Last week I wrote here about the horrible fate of Jamal Khashoggi. I ventured to suggest that these events, horrific as they are, could be the beginning of the end of the grotesque and arbitrary character of what passes these days for US foreign policy under Donald Trump.
Nothing in the last week has diminished my belief that the United States must bear a degree of moral blame for the Khashoggi incident - in that the US and Israel uttered no words of condemnation when Saad Hariri, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, was summoned by the Crown Price to Riyadh, arrested and forced into making a broadcast resigning his premiership while held hostage in the desert kingdom.
The Israelis were clearly complicit in that effort to destabilise the ruling coalition in Lebanon. They mobilised their international diplomatic service to exploit the expected crisis in Lebanon. But the whole plan failed when the Lebanese kept their cool and when Hariri returned to Beiruit.
Now we are to believe that Trump and Pompeo are awaiting the result of a Saudi inquiry into what transpired at their consulate in Istanbul before deciding what, “if any”, further action they will take.
Only a fool could avoid the obvious truth of the butchering of Khashoggi. Only an idiot, and a bad-minded idiot at that, could articulate the absurd proposition that Jamal Khashoggi may have been the victim of a “rogue” killing.
It is abundantly clear that the hit squad which butchered him was sent by Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman. The Saudi consulate at Istanbul made itself available to the butchers. The Turkish staff there were given the afternoon off. The consul was threatened by them as to the consequences of any failure to cooperate with them. He was told he would be dealt with in Saudi Arabia.
The personnel involved in the hit squad included the closest personal security team of the Crown Prince. They have paced beside him in public in all the capitals of the world. The team also included a forensic practitioner equipped with a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi’s body, but not before pulling off his fingers while they interrogated him. If they do that abroad, only Allah knows what they do in the desert kingdom.
Any suggestion that the “reformist” Crown Prince’s security detail could commandeer Saudi jets, fly to Istanbul, and take over the consulate there to butcher Khashoggi without the actual knowledge and authority of the Crown Prince is simply absurd.
Nor could what happened be likened to the mediaeval death of Thomas a Beckett at the hands of knights who (so we were told) misinterpreted their monarch’s words “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest”? Henry II covered up for that hit squad.
The Saudis may even be tempted now to decapitate the killers (or innocent substitutes) to cut off the line of responsibility.
That process called “direction by indirection” – plausible deniability.
Even if the Saudis disavow their earlier protestations of innocence and ignorance of the murder, and acknowledge that Khashoggi was indeed murdered in their consulate, but proffer the face-saving excuse that the murder was carried out without the knowledge or authority of the Crown Prince, any such fictional formula designed to save the faces and the pockets of the Saudis’ western allies will amount to the most grotesque creation of “fake news” that we have seen since Trump assumed the presidency.
Unless the Americans clearly and emphatically denounce Crown Prince Salman as the author of this barbaric murder and impose personal sanctions on him, and impose economic and political sanctions against the Saudi Kingdom until his father, the doddering King Salman, removes him from office, any remaining credibility of the Trump regime will be absolutely zero.
While Pompeo and Trump desperately seek time, diplomatic space and fake news to give them room for manoeuvre, the world is looking on and increasingly identifying Trump, Pompeo and the US administration with the puppet kingdom that they sustain.
Trump cannot say that there is no point in his imposing sanctions or demanding the removal of the Crown Prince.
As I pointed out last week, he had told one of his red-neck rallies in Mississippi earlier this month that the Saudi royal family wouldn’t last a fortnight without US support. He can’t claim on the one hand to be keeping King Salman and his butchering son in power while at the same time suggesting that he is helpless to prevent them from carrying out murders such as that of Khashoggi or sanctioning them when such murders come to light.
Of course, there are geopolitical strategic considerations in play.
The Saudis are conducting a brutal war in Yemen which the UN believes is in imminent danger of creating the single greatest mass famine of the 21st century. Apart from the tens of thousands of people already killed by the Saudis in confident air warfare using American and British armaments, the UN has warned there is now a very real possibility, over the next few months, that millions of people will starve to death because of the Saudi blockade of the Yemini ports.
None of this would be happening without the direct encouragement of Washington, London and Paris. While Trump’s elephantine commentary on the Khashoggi murder attracts the limelight to Washington, foreign office officials in Whitehall and on the Quay D’Orsay are smugly congratulating themselves on their success in keeping their heads down and washing their hands of moral responsibility for the Yemeni war.
It is by no means clear that keeping the House of Saud in power in the Arabian peninsula is in the strategic interests of the western powers or their peoples. Saudi oil is no longer of such strategic importance to the West. Accumulated sovereign wealth funds have nowhere but the western economies as safe investments.
Right across the Muslim world, the influence of the Saudi Royal family over the last 25 years has been malign. Across that world, it is the Saudis who have propagated reactionary Islamic teaching through a network of madrassas and other institutions and funds.
The result has been an upsurge in Islamic extremism from the Philipines to Indonesia, to Bangladesh to Pakistan, to Afghanistan, to Kenya, to Somalia, and right across the Sahara to Mali, not forgetting ISIS, Al Nusrah and the European Islamic Jihadis.
When you consider it, all of the foregoing, including the activities of Bin Laden and the 9/11 terrorists have been centred on the “desert kingdom” and the values that it has spawned and propagated.
One of the great myths is the suggestion that it is the Shia, including the Iranians, which threaten the West. Iran, curiously, is the only major Islamic state where the government is chosen by the people in elections, even if the Ayatollahs circumscribe and dominate their democratic process. And yet Iran is supposedly the deadly threat to Western democracy.
One of Crown Prince Salman’s closest confidants in the international sphere, apparently, is Jared Kushner. The Americans have been pushing the idea of economic cooperation between Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Jared Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, has even been considered by Trump.as a possible successor to Nikki Haley, the retiring US ambassador to the UN. To use Trump language, that possibility is “sad”.
How the world’s greatest democracy could have lowered itself so far in the minds of right-thinking people across the globe beggars belief. There is something morally and intellectually repugnant about Trump. Khashoggi would never have been killed and dismembered if the US had stood up to the House of Saud and its Crown Prince before now. By dissimulating and equivocating on the cruel fate of Jamal Khashoggi, Washington is effectively dipping its hands in his blood. London and Paris are little better. Cancelling visits to investment conferences is no substitute for elementary decency in international affairs.
Alas, as long as Trump is there, we can expect little better. As Trump-speak might put it: it’s “sad”. But it’s also mad and bad.