Why has the media and much of the political establishment made the presumed murder of an Islamist Saudi dissident on Turkish soil a defining issue in American foreign policy?
Jamal Khashoggi is not a U.S. citizen, despite his past residence in Virginia, nor is he a lover of liberty, despite his criticism of Saudi Arabia’s despotic regime. He previously served that regime as a mouthpiece for, and adviser to, the alleged al-Qaeda-tied Saudi intelligence leader Turki bin Faisal. Khashoggi mourned the death of Osama bin Laden, whom Khashoggi had been granted unusual levels of access for numerous interviews. Khashoggi was also an ardent proponent of political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Needless to say, one wonders why Khashoggi was permitted to enter the United States and handed a column at The Washington Post given this background, particularly at a time our media claims acute sensitivity to foreign influence. One also wonders why so many in the media are quick to fawn over such a figure given his regressive views.
This is not to dismiss Khashoggi’s alleged gory assassination at the hands of his supposed Saudi captors by characteristically sketchy unnamed Turkish sources. If Mohammad bin Salman’s regime did execute this grisly murder, risking all the capital it had accrued in the West to send a signal to its political opposition, it should have to deal with the consequences.
But surely our media and political establishment are not blind to the brutality and censorship that characterizes the regimes of the Islamic world, whether in Riyadh, Ankara, or Tehran. Nor are they deaf to the proxy war taking place in any of a number of theaters with Iran, intense jockeying for relations with the Trump administration and much else that divides Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab nations like Egypt and the United Arab Emirates on the one hand, and Turkey and Qatar on the other.
3 Reasons Khashoggi Is Suddenly a BFD
Given the realities of an Islamic world marked by tyranny and perpetually roiled in internecine warfare, it is striking that this single alleged episode would lead to calls for America to effectively dismantle its entire regional policy. Yet is Saudi Arabia significantly different today than it was yesterday? It is even more curious, again, that the press would rush to such a judgment without evidence from a single trustworthy source, or any piece of compelling evidence.
Occam’s Razor suggests the media and political establishment is interested in Khashoggi for three main reasons.
First, Khashoggi is being used as a cudgel against President Trump’s foreign policy. The Trump administration has cultivated deep ties with Saudi strongman Mohammad bin Salman in a symbiotic relationship. The Saudis serve as the focal point in the Trump administration’s Gulf counter-jihadist alliance, as well as its Sunni Arab anti-Iran coalition. The United States provides bin Salman both military and political support, and credibility that he hopes will enable him to open Saudi Arabia to foreign capital to underwrite his modernization efforts and cement his rule on a more stable foundation.
Much of the establishment is seeking to force the Trump administration to ditch the Saudis — enemies of progressive Wilsonian foreign policy establishment darling Iran and its beloved fallen Iran Deal — thereby scuttling the Trump administration’s overall counter-jihadist, anti-Khomeinist Middle East policy. This policy is the polar opposite of the Obama administration’s, which the establishment of course largely supported.
Second, casting bin Salman as a murderous dictator feeds into one of the establishment’s favorite narratives, that Trump embraces authoritarians and harbors authoritarian tendencies himself. The counter of course is that foreign policy requires partnering at times with unsavory regimes that reject our values in order to advance our greater interests, and Trump understands this.
Such concerns were evidently subordinated when the Obama administration was consummating the Iran Deal, supporting the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and all manner of jihadists in Libya, and engaging in the Russian reset. Certainly the hundreds of thousands dead in Iran-backed Syria, where America’s chief contributions included arming ISIS and ceding control to Russia, are a testament to the establishment’s comfort with setting aside values when pursuing its interests. Most absurd of all among a press frequently blinded by its Trump hatred is the suggestion that Trump actually inspired the Saudis’ alleged actions.
Third, the media believes in protecting its own, and virtue-signaling. Threatening a journalist — if that journalist isn’t a conservative, and the person threatening him isn’t a leftist — is the surest way to draw the media’s ire. The pile-on in this case for not just the media, but also for major U.S. corporations, to cut ties with the Saudis indicates the social pressure is strong among the progressive elite to reject the Saudis on supposed moral grounds, given the alleged murder of a romanticized supposed “reformer” in exile, notwithstanding the West’s commerce with other similarly violent regimes abroad. The media also loves stoking the flames of the narrative that Trump wishes to shut down dissent. If he tolerates the Saudis doing so, in the media’s eyes, all the more reason to attack.
There’s More Going On Here, Of Course
Another element to this story was raised in one of Khashoggi’s last columns for The Washington Post. It has gone ignored, and might explain in part the rush to make Khashoggi a cause célèbre given the lack of facts and evidence, and Khashoggi’s checkered background.
On Aug. 28, 2018, Khashoggi published an article for The Washington Post titled “The U.S. is wrong about the Muslim Brotherhood — and the Arab world is suffering for it.” In it, he blames the United States’ aversion to the Muslim Brotherhood for the “loss of a great opportunity to reform the entire Arab world and allow a historic change that might have freed the region from a thousand years of tyranny.”
Get that? It is the Sharia supremacist Muslim Brotherhood that in Khashoggi’s view would have “liberated” the Arab world. Khashoggi continues:
There can be no political reform and democracy in any Arab country without accepting that political Islam is a part of it … the only way to prevent political Islam from playing a role in Arab politics is to abolish democracy, which essentially deprives citizens of their basic right to choose their political representatives …
It is wrong to dwell on political Islam, conservatism and identity issues when the choice is between having a free society tolerant of all viewpoints and having an oppressive regime.
