Conservatives Blast Trump for Anemic Response to Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s Disappearance

"[Trump’s] statements, so far, have been completely inadequate," never-Trumper Max Boot said.

Photo Credit: Boss Tweed

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and columnist Max Boot are among the right-wing conservatives who have been highly critical of President Donald Trump for being slow to respond to the disappearance of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on Tuesday, October 2.

Khashoggi hasn’t been seen since then, and Turkish officials are alleging that he was murdered inside the Consulate on orders from Saudi Arabia’s government. A U.S. intelligence source told the New York Times that U.S. intelligence had intercepted communications of Saudi agents discussing a plot to either capture or kill Khashoggi.

Although the U.S.’s relationship with Saudi Arabia became tense during Barack Obama’s presidency, Trump has enjoyed a much friendlier relationship with the Saudi government and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, a.k.a. MBS. Trump visited Saudi Arabia in May 2017, and Mohammad has applauded his decision to withdraw from the Obama Administration’s nuclear arms agreement with Iran. Unlike Trump, Obama had few kind words for the Saudi government, often attacking its history of human rights abuses and its role in funding jihadist terrorism.

Khashoggi was also critical of the Saudi government—and he went into exile in the U.S. in 2017, fearing that he would be arrested as part of Prince Mohammad’s crackdown on dissent. The journalist was planning to remarry, and he visited the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to obtain a document showing that he was legally divorced from his ex-wife. Knowing that Khashoggi would be at the Consulate on October 2, the New York Times has reported, Saudi agents planned to kill him and dismember his body inside the Consulate.

On October 2, Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatic Cengiz waited for him outside the Consulate for 11 hours, but he never came out—and Cengiz fears that Khashoggi was either kidnapped or killed. The Saudi government, including Prince Mohammad, has denied that allegation, insisting that Khashoggi freely left the Consulate shortly after his arrival. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded that Saudi officials prove Khashoggi left the Consulate alive. 

During an October 9 interview with CNN’s Don Lemon, Boot was extremely critical of Trump’s anemic response to Khashoggi’s disappearance—declaring, “This administration cannot sweep this under the rug.”

Boot told Lemon, “If these reports are accurate, they lured (Khashoggi) into their consulate in Istanbul on the soil of a NATO country and killed and dismembered him. This is the way the most brutal, heinous regimes in the world behave….. If (Trump) is not reading MBS, the crown prince, the riot act, he is being derelict in his duty. If Donald Trump is not getting in touch with the king of Saudi Arabia, he is being derelict in his duty….(Trump’s) statements, so far, have been completely inadequate.”

Writing in the American Conservative on October 9, right-wing journalist Daniel Larison was equally critical—saying, “The messages coming from the Trump Administration are scarcely better than boilerplate statements, and it shows that the administration has no interest in criticizing the Saudi government or in holding them accountable for their crime.”

On October 8, Vice President Mike Pence addressed the journalist’s disappearance on Twitter, posting, “Deeply troubled to hear reports about Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. If true, this is a tragic day. Violence against journalists across the globe is a threat to freedom of the press & human rights. The free world deserves answers.”

That same day, President Trump was asked about Khashoggi’s disappearance and didn’t have much to say apart from “I am concerned about it.”

But when David Ignatius, one of Khashoggi’s colleagues at the Washington Post, appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday morning, October 10, host Joe Scarborough—a former Florida congressman who left the GOP because of his disdain for Trump’s presidency—asserted that Trump needs to be much more outspoken and proactive about Khashoggi’s disappearance, noting that Khashoggi’s criticism of the Saudi government “was certainly not extreme.”

Scarborough stressed that when Trump visited Saudi Arabia last year, the Saudi government “made such a fool of him. They played him like a dolt.”

“The administration is so close to Saudi Arabia,” Scarborough told Ignatius. “Jared Kushner is so close to MBS. Donald Trump was flattered because the Saudis flashed his image up on buildings on one of his first foreign trips, and he’s a sucker for that sort of thing. He completely collapsed, caved in to it. The question now is, ‘Will Donald Trump keep playing dumb, as he did yesterday when he was asked about it—or is he going to start putting pressure on Saudi Arabia to give us some answers….This is an outrage, and MBS has to be not just called out, but has to be shunned by the world community if, in fact, he’s doing this to Washington Post columnists.”

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Alex Henderson is a news writer at AlterNet and veteran political journalist. His work has also appeared in Salon, Raw Story, Truthdig, National Memo, Philadelphia Weekly, Democratic Underground, L.A. Weekly, MintPress News and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.