
The US earlier sanctioned 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for Khashoggi’s murder, but the president has rejected calls for a tougher response. He told reporters that oil prices would "skyrocket" if the US broke with the Saudis, and he was not going to "destroy" the world's economy by being "foolish with Saudi Arabia."
"If we abandon Saudi Arabia, it would be a terrible mistake," he said.
Trump's stance underscores his world view of putting US interests — both financial and geopolitical — above all else. His priorities in the Middle East remain protecting Israel, fighting terrorism and pushing back against Iran, which he considers the engine behind instability in Lebanon and the wars in Yemen and Syria.
“We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi," Trump said. "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."
Democrats harshly criticized Trump's decision Tuesday and called on Congress to cut off arms sales to Saudi Arabia and end support for Saudi Arabia's war against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen, which is facing a humanitarian crisis.
"Standing with Saudi Arabia is not 'America First!'" said Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, where Khashoggi lived. "President Trump has sided with a murderous regime over patriotic American intelligence officials."
The mistake was Trump's, said Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, contending the administration has "blinders on" in comparing Iran and Saudi Arabia.
"It's a sign of weakness not to stand up to Saudi Arabia," Paul said. "Sometimes when you have two evils, maybe you don't support either side."
Republican Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator who is close to Trump, also disagreed with the president's statement, saying America must not lose its "moral voice" on the international stage.
"It is not in our national security interests to look the other way when it comes to the brutal murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi," Graham said.
Likewise, Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said that to suggest that US silence can be bought with arms sales "undermines respect for the office of the presidency, the credibility of our intelligence community and America's standing as a champion of human rights."
The CIA had no comment on the president's statement. However, former agency director John Brennan, a frequent Trump critic, tweeted: "Since Mr. Trump excels in dishonesty, it is now up to members of Congress to obtain & declassify the CIA findings on Jamal Khashoggi's death. No one in Saudi Arabia — most especially the Crown Prince —should escape accountability for such a heinous act."