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The Khashoggi Affair…First Take: Trump Emerges As The Big Financial Winner…

October 17, 2018

Poverty In Saudi

As to what happened with Jamal Khashoggi and why…Frankly I don’t think we’ll ever know all the details…but now a nearly two weeks later there are some themes that are emerging…

Basically Khashossi is a man who knew too much, about Turkish, Saudi machinations here and there (Syria, 9-11) ..and with his death a number of possible embarrassments for both the Saudi and Turkish government are less likely to see the light of day. Plus as one knowledgeable commentator, As’ad Abukhalil, noted, “he did not bet on democracy in Saudi Arabia, he bet on the wrong princes.”

Ultimately, a man who is known to be a part of the Muslim Brotherhood network, yet close to the Wahhahbist leadership of Saudi Arabia not only has intimate knowledge of these two competing wings of Sunni Islam, but also probably knows what Washington has been up to as well. Thus for different reasons and probably with different levels of involvement, all three would not shed too many tears at his death and were willing to sacrifice him for “higher causes” – ie, protecting their own reputations.

There are some suggestions, yet to be proven – that all three of the main players – Saudi, Turkey and the U.S. had prior knowledge that some foul deed would occur to Khashoggi in the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul and to one degree or another are complicit in Khashoggi’s cruel fate. While the Saudis are ultimately responsible for killing him, one of their own, none of these three are innocent. A killing of this nature – torture, murder and the hack-sawing of the body – could not take place without the approval of the highest authorities in Saudi. To think otherwise is to more than a bit naive.

Mohammad bin Salman, de facto ruler of Saudi has changed the rules by which key decision sin the kingdom are made. Before his coming to power and instituting what amounts to a palace coup, decisions were actually made collectively by the king but in cooperation with those closest him. Salman dissolved that system and now rules virtually by himself.

It is said that Salman has great faith in his own instincts, a tendency that is undermining both his credibility and very possibly his grip on power.

His “instincts” led him to intensify the war against Yemen, to threaten to invade Qatar and, last November, with the kingdom running short on cash, to place hundreds of Saudi billionaires under house arrest in what amounted to a financial shakedown (in the name of an anti-corruption campaign). A number of them were killed, apparently beheaded – setting an example for the others, who, facing such a fate, were more willing to give up substantial parts of their wealth in exchange for their lives.

A number of these billionaire hostages have not been released, among them Saudi billionaire Mohammad Hussein al Amoudi, who has sizable economic holdings – in the billions of dollars – in Ethiopia. Nearly a year after his arrest, he has not been released and it has been suggested that al Amoudi has been “Khashoggi-ized” and that the fledgling Ethiopian government has been bought off with hush money. It is notable that as al Amoudi’s case continued to drag on, that in two batches that as a good will gesture, the Saudi government released 1000 imprisoned Ethiopians both times and sent them home. At about the same time, Saudi  close collaborated – politically they are essentially joined at the hip – the United Arab Emirates – announced a gift to Ethiopia of some $3 billion, $1 billion of which was immediately transferred to Addis Ababa. A number of al Amoudi’s holdings in Ethiopia have been nationalized, something hardly likely if the man was still alive.

Hush money? Could be. It would not be the first time that the Saudis tried to buy their way out of embarrassment and crisis. In fact they do it all the time. So…was al Amoudi killed, did the Saudi hacksaw team that dismembered Khashgoggi practice first on al Amoudi? Or was his body dissolved in acid, the Patrice Lumumba treatment? Or is he still languishing somewhere in Riyahd or elsewhere in the kingdom? Whatever, he has not been released and the Saudis are mum about his fate.

So much for Salman’s instincts. His instincts suggested he could get away with murder. More and more it appears that he has gotten caught in his own arrogance and now he has to buy his way back into the world’s good graces. Hard act and one that has opened the door to the current media frenzy and his pathetic attempts to put this episode behind him. But for Trump and Erdogan, the whole affair represents an opportunity. Given that the Saudi’s over-reacted and then underestimated the furor of world public opinion, they are in a vulnerable position to be blackmailed in different ways. 

Basically both the Trump Administration and Erdogan are seeing just how much they can extract from Saudi in exchange for putting “the incident” – the murder and dismembering of Jamal Khashoggi – behind them. Both Washington and Istanbul are squeezing the Saudi lemon for all its worth, which is a fair amount. Each day that Turkey reveals another aspect of this sordid affair – and each day it does – it probably forces Salman and co. to cough up more $ or make yet another strategic concession. 

In Washington’s case, at the very least it was a bit like a mini case of “the Shock Doctrine”, to maximize its leverage in face of a foul deed of which they had some prior knowledge, not intervening in a way that could have saved Khashoggi’s life and then using the crisis to maximize the fall out to its own benefit, to see what it could get out of the episode…and as noted below, the Trump Administration appears to have been – through blackmail – the big winner. 

