Michael Beschloss on the Fallout Over Saudi Arabia

The fallout over the mysterious disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi continues. As all fingers point to Riyadh, author of “Presidents of War” Michael Beschloss joins the program to discuss whether President Trump will turn on a key ally.

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MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: We’ve got a real problem, Christiane, because, you know, of all the presidents I can think of, particularly in modern times, as you know better than anyone, when America has an alliance with another country, especially, an alliance with another country whose values may not be very similar to ours at times, it is extremely important to run that alliance with nuance. And as you know, President Trump may do many things. He does not do nuance well. He has very much thrown in with Saudis. This is a very close relationship of a kind that we haven’t seen much in modern times. It’s very possible that the Saudis interpret that as licensed to do all sorts of things that they might not do had there been a different president. And the other thing is that, you know, remember what Trump has said over and over again in recent month, he says, “Journalists are the enemies of the people.” That is heard in other capitals and they may react to that in ways that we do not want to see.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: You know, it is incredible to hear you say that. Of course, yesterday, many of us took note of what President Trump said. I mean, sort of off the cuff in the oval office he said and the fact that it is a journalist raises this to another level. I mean, it seemed to be defending the notion that a journalist should be, you know, free of attack. So, I hear what you’re saying. It’s sort of a mixed message at the moment. But, you know, some are saying that in every administration, in every era, there are moments that sets the era, that sets the history of this moment, and particularly, in bilateral relations. Do you think this is the moment for this administration when it comes to Saudi Arabia relations?

BESCHLOSS: I think may very well. I think the president may be compelled to, but it is not his natural instinct. If you think of other recent presidents without even being advised to, they would say, “We are now in a different world with this alliance.” I’m not sure he would react to that that way.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me play this soundbite from President Trump who has spoken, he says to the highest levels of the Saudi government just over the last couple of days to try to get some clarity on what just happened. But this is what he had to say about King Salman.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I’ve always found him to be fine man. We’ve had a very good relationship. I’m not happy about this. We have to see what happens, you know. We have to see what happens. Nobody knows what happened yet. They don’t know over there but it’s a very serious situation and it’s something we’re taking very seriously.


AMANPOUR: Now, there are apparently, the president says, U.S. investigators who have gone over there. But I want to, again. put it into this historical context that you write about. The idea of — you just mentioned the press, but certain democratic institutions fraying in the United States, critics have said under this presidency. And you sort of alluded to the fact that that might embolden other leaders who are not Democrats by any stretch of the imagination but more autocrats and dictators, to think, “Well, if it is happening in the U.S. maybe they will look the other way this time.”

About This Episode EXPAND

Christiane Amanpour speaks with presidential historian Michael Beschloss and Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). Michel Martin speaks with author R.J. Young.