Who knew that Muslim Brotherhood rule would foster liberty and plurality? Put simply, for Khashoggi, Islamic theocracy is freedom. Unsurprisingly, then, essential to his desired “democratic” project is the Muslim Brotherhood:
There are efforts here in Washington, encouraged by some Arab states that do not support freedom and democracy [read: Saudi Arabia], to persuade Congress to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. If they succeed, the designation will weaken the fragile steps toward democracy and political reform that have already been curbed in the Arab world. It will also push backward the Arab countries that have made progress in creating a tolerant environment and allowing political participation by various components of society, including the Islamists.
The Obama administration’s entire Middle East policy was disastrous to America’s national interest, but it was in accord with Khashoggi’s wishes, and those of a political establishment for which political Islam was considered not only acceptable but also desirable, and the Muslim Brotherhood was viewed as its most viable vehicle. Obama disrupted any semblance of balance in the historically bloody and chaotic Middle East by seeking to swing all power to one side, unleashing violent, supremacist, theocratic forces on all sides.
Recall that in the Sunni-Shia struggle, the administration sided with the Shia, seeking to make Iran the Middle East strong horse, flush with a more than $100 billion bailout, access to the global financial system, and a U.S. security guarantee for the Islamic Republic’s nuclear infrastructure. As if it was not bad enough to reward the world’s leading state sponsor of jihad with regional dominance, the Obama administration also sought to unshackle and empower the Muslim Brotherhood — the tip of the Sunni jihadist spear, and an Iran-linked one at that.
The Obama administration supported the Brotherhood’s takeover of Egypt under the iron first of avowed Jew-hater, Christian persecutor, and Sharia supremacist Mohamed Morsi. The administration also unleashed jihadist forces in Libya. Under the guise of democracy, the entire Obama strategy was to sweep out of power the relatively secular authoritarian rulers like Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi who had kept a lid on jihadist savagery, and supplant them with Islamic theocrats.
The Roles of Manufactured Echo Chambers
“Democracy” in the Middle East meant tyranny of the Sharia supremacist majority, not liberalism. In 2014, in the wake of the Obama administration’s turn toward the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia designated the group as a terrorist organization, believing it posed a threat to the House of Saud. As Khashoggi noted, the Trump administration sought to reverse Obama administration policy, and considered designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
The administration met an onslaught of opposition from the media and political establishment. An echo chamber sprung into action, replete with countless articles in publications including The New York Times, Washington Post, and Foreign Policy — some even drafted by Brotherhood officials themselves — leaked documents from the CIA and State Department and attacks on Muslim Brotherhood terror designation proponents in the Trump administration, a PR coup against the effort to designate the group. This effort has, to date, succeeded. and the Muslim Brotherhood echo chamber remains.
As I noted in a Federalist article in April 2018, it was again deployed to attack Secretary of State designate Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor designate John Bolton as Islamophobic bigots in a bid to sink their nominations. Both Pompeo and Bolton were perceived as tough on Islamic supremacism in general, and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular. This time the echo chamber failed.
It stands to reason too that the Muslim Brotherhood echo chamber is playing a role in the Khashoggi hysteria we are witnessing today. The sheer mass and speed with which journalists, pundits, and establishment politicians have spun out articles and soundbites in mainstream publications and outlets, almost uniformly portraying Khashoggi as a freedom-loving journalist, and attacking the anti-Muslim Brotherhood Saudi regime for alleged savagery that is sadly standard fare in the Middle East — all without context or corroboration — should give readers pause.
The accounts on which all this speculation is based, it bears noting again, are sourced from unreliable officials in Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Turkey, where the alleged murder took place, and amplified in Brotherhood-friendly publications. Why are they being taken at face value? Could it be because Khashoggi has been a powerful propagandist for a cause shared by the media and the political establishment — that of the Muslim Brotherhood — making a sober evaluation of the facts, and reasoned consideration as to what to do with them, of secondary concern?
Foreign Policy Shouldn’t Be Dictated by Fake Crises
In the final analysis, none of the actors with which we must deal in the Middle East save for Israel believe in anything resembling Western values. But America must operate in the world as it is, rather than as we wish it to be.
Some are using the Khashoggi saga as a cynical ploy to pressure the Trump administration to relinquish its partnership with regimes that, although brutal and repressive, share a common adversary in Iran, and may be useful in suppressing jihadist forces. They do America’s national interest no good.
The globe is filled with murderers and thieves. In this dangerous world, our government’s paramount role is to protect us. The pursuit of our national security and national interest requires at times partnering with immoral regimes, requiring keen judgment, and the prioritizing of principles versus objectives. Doing everything we can to protect ourselves does not make us immoral.
For historical evidence, look no further than the sickening but necessary American alliance with the Soviet Union in World War II. Would it have been better to lose the war and thus all freedom by holding the so-called moral high ground of refusing to fight alongside an evil regime? On the contrary, refusing to partner with those who might help us further our security interests, thereby imperiling our citizens, would be the height of immorality.
The Iran Deal and Muslim Brotherhood echo chamber chorus, led by none other than Ben Rhodes is wholly hypocritical in its criticism given the evil regimes with which the Obama administration colluded, self-evidently to the detriment of our national interest. The Khashoggi affair has revealed significantly more about the nature of our media and political establishment than about the Islamic world and American foreign policy.