Who needs Saudi Arabia?
President Trump shows off posters as he talks with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of the Saudi Arabia during a meeting in the White House on March 20 in Washington. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post) October 15 at 7:50 PM
SAUDI ARABIA, so far, has tried bluster and bullying to silence the questions about journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago Tuesday. On Sunday, a regime statement threatened to ârespond with a larger actionâ to any sanction stemming from the case; Saudi-owned media floated such steps as cutting back oil production, buying arms from Russia and holding back counterterrorism intelligence. On Monday, King Salman told President Trump in a phone call that he âdenies any k nowledge of what took place,â according to Mr. Trump, who added âit sounded to me like maybe it could have been rogue killers.â
That preposterous suggestion may have anticipated a change in the Saudi story; CNN reported that the regime was preparing to admit that Mr. Khashoggi died in an interrogation gone wrong. If so, there must be consequences not just for those who supposedly erred in killing the journalist but also for whomever ordered the illegal operation in the first place. U.S. intelligence intercepts suggest the order came from Mohammed bin Salman, the reckless crown prince whose excesses had been criticized by Mr. Khashoggi in columns for The Post.
We expect to learn more soon: Whatever happened to Mr. Khashoggi appears to have been recorded on video or audiotape. In the meantime, itâs worth considering just how much the United States might have to lose if its relationship with Saudi Arabia ruptured. What about that oil, and the $110 billion in arms purchases Mr. Trump keeps talking about? What about the war on terrorism?
Start with the oil. Saudi Arabia, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, supplied 9 percent of U.S. petroleum imports in 2017, or about 960,000 barrels a day. But thanks to the shale revolution, the United States is essentially energy independent: It, not Saudi Arabia, is now the worldâs largest crude-oil producer. Last year, U.S. daily oil exports averaged 6.38 million barrels, or nearly seven times the Saudi imports. If the Saudis cut back production or boycotted the United States, they could temporarily drive up prices, but the beneficiaries would be U.S. shale companies, which over time would fill the gap â" and deal a devastating blow to the Saudi oil industry.
As for arms sales, someone needs to brief Mr. Trump on the actual results of the promises made to him when he visited Riyadh last year. As Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution sums it up, âThe Saudis have n ot concluded a single major arms deal with Washington on Trumpâs watch.â Moreover, an end to supplies of U.S. spare parts and technical support, something Russia cannot provide, would quickly ground the Saudi air force. That would have the welcome effect of ending a bloody bombing campaign in Yemen that a U.N. investigation concluded was probably responsible for war crimes.
Saudi Arabia does supply the United States with counterterrorism intelligence. But as Andrew Miller of the Project on Middle East Democracy points out, stopping it âwould be a colossal error .â.â. when thereâs already a strong perception in Congress and with Americans that Saudi Arabia has fueled extremism.â Mr. Miller notes that a law passed by Congress in 2016 opens the way for civil suits against the Saudi government for any terrorist acts it enables.
The reality is that Saudi Arabia, which, as Mr. Trump himself has crudely pointed out, would not survive without U.S. security suppor t, has everything to lose from a break in relations, while the United States no longer needs the kingdom as much as it once did. Mr. Trump has overvalued the relationship and encouraged Saudi leaders to believe they can behave recklessly and even criminally without consequence. Whatever the outcome of the Khashoggi case, a fundamental reshaping of the relationship â" mandated by Congress, if necessary â" is imperative.
Read Jamal Khashoggiâs columns for The Washington Post
David Ignatius: Jamal Khashoggiâs long road to the doors of the Saudi Consulate
The Postâs View: The backlash to Khashoggiâs alleged murder is growing â" except in the White House
Hatice Cengiz: Please, President Trump, shed light on my fianceâs disappearance
Elliott Abrams: Why Jamal Khashoggiâs disappearance will haunt the Saudi governmentSource: Google News Saudi Arabia | Netizen 24 Saudi Arabia