It has turned out to be not just bad, but the worst of all worlds: A bonding of two neophyte rulers, both emboldened by their sycophantic courtesans and eager to showcase their new power – yet naively ignorant about how the world really works.
Especially: The inescapable consequences of how quickly things can go horribly and irreversibly wrong.
That seems to be what happened behind the scenes that has apparently resulted in a horrific reported assassination of a Washington Post journalist by secret agent assassins from Saudi Arabia.
We've been learning what happened, one clue-snippet at a time – as if a Hollywood murder intrigue is playing out in slow-motion on our news screens and pages. And now we are in a most baffling position. We have a good idea of just who deserves world condemnation for what went so horribly wrong: Saudi Arabia's 33-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, newly ascended to his position as the kingdom's de facto ruler. And we know who to condemn for naively championing and encouraging this reckless young ruler: President Donald Trump and his naive, woefully inexperienced son-in-law and top Middle East advisor, Jared Kushner, who quickly formed a generational friendship with the Saudi crown prince. But we still don't have final proof that this alleged murder was actually perpetrated.
Here's what the world knows:
A Saudi-born middle-aged journalist who became a critic of the Saudi monarchy's policies and began writing his opinions for the Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi, was seen on closed-circuit TV going into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, last week to get an official paper so he could get married. His fiancee waited for him outside. But Khashoggi simply vanished. The Saudis say he left the consulate but offered no proof. Those same closed-circuit cameras apparently never saw Khashoggi exit the consulate.
Turkey's regime, meanwhile, has documented and disclosed that, just before Khashoggi entered the consulate, two Saudi planes brought 15 apparent agents to Istanbul and they drove to the consulate. Turkey's government has said that Khashoggi was murdered while inside the consulate and that his body was dismembered and was believed to have been carried out in pieces. Then the two Saudi planes departed Istanbul and returned to Saudi Arabia.
Now global experts in Middle East policy are blaming America's new president for having repeatedly supported and encouraged Saudi Arabia's new de facto ruler's recklessly militant domestic and global conduct.
Consider Trump's two years of encouraging words, winks, signals and look-the-other-ways:
--Trump's first international trip was to Saudi Arabia, as the Saudis strongly supported Trump's early scrapping of the Iran nuclear deal.
-- In 2017, when the Saudi crown prince visited the White House, Trump reportedly never mentioned Saudi human rights abuses, in contrast to his presidential predecessors. And Trump said of his Saudi guest: "The relationship is probably the strongest it's ever been. We understand each other."
-- In 2017, when the crown prince rounded up dozens of executives and other royal family members and kept them virtually imprisoned in the Riyadh Ritz Carlton until they handed over their assets. The Washington Post called a "massive shakedown;" but Trump tweeted his approval on November 6, 2017: "I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. They know exactly what they are doing."
-- This summer, when Mohammed expanded the Saudi war in Yemen against Iran and its proxies, and a Saudi airstrike killed dozens of children, Trump's administration continued Saudi aid by issuing a congressionally required certification that Saudi Arabia was taking adequate steps to avoid civilian casualties – despite evidence this wasn't the case.
-- U.S. intelligence intercepts discovered the crown prince had ordered a plan to lure Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia to detain him – but Trump officials never shared the warning with Khashoggi, The Washington Post reported this week.
On Tuesday Kushner and Trump national security adviser John Bolton talked by phone with the crown prince, the White House announced. Officials didn't say what the Saudi prince told them – or any ultimatum Trump's courtesans conveyed.
This week, for six days following Khashoggi's disappearance, Trump's administration remained infuriatingly silent on the subject as dire news of the mystery spread around the world. But on Tuesday Kushner and Trump's national security adviser John Bolton talked by phone with the crown prince. The White House released that but gave no indication of what the Saudi prince told them – or any ultimatum Trump's courtesans conveyed.
On Wednesday, a subdued and somewhat shaken Trump told reporters: "It's a very bad situation. ...We cannot let this happen – to reporters, to anyone."
Perhaps Trump has begun to understand the real world consequences of his words and deeds. As a Middle East policy expert to Republican and Democratic presidents, Aaron David Miller, now a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, tweeted:
"If Saudis were involved in Jamal's death or disappearance, that's obviously on them. But in failing to call (the Saudi crown prince) out on just about anything, particularly repression at home, Trump Administration has emboldened him and given him (the) sense he can do anything."