As we near the end of the news cycle on the Jamal Khashoggi incident, one question remains that many do not want to pose because it upsets their delicate sensibilities. If, as is likely the case (likely but not dispositive), Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the hit on the Washington Post writer, is it a bad thing?
Was Mr. Khashoggi not a disinterested journalist, but an active supporter of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood and an avowed enemy of Israel? Given we would support the Saudis getting closer to Israel and the absence on the scene of a propagandist for a terror group, how is his death bad for U.S. interests? The hit was rather sloppy, but was accomplished without getting too much definitive public relations splatter on MBS. Though he is apparently the Saudi version of “The Secretary” in Mission Impossible. If it was a clumsy op, shouldn’t our emphasis now be in getting Saudi Intel up to snuff operationally, instead of bizarrely whining that they took out a threat to their nation and an indirect threat to ours?
Yes, I know, I’m a bloodthirsty enabler of political assassination. Assuming that description, let me do what any writer of my ilk would do when faced with this kind of charge: I’ll double down.
What if Khashoggi was an innocent journo? What if his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood have been exaggerated by the Saudis to cover up the gruesome murder of a minor irritant? What if the wet work was personally ordered by MBS? What if we’re not sure either way?
The real underlying question is: does the fate of one man, guilty or innocent, justify a rupture in relations with a major energy producer, global economic player, and one of our staunchest allies in the region? I posit, no.
As a writer, you say, how can you say that?! Well, I don’t go about cavorting with or supporting terrorist groups. Not unless you count my stint with the Randians. But that was only marijuana-fueled rhetorical terrorism of the undergrad variety, which I think Saudi Intel might overlook into the foreseeable future.
But even if he didn’t cozy up to the Muslim Brotherhood to a great extent, do our national interests, given a realpolitik assessment, take precedence over the life of one foreign man? I posit, yes. Am I a fanboy of Hans Morgenthau? Double yes. Is an emphasis on “human rights” in other countries beneficial to the national interests (because any rational national security and/or foreign policy can only be based on national interest) of the United States? As an answer I’ll recall three words: The Carter administration.
I can also remember another illustration of bringing an appreciation of realpolitik to the unenlightened. Not that you, dear reader, are unenlightened. In fact, if you are a regular reader of this column you are probably quite lit.
During the initial stages of diplomatic pressure that preceded the Gulf War I was a political consultant working a bit outside of Philadelphia. I was walking to work one day when I happened upon an anti-war demonstration taking place in a public park. The protestors were holding up signs with “No Blood For Oil” scrawled on the front and back. A local journo I knew was covering the event and motioned me over to the periphery of the shindig where he was observing the exercise. The journo was predictably leftist. He asked me if it wasn’t horrible that young American fighting men (he knew I was an Army veteran) were now a mere corporate security service for Big Oil?
I responded, “Yeah, so?”
Did he not know that military forces from time immemorial had been used to protect trade routes? Was he aware that when the Royal Navy ruled the waves it did so to guarantee safe passage of goods and colonial lucre to and fro the Empire and England? Did he not know that the Pearl Harbor attack was executed because of our embargo of raw materials on the Japanese and their wish to gain independent sources of it? Was it in our national interest to allow Saddam Hussein unfettered access to the petroresources of the Kuwaitis? What would be the reaction of the American consumer and voter when gas at the pump went up considerably in cost when Saddam deemed it so? What would be the reaction to a stranglehold on our economy and those of our allies’? And weren’t these all primarily economic questions? Ergo…
And let’s get real. Jamal was no babe in the woods. Even according to The New York Times, not a regular booster of realpolitik, in their recent piece Tangled Mix of Royal Service and Islamist Sympathies, Khashoggi played with fire and got burned. The Times notes he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood as a young man. That when he was killed more than a couple of Brotherhood members claimed they saw him as one of their own. He regularly appeared on pro-Hamas and pro-Brotherhood media outlets. It doesn’t stop with those examples. Khashoggi was an active agent of influence for radical Islamist terrorist groups and their propaganda arms. But yeah, I’m supposed to get worked up in a First Amendment lather because he bought the farm? I don’t think so.
A great film about the U.S. Navy that reminds me of my Dad —he was a young naval officer in the Pacific during WWII— is John Ford’s They Were Expendable. It tells the story of the many thousands of fighting men we left behind in the Philippines, after the Japanese invasion of those islands, because we just didn’t have any way of rescuing them after we got mauled on December 7, 1941. As hard as it was for Washington and the commanders in the field, those brave honorable men were sacrificed in the name of national security. An emotion-based foray to save them would have been doomed to disaster. So, we let them rot in Corregidor until they had to surrender. After they did, the brutality of the Bataan Death March awaited them.
If we made that agonizing decision for the larger goals of the United States and our allies, then the termination of a terrorist apologist by an allied government is not going to exactly upset my breakfast.
Though next time, boys, dispose of the target in a more tidy way. Slicing and dicing on the scene? Not quite the tradecraft subtlety to be expected when you have the budget of Saudi Intel.