By now, observers in Asia and North American have probably sensed that President Trump’s threats of “severe punishment” for Saudi Arabia, should proof emerge that the kingdom masterminded the murder of Washington Post columnist and dissident expatriate Jamal Khashoggi, were disingenuous. The US intelligence community already has evidence that Saudi was targeting Khashoggi for writing some less-than-flattering things about Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Of course, Trump knows that sanctioning the Saudis or blocking arms sales to the regime could provoke a disproportionate reaction: Worst-case, the kingdom could ‘weaponize’ oil and provoke a global recession. Best case, thousands of those manufacturing jobs that President Trump has fought so hard for could disappear.
But following reports that the Kingdom is preparing to admit its role on Khashoggi’s death (the official story: that Khashoggi was killed during an interrogation by rogue killers), Republican lawmakers are stepping up their rhetoric against the kingdom, with several Republican leaders in the Senate saying on Tuesday that the body could move to sanction Saudi Arabia, a policy that would likely find widespread purchase with liberal lawmakers. As speculation that Republicans could levy sanctions against Saudi Arabia via the Magnitsky Act, the controversial law passed to make it easier for the US to punish Russian officials for perceived human rights abuses, Mitch McConnell left the door open to this possibility, saying “it may well be.”
“I can’t imagine there won’t be [a response] but I think we need to find out what happened,” he told Bloomberg. “It may well” be worth sanctioning through Magnitsky Act.
But compared with Lindsey Graham’s comments on Fox and Friends, McConnell’s take was relatively mild.
Lindsey Graham, speaking during an interview with Fox and Friends, said that while he was once Saudi Arabia’s biggest ally, he would never again support Saudi Arabia – and that he would vote to “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia” – if Mohammad bin Salman remains in charge. “That guy’s got to go,” he said.
Lindsey Graham: MBS is a “wrecking ball” who had Khashoggi murdered, he’s “toxic” and he’s “gotta go.”
“This guy is a wrecking ball, he had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey, and to expect me to ignore it, I feel used and abused.” (via Fox) pic.twitter.com/aUnZQzsdb8
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) October 16, 2018
Marco Rubio has perhaps been the most consistently vocal in his demands that the US consider halting arms sales to the Kingdom, chiming in two weeks ago following initial reports of Khashoggi’s disappearance that the US should be prepared to punish KSA if reports about Khashoggi’s murder were found to be true. During a recent interview on CNN, Rubio asserted that, if Trump fails to punish Saudi Arabia (assuming the murder is verified) “there will be a very strong Congressional response.” Rubio added that he has already asked for a Magnitsky investigation, meaning that the individuals involved in the killing would be sanctioned.
But not all Republicans feel so strongly. As of Tuesday morning, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin still intends to travel to Saudi’s “Davos in the Desert” next week, though via statement’s from his office, he is keeping his options open.