international response, Iraq, Israel and Saudis, Jamal Kashoggi murder, Kashoggi recording, Liberal Party, MBS wealth, Middle East, Mohammed bin Salman, Palestinians, paul william roberts, punish MBS, regime-change in Riyadh, Saudi arms deals, syria
The tragic debacle over the murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi is like one of those infinitely disastrous moves on a chessboard that suddenly opens up your opponent’s men to any number of deadly threats, hopeless defense maneuvers, and an almost certainly forfeited game. Or it would do if you were determined to win at all costs, rather than intent on allowing him to hurriedly rearrange his board and continue on safely. Trump plays to his base with talk of job loss and multibillion dollar profits if a Saudi arms deal is scuttled. But what or who is the Canadian Liberal Party playing to with its own reluctance to sever an arms deal with the Kingdom? This contract was evidently negotiated and signed by the former Progressive Conservative government, so the Liberals won’t take any blame. There is apparently a clause citing punitive fines if delivery of the military vehicles involved is delayed for any reason. Another clause, furthermore, apparently prohibits details of the contract and deal from being made public. Ergo: the sale must go ahead, no matter what the Saudis have done or will do – is that it? We, the people, don’t like this at all. For a start, the unconscionable killing on foreign soil surely overrides any contractual arrangement, making the idea of Riyadh trying to collect a fine laughable. Secondly, we find the notion of secret deals and contracts within the arms business, or little military-industrial complex, both obnoxious and unconstitutional. The public has every right to know who Canada is selling military equipment to, whether it is a barbaric tyranny like Saudi Arabia or the most liberal of liberal democracies. We demand that the government take some severe, effective and globally just steps to express Canadian shock and dismay at this abominable act, along with numerous other recent Saudi abominations, from gross human rights abuses to the often-lethal persecution of minorities and dissidents, as well as all female citizens. A diplomatic wrist-slapping is very far from enough, although only regime-change, trade boycott and asset-seizure seem reasonably sufficient. I have little hope that anything at all will happen, because when a cover-up is covered up you can be sure something else altogether is afoot.
Mohammed bin Salman no doubt views himself as monarch of all he surveys, a courageous omnipotentiary and ultimate authority from Red Sea to Arabian Ocean. His belief in this case is relatively true enough. The country is indeed an absolutist monarchy posing as a constitutional one with rigged elections and a noisy fanfare about trifling freedoms now granted (women can drive – whoopee! – but there must always be an adult male in the vehicle too, which, I’d say, tarnishes the glory of freedom slightly). If MBS were intrinsically regal and even a little courageous, however, he’d admit sole responsibility for the assassination of Kashoggi, citing his reasons for unquestionably ordering the murder, no matter how unacceptable they might be to most of the world. He will not do this, of course, and not because his reasons would be unacceptable – his reasons would be humiliatingly shameful is why. There has been an attempt to vilify Kashoggi as a terrorist with ties to radical Islamists, but this has not yet worked, largely because it’s provably untrue. But even a fat-headed bully like MBS isn’t prepared to say, “I ordered his death because he insulted my ideas and abilities, which hurt my feelings…” No one is buying the fantastically lame explanation that Kashoggi started a fight in the Saudi consulate, partly because the crew of hitmen was sent to Turkey a day before Kashoggi had scheduled his visit to the consulate, but mainly because, even without knowing the journalist’s gentle nature, the idea of him or anyone intelligent alone in a consular building starting a fist-fight is ludicrously unlikely. What other rationalizations will emerge from these dunces? 18 men have apparently been arrested, so says MBS. But who are these men and what do they have to say for themselves? Where is the body, for example? MBS says the so-far-anonymous assassins – one an expert in autopsies with a bone saw in his luggage – handed over the corpse to Turkish allies, colleagues, whatever they were, and no one in the hit squad knows who these people, these contracted colleagues, maybe even random strangers, are or what they did with Kashoggi’s remains. Is this even vaguely believable, that a body is handed over to unknown locals? It might be tempting to think these puerile explanations are a nose-thumbing at the world, as was recently tempting with Czar Putiin’s GRU clowns and their botched murder in Salisbury; but, as it was with Putin’s operatives, the Kashoggi murder-cover-up-then-cover-up-cover-up is a cock-up of epic proportions. As Talleyrand said of Napoleon invading Russia, it’s worse than an mistake – it’s a blunder. But this blunder seems to be posing as many problems for the western liberal democracies as it is for Riyadh, because some sort of punitive response is increasingly necessary – or it is if you wish to continue enjoying credibility as a democracy and upholding your belief in rule of law. There have been frowns and tut-tutting from most western capitals, yet a curious inertia sets in when it comes to doing anything appropriate or even proposing a viable course of reaction. Why?
