Alan Zendell, October 19. 2018
For as long as I can remember, the Saudi Royal Family have been racist, misogynistic, elitists who care only about wealth and power. They are ruthless and cruel, and no friend of the United States except in the sense of mutual profiteering and the Arab tradition of “the enemy of my enemy.” With an economy almost entirely based on the West’s unquenchable thirst for oil, Saudi Arabia is a country that would be insignificant if not for its huge, untapped reserves.
On its face, the apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who wrote for the Washington Post while residing in Virginia, is an awful crime. It’s the sort of act that violates local and international laws, and the diplomatic protocols that protect journalists everywhere. Rarely has the international community been in such tacit agreement that a horrendous crime was committed and its perpetrators need to be severely punished – slam dunk, right?
It might have been if the Khashoggi case were actually about law, human rights, and respecting journalistic integrity. As the guilty Saudis scrambled to invent a narrative that trod the precarious line between implicating the Royal Family and finding a scapegoat to sacrifice, President Trump made it clear that he would oppose any action that might damage his relationship with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
We’ve heard things like this from Trump before when he or someone he liked was credibly accused of wrongdoing. Whether it was his corrupt Cabinet officers or Roy Moore or Brett Kavanaugh, or accusations of his own sexual misconduct or possible involvement with Russia, Trump played the innocent-until-proven-guilty card repeatedly whenever he was invested in the outcome.
In the Khashoggi case, Trump even invented a rogue killer theory as an unsubtle wink to the Crown Prince, while maintaining there was no reason to cancel a $150 billion arms deal that’s still in the works with the Saudis, because it would hurt American companies and cost American jobs. I had the same knee-jerk response I usually have when Trump invents a fantasy based on alternate facts, but this time I couldn’t go there.
For once, Trump is telling the truth, and the fact that it’s a very ugly truth that we’d rather not face doesn’t make his point of view any less valid. Decades of allowing corporate greed to slow our path toward energy independence has left us squarely over the same barrel we were hung up on during the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973-4. Forty-five years have passed since then, when we could have been maximizing development of renewable energy and protecting our environment in the bargain, instead of letting OPEC and the oil cartels determine our energy policies.
Another ugly truth is that in the horrific triangle that is Middle East politics, despite the likelihood that the nine-eleven attacks were funded by Saudi oil money, we chose Saudi Arabia as the Sunni bulwark against Shiite Iran. Thus we are backing the Saudis in their three-year war against the Shiite Houthis in Yemen, whose slogan is: “God is great, death to the US, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory for Islam.” No wonder we’re on the side of the Saudis … except that the Saudi Royal Family said much the same thing when Israel was created by the UN’s partitioning of Palestine in 1948.
The Saudis were still saying it when we re-supplied the Israeli military in 1973 after a couple of Arab-Israeli wars; the Royal Family was the driving force behind the Oil Embargo. To illustrate how convoluted our relationship with the Saudis is, there were reports in both the Arab and Israeli press in 2015 that Israel had offered its Iron Dome technology to protect Riyadh from Yemeni missile attacks.
The strains on U.S. bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia over the “contradictory demands of unflinching support for Israel and the preservation of close ties to the Arab oil-producing monarchies” were made more complicated by the 1979 Shiite revolution in Iran. When Trump broke with our European allies and withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, our entanglement with the Saudi Royal Family became even more strangling.
With our mid-term elections eighteen days away, many in Congress are grandstanding against the president’s reluctance to punish the Royal Family for its obvious involvement in Khashoggi’s murder. Their anger is fueled by Trump’s relentless attacks on the press as the enemy of the people, which they view as enabling the Saudis to eliminate a journalist whose writings made them uncomfortable. The result is that the legal and moral implications of Khashoggi’s murder are submerged so deeply in our domestic politics and our complicated foreign policy agenda as to be unrecognizable.
But unless the Congress forces Trump’s hand, when the smoke clears, the despicable Saudis will continue with business as usual. There are a couple of ways to look at that. You might say we can’t fight sewer rats without getting down in the sewer and just shrug it all off. Or you can recognize that we’re locked in a Faustian bargain with the Royal Family, and as Faust learned, the Devil always wins.