In discussions with my friend Ibrahim Kazerooni and co-participant in KGNU Boulder’s “Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues”, we noted the parallels between the Khashoggi murder and the 1988 Lockerbie Pan Am 103 incident in which Libyan agents planted a bomb that exploded in a civilian airliner over Lockerbie Scotland. Khadaffi’s arrogance got the better of him. He was later forced to admit (privately) that indeed his government had committed the act. Several lower level Libyan employees were thrown to the wolves as sacrificial lambs. A deal was struck in which the Libyan government would pay several billion dollars in compensation to the families of the victims and agreed to open its energy sector to foreign penetration some. In exchange, some sanctions were lifted against Libya and the campaign to vilify Khadaffi was temporarily softened.

The indications are that the Khashoggi case will be regulated in a similar manner – some lower level Saudi member of the Istanbul embassy will be the sacrificial lamb, there will be a big Saudi payoff to Washington to hush up the whole thing, or last tone down the growing criticism of Saudi actions and the mainstream media both in the US and Europe, rather than pursuing the issue and getting to the bottom of it, will simply accede to Washington’s pressure.

The comments of President Bush, his son-in-law adviser on Middle East affairs, Jared Kushner and the recent rushed visit of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo all suggest that the damage control campaign is well underway. The so-called joint Saudi-Turkish investigation of the killing slowed to a snail’s pace to give the Saudi’s time to organize a defensive scenario. No surprises here. Further, Israel and its strong U.S. backers – AIPAC – have stepped into the fray to cut off any serious investigation or Congressional outcry that might complicate the U.S.-Saudi strategic partnership.

Putting make up on the corpses of repressive and corrupt government and right-wing scumbag is nothing new in Washington. In fact it’s become something of a national sport. Hire a public relations firm or two (or five) – spend a few million dollars – more if you’re as rich as the Saudis – and get a political face-lift that turns international mafioso into something approaching Mahatma Gandhi, at least on paper. Zine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubaret wouldn’t leave home without one. The Saudis have several, including one that originated in Denver (but has now gone national) – “Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck has no plans to alter its $125,000-a-month contract to represent the Saudi Embassy, according to a person familiar with the arrangement. The person was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.”

Another generally underappreciated case

In the period just after the year 2000, the United States entered into a somewhat similar arrangement with the Algerian government. In that case, in exchange for Washington granting the military junta the international credibility it had lost – it had been accused of having committed rather heinous war crimes against its own people – the Algerian government entered into a poorly publicized but increasingly coordinated strategic relationship with Washington. The Clinton (and then the Bush) Administrations agreed to downplay the military junta’s role in Algeria’s civil war of the 1990s – and to sell them U.S. weapons – in exchange for Algeria giving the U.S. military/Special Forces, intelligence sharing etc.

As what concerns the murder of Khashoggi, the world will probably never know either all the gory details nor how the whole plan was hatched., nor all the secret arrangements between this unholy trinity that are in the making and the offing. So think of what follows as little more than a sketch. Still as the dust partially settles there is an emerging pattern of what is shaping up that looks something like this:

  1. Khashoggi was killed by the Saudis in their Istanbul embassy by a hit squad sent there to do the job.
  2. The reasons why remain unclear – there is much speculation – although the emerging narrative from the Kingdom – and supported by the Trump Administration – is not credible (ie – that the Saudi government didn’t mean to kill him (only to torture him?)
  3. The United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are together and in a coordinated manner shaping some kind of arrangement as to how minimize the negative fall out
  4. The biggest “winner” – basically blackmail $ to protect what is left of the good name of the Saudi kingdom is …the Trump Administration which will be the unofficial public relations firm engaged in damage control. There are reports that in exchange for  Washington not aggressively pursuing the investigation of Khashoggi’s death that the Trump Administration will receive something in the order of billions in what amounts to hush money. There is also the possibility that the Saudis will cancel their deal to buy Russian S-400 antimissile systems as a part of the deal in order to mollify Washington
  5. Turkey will gain certain concessions from Saudi as well – not sure what they are but believe it has something to do with white washing Turkey’s active role in support of mercenaries sent to Syria. Don’t be surprised if boils down to Saudis funding the Islamic mercenaries about to be flooding Turkey as the Syrian offensive to liberate Idlib province gets going. Will Saudi be willing to pay for the transfer of these rogue elements to points beyond Turkey, paying for their transport and future upkeep as a part of the deal?
  6. Another plus for Turkey is that a person with considerable insider knowledge of Turkey’s dirty role in Syria has been neutralized so to speak…and his body cut up in little pieces. Apparently Khashoggi through his contacts with the Saudi embassy in Washington also knows a fair amount about the Saudis and the September 11 (2001) attack on the United States.
  7. There is also the possibility that Saudi Prince Salman’s wings might get clipped some as a result.

