Our Son of a Bitch
The disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi from the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and the ultimate confession to his murder by Saudi government operatives has created an international crisis for the United States. But President Trump’s feeble and unprincipled response deepened the crisis and further tarnished America’s international reputation.
Saudi Arabia’s silence on the matter for two weeks following Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance was damning and its threat to increase the price of oil to $200 a barrel if the US imposed sanctions was sanctimonious bluster. They ultimately confessed that he was killed, however, their insistence that Khashoggi’s death was the result of his resistance and not the result of a planned assassination has been wilting under mounting evidence.
We are accustomed to this type of rant from the Putins, Kims and Xis of the world, but coming a purported friend and ally is disheartening. We cannot expect a Muslim monarchy to share all our American values, but we must demand that they respect us and the international order and rule of law that we created to guide international relations. Of course, America itself has not always followed these principles but our international stature was tarnished because of these aberrations and deservedly so.
The US installed the infamous Somoza regime in Nicaragua and backed it for over forty years. The US supported Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines who had his rival Benigno Aquino assassinated. We supported General Augusto Pinochet in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende and his ultimate murder. President Roosevelt is often credited for having said that Somoza was “a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch”. The United States has supported a lot of really bad guys who have murdered their opponents and many others of their citizens. So why should Saudi King Salman and his son Mohamed bin Salman (MBS) be any different.
For one thing. They did it on foreign soil. They did a really bad job of it. And they lied about it. Well, that’s three things but it all adds up to a major cockup and desperate cover up and we all know the cover up is worse than the crime (because it proves your culpability). Another thing. We have placed sanctions on Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Il for doing the very same things and proclaimed how evil these men are.
President Trump threatened sanctions if the facts revealed their involvement in Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, which he described as “terrible and disgusting”. But he hesitated to block a proposed $100 billion arms deal with the desert kingdom that has staunchly backed President Trump’s hard line with Iran. The president felt that blocking such a deal would hurt American arms dealers and their workers. Further, he elaborated, that deal had been sought by Russia and China implying that if we blocked the deal that Saudi Arabia would go to these other arms dealers despite the fact that they generally support Iran.
The negative publicity of making nice with thugs and murderers may have been outweighed by strategic considerations during the Cold War. But we are fighting a different kind of war now and descending to the level of our opponents threatens our claim of moral superiority - a claim that our opponents do not aspire to but they are happy to knock us off our pedestal whenever possible.
President Trump’s shilly-shallying on sanctions and trade deals with Saudi Arabia has lost us international credibility (although undercutting allies and losing credibility appears to be a major part of his foreign policy). Saudi Arabia has put the United States in a bad position by acting like a bunch of incompetent thugs and expecting us to overlook it. There must be consequences and they must be serious.
But for all of his shilly-shallying, President Trump has been tough with international miscreants. Despite the maneuvers around the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, President Trump imposed tough sanctions on Russia. His threats have brought Kim Jong Il to the negotiating table although we are still awaiting tangible results. He has confronted some of China’s aggressive exploits with tariffs and freedom of navigation exercises.
There must be consequences to Saudi Arabia for this action. Saudi Arabia has been a destabilizing element of the Middle East for decades. Oil riches have funded fundamentalist madrassas throughout the Muslim world. These madrassas have been the breeding ground for radical Islamic terrorists. Osama bin Laden was a Saudi. Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 terrorists were Saudi.
And let’s not forget that Saudi Arabia attempted to drive American oil producers into bankruptcy by flooding the market with oil in 2015. But American oil producers not only survived with prices at $40 per barrel (which is now the floor for oil prices because many OPEC members cannot survive at lower prices) they thrived at $70 per barrel and made America energy independent (and because additional American fields will come on stream at $100 per barrel there is also a cap on the price of oil). Oil independence means that we are immune to Arab oil embargoes that caused such havoc in the 1970s. No thanks to our friends in Saudi Arabia.
And now MBS, as de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, is trying to double down on authoritarianism – ignoring any semblance of the rule of law in order to bend the Saudi people to his will. A Wall Street Journal op-ed speculated that the king would have to name a new crown prince or else his son, MBS, is likely to be assassinated by disaffected Saud family members. Now is the time for America to make its presence known. If King Salman names a successor that will return Saudi Arabia to its old ways, the United States will face a turbulent Middle East for decades to come. Reform is desperately needed, but MBS was taking his cues from Putin and Xi and not from Washington or Jefferson. MBS may be a son of a bitch, but he is not our son of a bitch.