Will Trump Help Saudis Go Nuke?

President Donald Trump is quite willing to let Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman get away with murder just so he can hang on to an amorphous multi-billion-dollar arms deal whose quantity and price Trump greatly misrepresented.

It’s all about deals for Trump, so even if the CIA exposed the “smoking [bone] saw,” in the words of the president’s close ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), he is willing to absolve the defacto ruler of Saudi Arabia of any responsibility in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The bottom line, says Trump, is if we don’t sell it to them others will.  Leave aside the holes in that porous argument,  you have to worry what Trump will say when his favorite prince asks for nukes.  Pakistan comes to mind as the competition for that deal, since the Saudis helped finance that country’s nuclear weapons project. North Korea is another potential seller.

The alternative sources has been used by just about every administration for more than 40 years in my experience working to block weapons sales that would threaten Israel’s qualitative edge.  Trump takes it to a new level with his role in trying to cover up the Khashoggi murder and grovel to the brutal prince.

Today there is another added dimension beyond Trump’s eagerness to sell the Riyadh royals anything their greedy heart’s desire. Nuclear weapons.

MBS, as the prince is known, moved quickly to embrace the new president with a lavish and flattering reception on his maiden trip abroad, to Saudi Arabia.

MBS was instrumental in convincing Trump to pull out of the Iran nuclear accord and declared that  if the Iranians attempt to develop a nuclear weapon “we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been conducting secret talks with the kingdom about building a network of nuclear power plants, but the regime wants to produce its own fuel (though it is available elsewhere more cheaply), the New York Times reported.  That raises concerns that the Saudis could divert the lower energy grade fuel from their centrifuges to highly enriched weapons grade uranium.  Deepening concerns is the Saudis’ reported insistence that UN inspectors would not be given free access to its.

The administration has been very secretive about its nuclear discussions with the Saudis, and Trump’s affinity for the royals is raising fear that the kingdom could secretly go nuclear with his collaboration.

The administration is using the same argument as with weapons: if we don’t sell nuclear energy equipment to the Saudis someone else will, according to the Times.

If the U.S.-Saudi relationship under this administration had a theme song, it would come from Damn Yankees:  Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets.

Lola, in this case, is the 33-year-old crown prince who has forged a close relationship with the president and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.  Published reports quote MBS boasting he has Kushner, who may be the Saudi leader’s only Jewish friend, in his pocket.  You’ll find Trump in there, too.

Before the Saudi kill squad had washed Jamal Khashoggi’s blood from their bone saw and disposed of his body parts, the president was on the phone helping MBS craft a cover story about “rogue killers.”

The first word of the murder was raised by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamist despot who hates the Saudis almost as much as he hates Israel.  To try to get Erdogan to ease off on his attacks on MBS, Trump is reportedly considering extraditing Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999.  Erdogan has accused him of multiple crimes and wants him returned to Turkey, where he’s likely to meet a fate similar to Khashoggi’s.

Trump is anxious to get beyond the Khashoggi case out of fear it could darken his dreams of hundreds of billions of dollars in arms deals.

The Saudis want to buy the stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the world’s most advanced and most expensive.  At the same time they’re talking to the Russians about buying their S-400 air defense system, which is designed to shoot down US-built planes.  You can imagine how much the Russians would like to get their hands on the F-35, or just a deep look inside.  There’s no way the Pentagon would allow its top technology to be compromised, even if the president thought it would bring in a few billion more bucks.

Other than in Trump’s unsophisticated and uninformed mind, the Saudis do not have great leverage over the United States; quite the reverse.  They have survived and thrived under America’s nuclear umbrella (Operation Desert Storm, etc.).

After we rescued them from Saddam, they told us to get out and go “15 minutes away over the horizon” and keep our nukes ready to protect them.  Now, they are thinking about getting their own nukes.

For the transactional Trump, it is all about business.  One murdered journalist or thousands of dead Yemini women and children aren’t that important when there’s profit to be had.

The Saudis are good customers –not just of the Pentagon and arms industry but of Trump himself.  He has boasted “I make lots of money with them…They pay me millions and hundreds of millions” for his apartments, his hotels, his yacht, and since becoming president they’re flocking to stay at his hotels, even if others seem to be staying away.

The Washington Post Thursday revealed that a Saudi-funded lobbyists paid an estimated $768 a night for some 500  at Trump’s luxury hotel near the White House shortly after the election.

When Trump boasts his administration is  “a well-oiled machine,” he’s not referring to the well-known chaos in the West Wing but to Saudi oil.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.