( CNN) Donald Trump may be positioning himself, and by extension the American people, yet again, on the wrong side of another profound moral divide — defending an utterly criminal regime in the Middle East to which he plighted his troth from the earliest days of his presidency — the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In the past 24 hours, reports have emerged that a government hit squad, said to have been dispatched directly by bin Salman, first in line to the Saudi throne, seized, interrogated, tortured, then killed and, utilizing a bone consider, dismembered the body of a journalist. Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was one of the regime's leading critics.

A central question now is just how far Trump may be prepared to go in defense of the various kinds of rabid values the Saudis now seem to have embraced. But even more important for American interests, at home and abroad, are the potential consequences.