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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Trump avoids offending Saudis after trainee kills 3 U.S. sailors

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before boarding

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Dec. 7. Credit: AP / Alex Brandon

President Donald Trump's soft-spoken response to a mass shooting carried out in Florida by a member of Saudi Arabia's military seems to have met the kingdom's idea of political correctness.

Starkly absent was all Trump's fierce talk about Islamic terrorism, getting "smart," about "extreme vetting" for outsiders, banning those from Muslim-majority nations until we "figure out what's going on" or of pursuing suspects' families.

Consider the contrast. On July 4, 2016 he tweeted: "With Hillary [Clinton] and [Barack] Obama, the terrorist attacks will only get worse. Politically correct fools, won't even call it what it is — RADICAL ISLAM!"

On Dec. 6, Mohammed Alshamrani, a Saudi Air Force trainee, used a 9mm handgun to slay three U.S. Navy men and injure eight others. Sheriff's deputies killed him, ending the massacre that began in a classroom at the Naval Air Station Pensacola. 

Days earlier, Alshamrani had hosted a dinner party where he and three others watched videos of mass shootings, a U.S. official said. There were multiple reports that he also posted online criticism of U.S. wars and American support for Israel, and quoted 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, a Saudi citizen until 1994.

Trump's first action in the bloody Pensacola aftermath was to focus on the fact that King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saudhad called him with condolences. 

“The king will be involved in taking care of families and loved ones,” Trump said, while faithfully relaying Salman's statement to reporters.

Robert O'Brien, Trump's latest national security adviser, toed the line. "The Saudis have promised full cooperation with the investigation,” O’Brien said three days after the shootings. “We’re going to take them at their word.”

The presumed need or advantage of hosting non-U. S. citizens at Pensacola or other training facilities is drawing scrutiny in the massacre's wake.

Trump once again faces criticism from both parties in Congress over a strikingly passive approach to Riyadh.

"It’s way past time to quit arming and training the Saudis!" Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) tweeted.

The president's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner has a privilege-based alliance with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Trump backs the kingdom's war in Yemen. Early in his term he tweeted support for the Saudi-supported blockade of Qatar, where the U.S. has a large base.

In addition to frequently exaggerating the volume of U.S. defense business with the kingdom, the president soft-pedaled that government's assassination of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Since the Pensacola attack, the Pentagon announced suspension of hands-on training for hundreds of Saudis in the United States, although classroom instruction continues.

Alshamrani, who was 21, came to the United States two years ago. Using a loophole in federal law, he legally purchased the Glock handgun in July after getting a Florida hunting license, officials said. His radicalization may have begun in 2015, national security sources have said.

Aspiring U.S. aviators Kaleb Watson, 23, Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, and Cameron Scott Walters, 21, died in the attack.

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