When a Saudi Air Force officer opened fire on his classmates at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday, he killed three, wounded eight and exposed anew the strange dynamic between President Donald Trump and the Saudi leadership: The president’s first instinct was to tamp down on any suggestion that the Saudi government needed to be held to account.
Hours later, Trump announced on Twitter that he had received a condolence call from King Salman of Saudi Arabia, who clearly sought to ensure that the episode did not further fracture their relationship. On Saturday, leaving the White House for a trip here for a Republican fundraiser and a speech on Israeli-American relations, Trump told reporters that “they are devastated in Saudi Arabia,” noting that “the king will be involved in taking care of families and loved ones.” He never used the word “terrorism.”
What was missing was any assurance that the Saudis would aid in the investigation, help identify the suspect’s motives, or answer the many questions about the vetting process for a coveted slot at one of the country’s premier schools for training allied officers. Or, more broadly, why the United States continues to train members of the Saudi military even as that same military faces credible accusations of repeated human rights abuses in Yemen, including the dropping of munitions that maximize civilian casualties.