US President Donald Trump lamented that the Saudis were being unfairly judged as 'guilty until proven innocent'. Well, President Trump, the truth is now out - and the Saudi leadership is guilty unless proven otherwise. Your move.
Nobody knows for sure how Jamal Khashoggi died, but nobody denies that he is dead, his heart stopping inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. He was 59 years old.
Over the last ten days, the gruesome demise of the dissident Saudi journalist, a resident of the United States, has been a front page story in the nation’s’ capital, attracted hours upon hours of attention nationwide from cable news, and countless clicks on social media.
It’s the first time in a long time that a single news story unfolding in that part of the world has attracted such breathless American attention, and cut through the clatter and chatter of everything else going on, no easy task. On Friday, Saudi Arabia admitted that Khashoggi had died at the consulate after some kind of “fight” with officials there that ended in his death.
“I am on a plane sitting on the tarmac. The couple behind me is reading each other the Khashoggi news out loud. Earlier I overheard an airport bartender talking about it,” tweeted CNN reporter Erica Orden on Friday night. “People are paying attention.”
The explanation the Saudis gave for how Khashoggi died is patently absurd.
A more reasonable explanation is that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wanted Khashoggi dead, and his appearance at the consulate was the perfect opportunity to kill him.
President Donald Trump, as gullible as he his dishonest, might really believe the crown prince’s craven cover story. Some members of congress, the other branch of US government, have expressed outrage at Saudi Arabia’s brazen behavior, called for an investigation or sanctions, some kind of punishment, but others have tried to rationalise Khashoggi’s murder by noting his denunciations of Israel.
There’s good reason to be extremely pessimistic about any consequences being taken by the US government to restrain the crown prince’s pursuit of power, as Trump has shown himself to be fine with murderous dictators as long as they praise him, and the US Congress barely functions enough to keep the government funded.
The responsibility for saying enough is enough falls to the American people, to carry out sanctions themselves against not only politicians but also pundits who would excuse Saudi Arabia’s horrendous disregard for human life in the name of abstract American foreign policy goals interests.
When Saudi’s name comes up in the American consciousness, it’s already one of extravagant wealth and callousness, oil crises or complicity in the September 11th attacks.
Billions of dollars and thousands of American lives were lost trying to hunt down a single Saudi man, Osama bin Laden, and his assassination was a major plank in President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
The American public, however, does not conduct US foreign policy. That’s up to the president and congress, with actual American citizens kept far away from the day to day decisions and grand strategic machinations that go into goals as vague but grandiose as “countering China’s rise” or “containing Iran,” dour buzzwords that pay for DC lobbyists’ summer homes and put their kids through Ivy League universities.
The Saudi royal family has had a close relationship with the occupants of the White House for decades. President George W. Bush’s family had a chummy rapport with the House of Saud, as both were in the same business: oil.
Even the earnest and professorial Obama, the bin Laden slayer, was not keen to jeopardize a longstanding “strategic partnership” over the Saudi family’s policy of public beheadings. Indeed, he opened the door for Saudi Arabia to “contain Iran” at the cost of thousands of Yemeni lives.
Trump, however, showed an instant, adolescent infatuation with the Kingdom, months after he took office.
For a man who reveres money, violence and power, Saudi Arabia must be like Disneyland. The country’s abhorrent human rights record seemed to be the farthest thing from Trump’s mind when he danced in the capital Riyadh or laid his hands on the glowing anti-terrorism globe with Egypt’s Abdel Fateh el Sisi and King Salman, the aging father of the crown prince.
The spectacle at the time seemed beyond comprehension, but its consequences have become apparent in the last two weeks as the Khashoggi case unfolded.
Everything bad about the US relationship with Saudi Arabia just got worse.
Is there any silver lining to all this? Well, yes, but it’s slim.
Khashoggi’s still missing corpse, although heaped on top of thousand and thousands of human skulls surrounding the Saudi throne, is a watershed moment for Americans entering the field of foreign policy, as professionals, journalists or academics. It forces them to ask how much their soul is worth to them.
Is that big cheque worth looking past Khashoggi’s frightened fiance, waiting at the gates of the consulate for a man she doesn’t yet know she’ll never see again?
Is it worth just telling her that the life of the man she loved isn’t worth the money Saudi Arabia can offer them for peddling the lie that this or that prince is a “reformist” at last?
Trump seems perfectly willing to do that, especially if he can make money doing it. His presidency, as shameful for America as it is, at least offers us a chance to take stock of our values, and decide who we are.
Khashoggi’s murder, like a lot things nowadays, forces Americans to answer the question: Which side are you on?
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