Tuesday, October 16, 2018

In the Matter of Jamal Khashoggi

We do not know what happened to Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Turkey on October 2. Today, all indications point to a murder, possibly ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Yet, but the young prince has many enemies, at home and abroad. Could his enemies have arranged an assassination in order to discredit him? Or, did he simply decide to rid himself of a man he considered a threat to his autocratic rule?

As I said, we do not know. So, I have refrained from offering commentary about the case.

As for Khashoggi’s credentials as a reformist liberal democrat, the German daily newspaper Die Welt suggests that such is not the case. David Goldman reports on that paper’s discoveries:

Germany's leading right-of-center daily Die Welt this morning reveals that Jamal Khashoggi was not a journalist, but a high-level operative for the Saudi intelligence service, an intimate of Osama bin Laden, and the nephew of the shadiest of all Arab arms dealers, the infamous Adnan Khashoggi. John Bradley reported last week in the Spectator that Khashoggi, who allegedly met a grisly end in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization that among other things wants to replace the Saudi monarchy with a modern Islamist totalitarian state.

And, Khashoggi also despised the current Crown Prince because he strongly opposed the prince’s more positive attitude toward Israel:

Among other things, we know that Khashoggi was bitterly opposed to the new Saudi government's rapprochement with the state of Israel. As a Muslim Brotherhood member, he backed Palestinian intransigence.

In the Wall Street Journal this morning Walter Russell Mead offers a good analysis of the state of play in this diplomatic chess game:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, flying to Riyadh at short notice to bring some order to the chaos, is well acquainted with the hard facts of the Middle East. He knows the crown prince’s Saudi Arabia is not an authoritarian caterpillar metamorphosing into a liberal butterfly. But neither are Turkey and Iran. And on crucial issues, U.S. and Saudi interests are aligned. The U.S. wants to ensure that no single power, inside or outside the Middle East, has control over the world’s oil spigot. That means Saudi Arabia must remain independent and secure.

Mead is suggesting that a man like Mike Pompeo is well suited to deal with the complexities of the situation. We are fortunate that he is running the State Department.

Mead offers his views of what we should not do:

There are two things the U.S. should not do. One is sweep Mr. Khashoggi’s murder under the rug. His disappearance has damaged Saudi Arabia’s standing, including in Congress. Mr. Pompeo needs to deliver a clear message that this behavior weakens and ultimately endangers the alliance. He should not be deterred by Saudi threats. Like the American Confederates who overestimated the power of King Cotton in the 1860s, the Saudis tend to overestimate King Oil’s power today.

And we should not:

But to do what the Iran-deal chorus and the Erdogan and Muslim Brotherhood apologists want—to dissolve the U.S.-Saudi alliance in a frenzy of righteousness—would be an absurd overreaction that plays into the hands of America’s enemies. It could also stampede the Saudis into even more recklessness.

Many of those who are leading the chorus against the Saudi Crown Prince are unabashed supporters of the Turkish autocrat, Erdogan and even the Iranian mullahs. Former Obama administration officials are still smarting from the Trump administration rejection of their heralded nuclear deal. They wanted to align America with the America-hating and Israel-hating mullahs… and they are not going to go down without a fight.

I find the phrase “frenzy of righteousness” to be especially apt. It applies well to grandstanding senators like Marco Rubio. Given his permanent frenzy over these matters one is happy that he is not sitting in the oval office today.

Mead concludes, sensibly:

To restore balance and sobriety to its foreign policy, Saudi Arabia needs to calm down, and only the U.S. can provide the assurances to make that possible. Among other things, this entails coordinating with the Saudis (and the Israelis) on a policy aimed at containing Iran and stabilizing the region. It also involves encouraging the economic transformation the Saudis seek at home. Even as he responds with appropriate gravity to a serious provocation, Mr. Pompeo must give Saudi authorities the confidence that sober and sensible policies will bring continuing American support for the kingdom’s independence and reform.

Also weighing in on Sunday in the Times of London was Niall Ferguson. He asks us to put these matters in perspective, especially in regard to the Turkish accusers:

The government currently pointing the accusing finger at Saudi Arabia is none other than Turkey’s. Right now, 68 journalists are serving jail sentences in Turkey, with a further 169 held awaiting trial.

Ferguson asserts some of the principles of balance-of-powers diplomacy. In these circumstances they are well worth recalling:

The problem is not a new one: it is as old as American foreign policy. You can’t be a great power, much less a superpower, and not have dealings — and sometimes alliances — with nasty, undemocratic regimes. And the mere fact you form alliances with them won’t make them change their ways.

You would think by now this simple truth would be obvious. But no. There will always be a market for hacks wanting to write “J’accuse” articles about any president or secretary of state (so long as he’s Republican) who has “blood on his hands” because he shook the hands of dictators.

Yes, indeed. Many of the hacks who are decrying the alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi are Trump haters who have a vested interested in Trump’s-- and America’s failure. Given how unhinged they are, they will do everything in their power to forced Trump to fail… lest they be shown to be raving fools.

Of course, not a one of those who are current attacking Trump and the Crown Prince uttered a word when the Iranian mullahs suppressed a burgeoning democracy movement in 2009. They had nothing to say when the Obama administration refused even to condemn a regime that was systematically torturing and murdering student protesters. Not a one of them criticized the nuclear deal which effectively funded the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.

Ferguson concludes:

In foreign policy, sad to relate, the measure of success is not the cleanness of the hands you shake; it’s how far the strategy you pursue achieves its intended goals. I still rate the Trump administration’s strategy higher than that of Obama, because confronting Iran with a broad coalition — from Israel to Saudi Arabia — makes more sense than betting on good behaviour by Tehran, which was the essence of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Will this strategy make the Arab autocrats nicer people? Did the Iran deal make the ayatollahs any sweeter?

In the end, what matters is not our moral preening but the success of the Trump administration’s strategic realignment in the Middle East.


Hal said...

John Brennan is criticizing SA and Trump thus this has nothing to do with SA and Trump.

Dan Patterson said...

Realignment is a mild word for the repentance needed in the ME. This latest event is one in a long train of destruction; best to the administration officials and worker bees in correcting a dangerous and deadly path.

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: In the end, what matters is not our moral preening but the success of the Trump administration’s strategic realignment in the Middle East.

Perhaps, but that's not the way Trump explained it. It's not clear Trump cares about anything but money here. He said we have hundreds of billions of dollars of arms sales to the Saudis which means thousands of jobs, and all the related tax revenues at stake. And he said if we don't sell arms to the Saudi's, the Russians and Chinese are more than willing to step in to be new suppliers. So you can see his morality is no higher than those with money and resources and will to power make the rules.

As well, it would be nice to not worry that Trump wasn't getting paid off personally through Trump Organization by the Saudi's to keep our deals coming. There's lots of ways for corruption, and the easiest are buying things above market values to gain access to Trump's good will.

Unknown said...

I totally agree that Khashoggi should NEVER have been killed for any reason. And the people held responsible SHOULD be punished. However, the same way media outlets outside the MENA region were quick to publish a negative story from the region, that is the same way they should make good things from the region go viral. If this balance is not done, people outside the MENA region will only have a negative perception of this region because they see more of the negative news. Read this article to see what I'm saying.