It is a little sad that every issue, even one as sordid as the (possible, alleged) kidnapping and murder of a political foe by a despotic regime must be read through a lens of US partisan politics, but this opinion piece, from the Washington Post, by former US CIA Director and vocal Trump critic John Brennan, must be seen as both a call to principle and a direct attack on President Trump’s fitness for office.
First, the principle … I agree, fully, with John Brennan when he says that “Since the passing of King Abdullah in 2015 and the ascension of Mohammed’s father, King Salman, to the throne, the crown prince [Mohammed bin Salman] has been on a relentless march to consolidate political power. He has used his royal standing as the king’s favored son to outmaneuver, sideline and effectively neuter both royal and nonroyal obstacles in his path. Taking advantage of his father’s diminished mental acuity, Mohammed gained the king’s acquiescence to push his uncle, Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, and his older and more senior cousin, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, off the crown prince perch in short succession, grabbing for himself the role of day-to-day decision-maker in Riyadh … [and] … history has shown, authoritarian leaders such as Mohammed become increasingly paranoid over time and use the instruments of national power to eliminate real and perceived sources of opposition. By leveraging his absolute control over subservient internal security services, the crown prince has methodically intimidated and neutralized political opponents.” I have no doubt that we are watching the rise of an ambitious, ruthless, tyrant … and a tyrant can NVER be a friend of the democratic West, leaderless though it may be.
John Brennan explains that “The news reports and Turkish government accounts of Khashoggi’s disappearance from the Saudi Consulate, and the contemporaneous arrival of two planeloads of Saudis, have the hallmarks of a professional capture operation or, more ominously, an assassination. As someone who worked closely with the Saudis for many years, and who lived and worked as a U.S. official for five years in Saudi Arabia, I am certain that if such an operation occurred inside a Saudi diplomatic mission against a high-profile journalist working for a U.S. newspaper, it would have needed the direct authorization of Saudi Arabia’s top leadership — the crown prince.“
In The Spectator, John R Bradley details the evidence, which does, indeed, seem like “a murderous plan so brazen, so barbaric, that it would seem far-fetched as a subplot in a John le Carré novel. He went inside the Istanbul consulate, but failed to emerge. Turkish police and intelligence officials claimed that a team of 15 hitmen carrying Saudi diplomatic passports arrived the same morning on two private jets. Their convoy of limousines arrived at the consulate building shortly before Khashoggi did … [and] … Their not-so-secret mission? To torture, then execute, Khashoggi, and videotape the ghastly act for whoever had given the order for his merciless dispatch. Khashoggi’s body, Turkish officials say, was dismembered and packed into boxes before being whisked away in a black van with darkened windows. The assassins fled the country … [but, of course] … Saudi denials were swift. The ambassador to Washington said reports that Saudi authorities had killed Khashoggi were ‘absolutely false’. But under the circumstances — with his fiancée waiting for him, and no security cameras finding any trace of his leaving the embassy — the world is left wondering if bin Salman directed this murder. When another Saudi official chimed in that ‘with no body, there is no crime’, it was unclear whether he was being ironic. Is this great reforming prince, with aims the West applauds, using brutal methods to dispose of his enemies? What we have learned so far is far from encouraging. A Turkish newspaper close to the government this week published the photographs and names of the alleged Saudi hitmen, and claims to have identified three of them as members of bin Salman’s personal protection team … [and] … There are also reports in the American media that all surveillance footage was removed from the consulate building, and that all local Turkish employees there were suddenly given the day off. According to the New York Times, among the assassination team was the kingdom’s top forensic expert, who brought a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi’s body. None of this has yet been independently verified, but a very dark narrative is emerging.“
Mr Brennan adds that “I am confident that U.S. intelligence agencies have the capability to determine, with a high degree of certainty, what happened to Khashoggi. If he is found to be dead at the hands of the Saudi government, his demise cannot go unanswered — by the Trump administration, by Congress or by the world community. Ideally, King Salman would take immediate action against those responsible, but if he doesn’t have the will or the ability, the United States would have to act. That would include immediate sanctions on all Saudis involved; a freeze on U.S. military sales to Saudi Arabia; suspension of all routine intelligence cooperation with Saudi security services; and a U.S.-sponsored U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the murder. The message would be clear: The United States will never turn a blind eye to such inhuman behavior, even when carried out by friends, because this is a nation that remains faithful to its values.“
I agree, fully, with what Mr Brennan says, above but here is where it gets very political: John Brennan thinks that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman believes that “his close ties to the Trump administration and the virtual absence of U.S. moral leadership on the global stage” will protect him from any US retaliation. Thus, what is, in the main, a reasoned analysis of a mystery that increasingly looks like the kidnapping and murder of a political foe by a rising tyrant is also a frontal attack on Donald J Trump’s fitness for office.
The Saudi Crown Prince’s increasingly ruthless acts seem to be costing the kingdom friends; it’s not just Canada that finds his government’s actions unacceptable.
John Brennan describes the Saudi crown prince as being “intolerant and vindictive,” and then goes on to pronounce what I can only read as a critique of President Trump: “As history has shown, authoritarian leaders … become increasingly paranoid over time and use the instruments of national power to eliminate real and perceived sources of opposition.” I think that Brennan (and many others, including me) fears that Donal Trump is equally “intolerant and vindictive” and “increasingly paranoid” and wants to “use the instruments of national power to eliminate real and perceived sources of opposition.” If that’s true then President Trump is a real danger to America and the West.
But, the Financial Times reports that “Donald Trump has warned that Saudi Arabia will face “severe punishment” if the regime murdered Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who disappeared last week after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul … [and, he said] … “It’s being investigated. It’s being looked at very, very strongly. We would be very upset and angry if that were the case. As of this moment . . . they deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes,” Mr Trump told the CBS television programme. “We’re going to get to the bottom of it, and there will be severe punishment.”” So, it may be that the Trump administration is doing what John Brennan advocates and may even follow through … if so it will be a step in the right direction.
Reports are surfacing as I write this (late afternoon/early evening in Eastern Canada) that the Saudis are preparing a story that Mr Khashoggi died during a botched interrogation …
… but one that, evidently, involved “the kingdom’s top forensic expert, who brought a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi’s body.” It’s a good tactic, I think, and I agree with Professor Roland Paris of the University of Ottawa, who suggests, on social media, that it’s not impossible to imagine such a new Saudi story ~ one that has been coordinated with Turkey and with the Trump Administration. The Turks haven’t gone on the record with allegations so they can deny leaks (about the bone saw, for example) while President Trump can chastise “rogue elements” and move on. The Saudis can apologize and jail a few expendables for show, he says.