While the details involved in the aftermath of the Khashoggi murder are, of course somewhat different still the basic pattern is the same: a government having committed human rights violations (for the Saudis – Yemen, Qatar, their own violent repression of dissidents at home) is granted “credibility” of some sort, or “forgiveness” in exchange for granting Washington either economic or strategic advantages. In the Libyan and now Saudi cases – “forgiveness” entails large financial transactions, otherwise known as blackmail or bribery in exchange for silence as well as reducing or eliminating barriers of economic penetration; in the Algerian case, the price for putting a bit of make up on the corpse that was the Algerian military junta’s role in the war against its own people has been increasing economic penetration of that country’s oil and gas industry and greater security cooperation in the African Sahara.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. William Conklin permalink
    October 17, 2018 8:16 pm

    Hi Rob, thanks again for the thoughtful post. I notice that the media in the United States is reporting on this incident but, the plight of the Gazans which is a million times worse since there are at least two million victims, most of which are innocent children, is ignored. I guess the murder of children by snipers is not as upsetting as the gutting of a journalist. They are all dead!

  2. kerim permalink
    October 18, 2018 3:45 am

    Rob, thank you for bringing this up .

    We can safely say, that the liquidation of Jamal Khashoggi, at the Saudi Consulate, is a flagrant act of State-Terrorism that should be swiftly dealt with, by the International Community, through the implementation of tough measures on MBS .
    His removal from power, should be the ultimate solution to the crisis, regardless what president Trump does, and whether he will indeed, stick to the Saudi version of the ongoing investigation, which will prove that the president is most likely going to protect MBS .

    Also the Kushner factor must be taken into account, in trying to save the Ben Salmans. (Conflicts of interest are all over the place, in this Administration .)

    To answer the question on how the operation could have taken place, so fast and with such a “clinical” precision, we’ll have to believe the story that says, that Jamal happened to have gone to the consulate, a week earlier, and he was told to come back after a week, to get the divorce paperwork that he requested . And so, on that fateful afternoon, he walked into the trap, where an already dispatched death squad awaited him . Surely, they did mean business, and the aim was to silence Jamal for ever, without mentioning the barbaric and most gruesome method being used . It surpasses all other torture methods known to mankind . Therefore, the liquidation of Jamal must have been an order from the Prince himself . This would allow him to send a clear message to anyone of his critics, to expect the same treatment as Jamal .

    On the other hand, if the turks would go along with a settlement, as you assume, and which is still a possibility, it will definitely make Erdogan look bad, in front the many who firmly believe that Erdogan won’t accept any arrangement, and that he’d rather see MBS gone than to sweep the Truth under the carpet, for a few $$$ more !
    Whatever the outcome is, we will soon find out .

    • October 18, 2018 7:47 am

      I don’t know to what degree either the Turks or the Trump Administration were complicit and not sure that we’ll ever know Kerim..Perhaps time will shake out some of these details. What I am more confident about is how Erdogan and Trump have played the crisis to shake down Salman and the Saudis..

      Your hypothesis makes sense although I wonder if there was any indication that Khaghoggi went to the consulate the week before? Just asking as it is not something I have read, seen yet.


      Are there repercussions to all this in Tunisia that you discern? Afterall Khaghoggi was a key play in the Brotherhoods?

  3. kerim permalink
    October 20, 2018 12:03 am

    Rob, it’s needless de tell you about tunisian official media, and particularly its approach to world news . In fact, the Kashoggi affair wasn’t headline news, but sporadically mentioned . Not surprising, because Tunisian foreign policy had traditionally taken the attitude not to report on Saudi matters, and not to upset the Kingdom, or else, both of Saudi Aid & Saudi cooperation might just end .
    Besides, you’re no stranger to Tunisia . You’ve lived here, and I know for a fact that, somehow, you do care about this country and you already know a great deal about the Political climate, in general . Hence, even Nawaat didn’t report anything on Khashoggi’s assassination .

    I do look at the Khashoggi slaughter, purely from its human aspect, no matter what his affiliations might have been . But it remains an act of cruelty, committed by a State, on another State’s soil, whereby a reporter is excessively tortured, butchered, then cut into pieces at the sound of loud music, put on purpose to express a total madness . It’s simply outrageous, and medieval .

    As for the story of Khashoggi, and if he went to the Consulate a week earlier, or not, shows one thing for certain . It couldn’t have been by chance, that the arrival of the death squad, coincided with the Khashoggi’s appointment, without having known in advance about the appointment . We may also add that it is highly usual for embassies & consulates to make “a second appointment”, concerning the delivery of requested documents . It is worth fact checking, indeed .

    I agree with you on the fact that Erdogan and Trump, knew how to exploit the situation and split the bounty, so to speak .

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