Trump rules out sanctions on military equipment sold to Saudi Arabia
Donald Trump recently gave an interview with CBS news in which he stated that if it is proved that Saudi Arabia’s leadership ordered the murder of Saudi born journalist Jamal Khashoggi, there would be “severe punishment” levelled against Riyadh. While the US President did not elaborate on what this punishment might be, he did rule out sanctions that would effect the billions of Dollars worth of military equipment that Washington sells Riyadh on a regular basis.
When asked point blank whether he would impose sanctions on America’s top Arab ally, Trump stated,
“It depends on what the sanctions is (sic). I’ll give you an example. They’re ordering military equipment. Everybody in the world wanted that order. Russia wanted it. China wanted it. We wanted it. We got it and we got all of it – every bit of it”.
When then asked by the interviewer whether Trump would cut these deals off if Riyadh was found to have conspired to murder Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Trump responded,
“Well I’ll tell you what I don’t want to do. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon…I don’t want to hurt jobs. I don’t want to lose an order like that. There are other ways of punishing”.
— Dr. Ali Bakeer (@AliBakeer) October 13, 2018
Thus, far from being evasive, Trump explicitly ruled out sanctions on military equipment to Riyadh and it is safe to say that luxury goods from the US will also not be targeted as these too create jobs in the United States that Trump is keen to protect.
From Brent Kavanaugh to Brent Crude
While Jamal Khashoggi was alive and well, Donald Trump frequently voiced complaints about the rising price of oil. While Trump’s least favourite country China has voiced similar complaints, as a decades long ally of de-facto OPEC leader Saudi Arabia, Trump’s complaints naturally got more attention than those of Riyadh’s newer but potentially more important (in the long term) Chinese partner.
In this sense, Trump’s criticism of Saudi Arabia for reaping the benefits of rising oil prices and his pantomime threat that without US assistance the House of Saud could fall in a fortnight, are in reality rhetorical instruments designed for domestic consumption in addition to a means of exerting leverage against Riyadh in respect of oil prices. Furthermore, there is a level of absurdity to the entire oil price “war” between the US and Saudi Arabia as the US is itself a major exporter of energy although US consumers (drivers in particular) are still reliant on Saudi and other OPEC imports.
However, because Trump does have a desire to “tame” OPEC and by extrapolation the OPEC-Russian petro-alliance, he may well use the almost certain murder of Khashoggi to exert further pressure on Saudi Arabia in respect of oil prices. This too has much to do with domestic politicking as if the prices of petroleum/gasoline drop prior to the forthcoming midterm elections in the US, Trump can take credit for this issue and help his Republican party in the polls as a result. In this sense, after seeing Justice Brent Kavanaugh’s position be elevated in spite of opposition from the Democratic party, Trump’s next desired pre-election “victory” is to lower the price of Brent Crude.
Beyond invoking Khashoggi to put pressure on Riyadh to increase oil producing and thus lower the price of oil, if anything Trump might try to use the Khashoggi to force Saudi Arabia to buy more rather than less from the United States as the issue now gives the US additional leverage to draw Riyadh even closer to Washington and as a result perhaps temporarily further away from its newer partners in Moscow and Beijing.
On the whole though, little will change in the American relationship with Saudi Arabia. This is why as always, it will fall to Turkey to hold Riyadh to account for its likely role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.