Foreign Policy

Trump and Graham Play Good Cop, Bad Cop

Trump's strategy is to keep the Saudis in our corner but get them to be better allies.

Nate Jackson · Dec. 5, 2018

“Trump-GOP rift grows over Saudis,” blared the headline in The Hill. The topic at hand is the ongoing kerfuffle over Saudi Arabia’s deliberate and brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October. The specifics this week include CIA Director Gina Haspel’s briefing to the Senate, in which she reiterated the agency’s assessment that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder, and Sen. Lindsey Graham’s Wall Street Journal op-ed rebuking the Saudis — and Trump.

Graham wrote not just of the murder but other issues: “The Saudi regime’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi, its reckless military campaign in Yemen, its blockade of Qatar, and its effort to remove Lebanon’s prime minister all show astounding arrogance entitlement, and disregard for international norms. If these actions make Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia a ‘source of stability’ in the Middle East, I’d hate to see what destabilizing behavior looks like.”

Moreover, Graham called Salman “a wrecking ball to U.S.-Saudi relations” and insisted, “The fear that the Saudis will stop cooperating with the U.S. on terrorism or Iran isn’t rational. Those threats pose as much of a danger to the Saudis as they do to America. Demanding better from allies isn’t downgrading the relationship; it’s a sign that Americans take our principles seriously and won’t be taken advantage of by anyone, friend or foe.”

Graham’s words are tough and true. But we also think the “rift” between GOP senators and the president is not as wide as the Leftmedia would have us believe. In fact, we’d argue this is a good cop, bad cop routine between Trump and his critics. Trump takes a backseat to no one when it comes to bashing people as it suits his purpose. He can also be just as effusively gracious when that is more likely to meet his goal.

As we’ve said from the beginning, Trump is using this incident for leverage with the Saudis. By presenting a “divided” front to the Saudis, Trump and the GOP are arguably more likely to get the desired results from the Saudis than if a united front presented an opportunity for a defensive House of Saud to circle the wagons. Remember: Trump’s strategy — and it’s the right one — is to keep the Saudis in our corner but get them to be better allies to truly serve U.S. interests.

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