President Donald Trump named former four-star army general John Abizaid as ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Abizaid has extensive experience in the Middle East, having led the U.S. Central Command during the Iraq war and served as special envoy to the Ukrainian military. The former general fills a role that has been empty since Trump took office at a time when the relationship between the two countries is at an intense point, according to Business Insider.
After the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the United States and Saudia Arabia relations are being tested. Khashoggi, a vocal critic of Saudi leadership, was killed while visiting a Turkish consulate in October. Since then, information has potentially linked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the killing, something that the prince denies.
The U.S. president has promised to exact “severe punishment” against Saudi Arabia if it is discovered that they were involved, though no specific response has taken place at this point.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment,” the president told CBS.
The Trump administration has been criticized for having a weak response to the diplomatic crisis, and a former CIA officer and intelligence analyst has accused the administration of helping the prince cover up the killing.
“At this point, the White House doesn’t see a way out. Saudi Arabia is a volcano and to try and push the Crown Prince out, we don’t have any players [in Saudi Arabia] on our side, so we don’t know what to do,” Bob Baer, who worked as a Middle East CIA case officer, said. “So we have a psychopath sitting in Riyadh controlling the country.”
Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened “to our Saudi Arabian citizen.” He said that they are working closely with Turkey to find answer. I am immediately sending our Secretary of State to meet with King!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 15, 2018
Abizaid, who is of Lebanese Christian descent, gained respect as the longest chief to run the U.S. Central Command. He held that post from 2003 to 2007. The former general learned Arabic in Jordan after earning a scholarship upon graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He then attended Harvard where he obtained a Masters in Middle Eastern Studies. He focused on Saudi defense spending for his graduate thesis.
The 67-year-old’s appointment is a hopeful sign for some that the new ambassador will help navigate the crisis, which has plagued the Trump administration. Until now, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has been essentially acting as the Saudi ambassador after forging a relationship with Prince Mohammed.
Abizaid’s nomination, which took place on Tuesday, will not be official until it is confirmed by the Senate.