Monday, October 08, 2018

Do The Right Thing

One of the Washington Post's columnists in September 2017 wrote a piece entitled "Saudi Arabia wasn't always this repressive. Now it's unbearable" and announced that he was leaving the country. In an editorial Thursday, the Post noted

he entered the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday to take care of what should have been routine paperwork. Saudi Arabia says he then left. His fiancee, waiting for him, says he did not, and he cannot be found. Turkey says it has seen no sign that he left the building. Mr. Khashoggi, a contributor to The Post’s Global Opinions section, appears to have disappeared, and we are worried.

Mr. Khashoggi is not just any commentator. Over a long career, he has had close contact with Saudi royalty and knows more than most about how they think and function. His criticism, voiced over the past year, most surely rankles Mohammed bin Salman, who was elevated to crown prince last year and has carried out a wide-ranging campaign to silence dissent while trying to modernize the kingdom. Among those in his prisons for political speech are clerics, bloggers, journalists and activists. He imprisoned women who agitated for the right to drive, a right that was granted even as they were punished.

Turkish officials now are claiming that while in the embassy, Kashoggi was murdered and his body dismembered and removed in boxes. Amnesty International termed the possibility

an abysmal new low. Such an assassination within the grounds of the consulate, which is territory under Saudi Arabian jurisdiction, would amount to an extrajudicial execution. This case sends a shockwave among Saudi Arabian human rights defenders and dissidents everywhere, eroding any notion of seeking safe haven abroad.

Robin Wright explained

When we spoke last November, Khashoggi compared the Saudi monarchy to the Iranian theocracy. “M.B.S. is now becoming the supreme leader,” he said, a reference to Iran’s top authority, who has veto power over every branch of the government. Since his father became king, in 2015, M.B.S. has consolidated his hold on the five major sectors of power, serving as minister of defense, head of a new economic council, and chief of the royal court. “He is very autocratic and totally illiberal,” Khashoggi told me in August. “I worked for the government for four or five years. I never thought I’d be arrested, but then I thought I might. That’s why I left.” Khashoggi’s status became ever more precarious as his critiques of the monarchy sharpened in recent months.

As of Monday morning, the report is not confirmed. However, if it is, the way forward should be obvious. President Trump has

expanded US military assistance to his Saudi and UAE allies – in ways that are prolonging the Yemen war and increasing civilian suffering. Soon after Trump took office in early 2017, his administration reversed a decision by former president Barack Obama to suspend the sale of over $500m in laser-guided bombs and other munitions to the Saudi military, over concerns about civilian deaths in Yemen. The US Senate narrowly approved that sale, in a vote of 53 to 47, almost handing Trump an embarrassing defeat.

In late 2017, after the Houthis fired ballistic missiles at several Saudi cities, the Pentagon secretly sent US special forces to the Saudi-Yemen border, to help the Saudi military locate and destroy Houthi missile sites. While US troops did not cross into Yemen to directly fight Yemen’s rebels, the clandestine mission escalated US participation in a war that has dragged on since Saudi Arabia and its allies began bombing the Houthis in March 2015.

The war has killed at least 10,000 Yemenis and left more than 22 million people –three-quarters of Yemen’s population – in need of humanitarian aid. At least 8 million Yemenis are on the brink of famine, and 1 million are infected with cholera.

This war has been a humanitarian disaster, one that President Obama never should have gotten the USA involved in it. President Trump should not have made a bad situation much, more worse, as is his wont.

In times past, suspicion abounded that the US government was cozy with Riyadh because as the world's largest exporter of petroleum, it had an outsize influence on OPEC and thus the worldwide price of oil. However, the USA is now awash in oil, many advanced nations have made major, successful investments in renewable energy, and playing nice with the kingdom is no longer necessary.

Last week, President Trump actually said something constructive (though a little naive) about Saudi Arabia when he stated

We protect Saudi Arabia. Would you say they're rich? And I love the king, King Salman, but I said "King, we're protecting you. You might not be there for two weeks without us. You have to pay for your military."

If it is determined the Saudis likely murdered Jamal Kashoggi, it will be time for Trump to put up or shut up.  That's a slender reed to hold on to, but with Donald Trump finalizing control of his party and extending control over the entire nation, it is at present the best hope.

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