Trump Picks Retired General To Fill Vacancy As Ambassador To Saudi Arabia

If confirmed, Gen. John Abizaid, who oversaw the Iraq war, would step into rising tensions over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

President Donald Trump has nominated retired Army Gen. John Abizaid to fill the long-vacant job of U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia amid tensions over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The four-star general, now a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution think tank and a private consultant, headed the U.S. Central Command from 2003 until 2007, overseeing the Iraq war and military operations across the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia is a key U.S. economic, diplomatic and strategic partner in the Middle East, though relations have been strained since the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the kingdom. After denying responsibility, the Saudis admitted Khashoggi was slain in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul at the hands of Saudi personnel. 

The Saudi ambassador post, which requires Senate confirmation, has been vacant since Trump became president. Trump’s selection of a military figure may reflect the kingdom’s importance as a customer of U.S. weaponry. The U.S. has chosen not to suspend Saudi arms sales in the wake of Khashoggi’s death, but has warned of an unspecified response.

U.S. weapons have been linked to the Saudi-led campaign against Yemen, a topic garnering raised interest following Khashoggi’s killing. Congress is expected to vote this month whether to end American support for the Saudi coalition fighting in Yemen, and the U.S. and U.K. have called for a cease-fire. The conflict has spawned one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in recent years. 

The Trump administration has prioritized the U.S. relationship with the Saudis, placing senior adviser Jared Kushner in charge of bonding with newly minted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.