Conservative commentator John Podhoretz tried to justify President Donald Trump’s trust in the crown prince of Saudi Arabia — and other panelists on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” shut him down.
The Trump administration’s diplomatic relationship with Saudi Arabia is coming under new scrutiny after the disappearance and apparent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but Podhoretz insisted the president was right to build a relationship with Mohammed bin Salman.
“Yeah, he is a tough guy,” Podhoretz said. “He made a bet that this 32-year-old guy might be a visionary on the model of (Mustafa Kemal) Atatürk at the outset or first two decades of the 20th century, that he was going to take this country that was rich but backward and he was going to pull it into the 21st century and get it into the community of nations before the oil power runs out in 20 or 30 years.”
Podhoretz agreed the killing of an American resident was barbaric, but he used passive voice and historical metaphors to argue that Khashoggi’s murder may have been worth closer relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
“He was willing to go into alliance with Israel and change the balance of power in the Middle East, and you go with him,” Podhoretz said. “Then he does this pre-modern thing, right, he lures somebody into the embassy, the guy gets killed, he may have been dismembered, it’s — you know, it’s Henry II and Becket, it’s not a 21st century leader. On the other hand you would say it’s the Middle East, who knows what they do, these people.”
Analyst John Heilemann took the first whack at Podhoretz.
“John, the thing you just described, the bet you just described is the bet that all kinds of people in the West made about MBS,” he said. “That’s the bet that the calculation people made, they’re willing to overlook all the stuff … all the stuff MBS has done that’s been horrible, they say he had a modernizer on certain fronts, he’ll let women drive, go to a movie or something.”
“That’s the bet that a lot of westerners made,” Heilemann continued, “and they are all feeling morally compromised now and looking at each other going, how do we allow this guy to behave not just with impunity but with our hands on his back telling him what a great guy he was?”
He said Trump’s gamble was even more tawdry.
“That’s not the bet Trump made,” Heilemann said. “The bet that Trump made was, ‘I made a lot of money in Saudi Arabia over the course of my career, and I’m going to make a lot of money further going forward, and my son-in-law will make a lot of money.’ Trump did not have a grand vision about modernizing the Middle East.”