Only a few months ago, world leaders fawned over Saudi Arabia’s young prince Mohammed bin Salman – a grand reformer the world long awaited. Those voices have now fallen silent.
Saudi Arabia murdered Jamal Khashoggi, now what?
For all the political goodwill and media leniency the kingdom purchased over the past years, no one, not even U.S. President Donald Trump, is buying the tall tale Riyadh concocted as to how one of its former intelligence officials, Jamal Khashoggi, turned dissident voice ended up dead in its Istanbul consulate.
“Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi died in a ‘fistfight’ in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, the kingdom claimed early Saturday [October 20] finally admitting that the writer had been slain at its diplomatic post. Authorities said 18 Saudi suspects were in custody and intelligence officials had been fired.” read a news report by the Associated Press.
Riyadh maintained it was a fistfight gone wrong. Given the mountain of evidence proving the allegation wrong, the kingdom is on political thin ice.
As Simon Tisdall puts it for the Guardian: “This is where truth and realpolitik collide. Saudi Arabia’s belated, incomplete and highly tendentious explanation for the death of Jamal Khashoggi is barely credible, and will certainly be dismissed by critics of the Saudi regime and by the journalist’s friends and supporters as an ugly fabrication or, at the very least, a gross distortion of the facts.”
MBS – From Grand Reformer to ‘Wrecking Ball’
Only a few months ago, world leaders fawned over Saudi Arabia’s young prince Mohammed bin Salman (aka MBS), this grand reformer the world long awaited. Those voices have now fallen silent, a silence made ever more powerful against the outrage let out by mainstream media.
Last year, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that Saudi Arabia is undergoing its own “Arab Spring” thanks to its ever-so-modern and wise young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
A few weeks ago, the same Friedman took to Twitter to tell MBS to release Jamal Khashoggi, warning that the journalist’s disappearance at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October “will be disastrous” for Riyadh’s diplomacy.
A rather dire change in narrative I would say, and yet I would still argue that not enough is being said or done to disparage Saudi Arabia from wielding the swords against those it views as dissidents to its rule. Although certain remarks made over the past few weeks led us to believe it would.
Senator Lindsey Graham put it most plainly and boldly when he described MBS’s rule as “toxic” in an interview with Fox News.
Khashoggi’s Murder Won’t Be Shaken Off
If the kingdom may have managed in the past to brush aside its many and grave human rights “missteps,” whether it be at home or abroad, on account of its dazzling wealth and eagerness to spend it, the Khashoggi scandal may prove one too many to shake away.
Readers may recall how in 2016 a shame-faced UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon announced he had been forced to excise the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen from an annual UN register of children’s rights violators, after the Middle-Eastern country and its coalition partners threatened to cut off crucial funding to the world body.
Ban Ki-Moon confessed then that the removal of Saudi Arabia from the list was “one of the most painful and difficult decisions” he had to ever make as Secretary-General, describing the pressure the Arab nation had exerted on the UN as “unacceptable.”
Saudi Arabia’s crimes, the propensity its officials have to shed blood, often in the most gruesome fashion, is not new. Rather, it has been tolerated for the sake of political pragmatism, or maybe we should admit, by virtue of our greed.
We can cry out the murder of a journalist and yet fall silent before the engineered starvation of 26 million people in Yemen. Here’s to moral relativism and a great deal of cynicism on our part for failing to hold to our principles by the virtue of the inherent truth they speak.
But there is some light at the end of that tunnel!
Will The World Continue to Turn a Blind Eye to Saudi Arabia?
While we would be fools to believe that our western capitals will shun Saudi Arabia completely in favor of other partnerships in the Middle East to somewhat avenge Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, it is evident that whatever willful blindness state officials thought to extend Riyadh is all but spent.
It is now up to the U.S. Congress to set the pace and other world capitals to follow as is often the case.
Although in this particular case, America might be somewhat leading from behind since Germany, echoed by officials in France and the United Kingdom, called for a complete weapons sale ban against Saudi Arabia.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a press conference in late October that there is an “urgent need for further clarification,” into the Khashoggi case.
“Those responsible have not yet been held accountable,” she said. “I agree with all those who say that arms exports, which are already limited, cannot happen given the circumstances…we are now in.”
U.S. President Donald Trump said he would relegate all decisions to Congress, an interesting move if one considers that wars have been declared without Congress’ approval.
Bloomberg ran a story earlier this week (October 23) quoting President Trump as saying from the Oval Office: “In terms of what we ultimately do, I’m going to leave it very much — in conjunction with me – up to Congress.”
He further added it would take a bipartisan recommendation on penalties for him to move, yet more proof that for the White House to even consider taking on Al Saud, a political absolute consensus would need to be reached.
If we didn’t know any better, we could conclude from Mr. Trump’s reluctance to sanction Saudi Arabia, the sheer weight of the kingdom’s lobby in Washington, how the hundreds of millions of dollars it poured into Capitol Hill bought the good graces — and silence — of our media, our corporations and our state officials.
If anything needs to be taken from Jamal Khashoggi’s murder it is how pecuniary our geo-strategic alliances have been, and just how counter-intuitive to our national interests they have run.
If we consider, as Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard told CNN that Saudi Arabia’s very worldview is woven around that ideology terror radicals espouse: Wahhabism, we ought to rethink our strategy in the region.
So again I will ask: Now what?