Only Israel can reasonably claim Saudi Arabia as an ally (an ally against Iran mainly), and there have been solid back-channel relationships between Riyadh and Jerusalem for decades. The Saudis of course don’t want this cozy hypocrisy to be broadcast to other Arabs, because a tribal solidarity is supposed to persist, and the only rallying-cry Arab nationalism has ever managed to concoct is an anti-Israel bias – not that this heals the Shia-Sunni schism, or indeed does much at all beyond fanning the sputtering flames of Palestinian dreams. So Washington’s Israel Lobby has some justifiable strategic concerns about a souring of relationship with the Saudis. But all anyone else has as an excuse for inaction is the vastness of Saudi investments in their nations’ industries and corporations. Someone else can determine how many trillions exactly are in Canada, and who they’re with, maybe even who they control, but you can be sure it’s an awful lot of petrodollars. Are we worried they might sell out and invest elsewhere? Reduce the story to a murder-mystery and you will see how such a response looks in the microcosm of reality, where clarity is always clearer. But this so far is the only response we can descry, and amid the vacillation you can tell deals are being done while damage-control creates more damage than it controls. MBS has photo-op with Kashoggi’s son – a harrowing ordeal if ever there was one for a mourning child of any age. What next? Faked videos of MBS and Jamal as bosom-buddies? Not many foreign leaders are in much of a position to make demands on Riyadh, but Erdvan in Turkey is one of them. Initially, he seemed to hold a lot of cards. There was the search of the Saudi consulate, with its freshly-painted-over walls, and then something about Kashoggi’s belongings found in the trash, but not much comes of this. More significantly, though, is the sudden silence about the recording allegedly broadcast from Kashoggi’s Apple wristwatch to the I-Phone he’d left with his fiancé outside the consulate. It supposedly records what happened inside before and during the murder. There are many in Washington who claim people in the NSA, or one of its many wings, have heard some or all of this horrific recording. If so, it can only have come from the fiancé, or else Turkish authorities. Only Erdvan would have the power to confiscate or appropriate the I-Phone recording, and failing that he must know where it is – but where is it? We hear no more about it in the media, this recording that supposedly makes clear what happened in that consulate. Will we soon hear no more about the whereabouts of Kashoggi’s remains? The pompous blabbering lies of MBS currently embarrass anyone who would agree to believe them, so consequently no one does claim they’re completely believable – although Trump and others have managed somehow to make MBS laudably credible while at the same time doubting whatever explanation he floats for the murder he can never reasonably explain. If you don’t like the way this is going, then demand to know from your MP or MPP, Congressperson or Senator, the full extent of Saudi investment in your country and how it would be impacted by any punitive measures taken against Riyadh, or even specifically against MBS, who is, inter alia, one of the world’s richest men, through no effort of his own, naturally.
If you look at a map of the Middle East, you will notice all the states there mostly have straight lines as frontiers, a sure sign of the colonial cartographer at work, rather than nature’s natural boundaries, the usual frontier markers. This map was essentially created in 1919 at the Versailles Conference to carve up empire in the wake of World War One, regardless of ancient tribal enmities or even their loyalties. The British, with their propensity for class distinctions, created the monarchies and emirates, largely to reward collaboration during wars with Ottoman Turks. One glance at the shape accorded frontiers of Jordan tells you a slapdash cartography, or perhaps malice aforethought was at play. Given the current lamentable state of the major Arab states – the ex-monarchy of Iraq, and the chaos of Syria – is it not time to correct the imperialist blundering with something a little more equitable, redrawing the map of Arabia to make smaller autonomous tribally-sensitive regions? Not that I favor a two-state solution to the insoluble Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but a viable Palestinian state could be carved from Jordan-Syria-and-Saudi Arabia without anyone in those countries even noticing the loss of territory, and providing something more than empty rhetoric for the Arabs to give to the Palestinians they privately say are not Arabs at all (and thus excluded from the benefits of pan-Arab nationalism, if there ever are any benefits from it). Besides the south-western area that could be part of a potential Palestine, Saudi Arabia needs to be divided into a Shia province, a Sunni province, and possibly also a Yemeni province, with resources and wealth divvied up equally. Not all Arab states are still living in the 16th century in terms of sensibility and governance, but Saudi Arabia is, with MBS a sort of Henry VIII-figure, murdering critics, or anyone at all, with impunity, no check existing for his power or enormities. Is it not time to do Saudi citizens a big favor by freeing them from this atavistic kleptocracy and the foul Wahhabi cult it has generated for a religion? Wahhabism is analogous to Nazism in having hate at its core. The opportunity to make tragedies result in triumphs is not to be squandered when it comes, and it is palpably here with this outrageous and despicable crime. Pack MBS off to London with a few billion to spend, and see how his subjects manage on their own? It is possible today, but the window is narrow. Yet such a response would be adequately appropriate to the behavior of MBS and his cronies, as well as making a tragic and unnecessary death serve some higher purpose. Returning West Asia to its old tribal domains would, I think, return the area to some stability. All the Saudi elites have is their money, and stripping their assets is the least their actions warrant, so regime-change brings no danger or deprivation to the Saudi masses, and it potentially offers enormous advantages. This conflict between money and principles will prove riveting, and involving a journalist, as it does, is going to be irresistible content for the media. I’m backing Money as the favorite.