The Western media has been bellyaching for more than a month now about Saudi Arabia’s assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Enough is enough.
Let’s be clear. All Arab rulers are prepared, if necessary, to murder those who stand in the way of their political ambitions. They much prefer to silence dissidents with patronage and punishment through kangaroo courts, but not one of them will hesitate to send out a hit squad if he thinks his rule depends upon it.
I’m not saying it doesn’t suck. During its three-decade military occupation of my native Lebanon, Syria’s multigenerational Assad regime assassinated scores of prominent Lebanese public figures and carted away thousands of ordinary citizens never to be heard from again. When my organization, the U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon, produced a dossier on the head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, Ghazi Kanaan, in the late 1990s, we were shocked to find that the name of the man overseeing these crimes had barely even been mentioned in Western press reports.
Every now and then, the West gets really worked up about a killing, but the outrage never lasts long enough to produce real solutions. In Lebanon, the 1982 killing of President Bashar Gemayel and the 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri both led to bold, but short-lived American initiatives to restore Lebanon’s sovereignty, but within a few years, the chess pieces slipped back to their original positions. Today, Lebanon is more subordinate to the Iran-Assad axis than ever—it no longer needs to be occupied—and the Bashar Assad regime has graduated to even more appalling crimes against its own people.
Khashoggi, a talented pawn of the princes he’s served, was no Hariri and certainly no Gemayel. His killing has sparked unprecedented international outrage simply because he had the misfortune of springing a trap laid by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist regime when it illegally wiretapped the Saudi consulate in Istanbul—wait until something sufficiently damaging comes along, leak information about it piecemeal to Western media thirsty for stories that embarrass U.S. President Donald Trump, then use this lever to either extort Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (aka, MBS) or bring about his downfall.
The fact that someone in the Saudi chain of command was dumb enough to think they could use a consulate in hostile territory as a black ops site gave Erdoğan a goldmine with which to hobble his primary rival for leadership of the region’s Sunni states. As if on cue, former Obama administration officials and other proponents of the failed Iran nuclear deal have leapt forward to vilify MBS, demanding that President Trump cancel arms contracts and impose sanctions on the Saudis if he does not come completely clean about what happened and even produce a corpse for autopsy. Some Republicans have joined the pressure campaign.
President Trump must not give into this insanity. Enemies of the United States are trying to bring down MBS because he has squarely identified Iran and its Assad regime lackeys as the greatest security threat to the region, recognized that “Israelis have the right to have their own land,” and weakened the grip radical Islamist clerics have long had on his kingdom. If Iran, Erdoğan and financial backers of ISIS win, America loses. It’s that simple.
Like it or not, geopolitics is a team sport, and in the Middle East, it’s a team blood sport.
Even if MBS ordered the hit—in fact, especially if he ordered the hit—the Trump administration should allow the Saudi government to complete its own investigation and punish those found responsible, publicly accept those results, and move on with its plans for bringing much-needed peace and stability to the region.
With the shellacking his international reputation has taken as a result of the Khashoggi affair, MBS may prove to be an even more loyal ally if the Trump administration stands firm. Feeding him to the wolves will only make them more ravenous.
Ziad Abdelnour is CEO of the private equity firm Blackhawk Partners, chairman of the Financial Policy Council, and author of “Economic Warfare: Secrets of Wealth Creation in the Age of Welfare Politics” (2011).