Donald Trump left behind a variety of messes for Joe Biden and the country that damaged our standing in the world. The most drastic of these included Trump’s denial of the pandemic, the aftermath of the insurrection at the Capitol, the remaining children separated from their parents at the southern border, removing the country from the Paris Climate Accord, and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The Biden administration is moving admirably to restore our standing as the world’s leading democracy on these issues — with the exception of the Khashoggi murder.
President Biden says he expects the U.S. to take delivery of enough coronavirus vaccine for all adults by the end of May, two months early. In doing this he arranged for competitive drug makers Merck and Johnson & Johnson to work together on producing J&J’s newly approved one-shot vaccine. This is the kind of example America should present to the world.
FBI director Christopher Wray’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee made it clear that the FBI, under President Biden, is committed to mass prosecutions of those who invaded and desecrated the Capitol on January 6. Wray’s dispelling of the Republican conspiracy theory that it was “antifa” or fake Trump supporters who carried out the attack and placing responsibility squarely on domestic terrorists, made up of militias and white supremacists, is an important step in restoring our commitment to the rule of law.
Biden’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announcing the creation of a “Family Reunification Task Force” with plans to reunite hundreds of migrant children taken from their parents under Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy at the southern border. This was a strong statement that the U.S. is still committed to human compassion and decency.
Biden’s rejoining the Paris Climate Accord and setting goals for the U.S. to be completely on clean electricity by 2035, and having a net-zero emissions economy by 2050, are appropriate responses to Trump’s climate denying. These policy goals are also a reaffirmation that America still believes in the science of climate change.
This brings us to the Khashoggi murder. President Trump refused to release his government’s report on the murder. Instead, he said he believed Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) when MBS said “he didn’t do it.” Trump also bragged, “I saved his ass,” to the Washington Post‘s Bob Woodward by refusing to release the report.
At the time, it was widely understood that MBS had ordered Khashoggi’s assassination because of his criticisms of the Saudi regime. Khashoggi was a Washington Post columnist and a permanent U.S. resident. Candidate Biden said he would not only release the report, but that if it implicated MBS, there would be direct repercussions leveled against the Crown Prince.
On February 26, the Biden administration’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the report. It confirmed what was already obvious: “Saudi Arabia’s Crown Price Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.” In releasing the report, the administration imposed sanctions on 18 Saudis the report identified as being directly involved in the killing. Sanctions included asset freezes and travel bans. The administration did not impose these sanctions on MBS, the man who ordered the killing. Once the report was released and sanctions imposed on Saudi operatives, Biden was obligated to impose the same, or more, sanctions on the crown prince.
I understand that our government sees Saudi Arabia as a strategic Middle East ally capable of aiding us both against Iran and Middle East terrorism, and that it believes that MBS will ascend to the Saudi throne replacing his 85-year-old father. However, Biden’s handling of the matter is too reminiscent of Trump’s to be the kind of correction needed to re-establish our standing on the world stage. Granted, in kingdoms, kings, and crown princes, are above the law. However, when their actions blatantly silent dissent by murdering a journalist critical of their regime, the world’s leading democracy cannot give them a pass.
Trump spent four years assaulting our democratic values by siding with dictators over the analysis of our intelligence agencies. He did it in Helsinki when he said he believed Putin over our intelligence agencies regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. (“President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”) He did it when he absolved Kim Jong-un of Otto Warmbier’s death saying: Kim “tells me … he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.” And, he did it by accepting MBS’s denial.
Prior to Trump, America held the undisputed position as the world’s premier democracy committed to the rule of law. Trump’s assaults on our democratic institutions along with presenting himself as standing above the law clearly damaged our world-wide reputation.
President Biden, who believes in our institutions and the standard that no one is above the law, needs to reverse his position on the crown prince. It’s not sufficient to have spoken with King Salman. MBS is the power behind the throne who ordered the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. He needs to be held accountable.
We either believe in the rule of law or we don’t. There can be no exceptions.