Monday, October 22, 2018

Trouble with Saudi Arab allies

It took me some time to figure out why the media were full of Jamal Khashoggi (JK), a disappeared U.S.-based journalist of Saudi origin. This confusion may be partly blamed on the many days it took to become sufficiently convinced that JK was murdered in an operation that was organized by some powerful people in Saudi Arabia – although it remains uncertain whether the Crown Prince was personally involved.

JK, a critic of the Saudi leaders when it comes to the approach to Yemen, human rights, and other issues, knew that he couldn't return to the Saudi Arabian territory because he could be easily murdered by the regime. Sadly, he failed to realize that the Saudi embassies are a part of the Saudi Arabian territory. He went to the Saudi embassy in Turkey – to get some paperwork in order to marry his Turkish fiance – and that was enough for him to be murdered.

Turkish authorities – Turkey ironically seems as the "good guy" in this story, you must gauge your expectations – believe that a dozen of people grabbed him, injected some substance for him to sleep, and they cut him to many pieces. The pieces of JK's body were moved to an unknown location. For the first time in many years, the embassy organized a barbecue party – probably to mask the smell of the decomposing corpse. Well, I generously assume that they didn't consume JK's flesh.

The likely story sounds sufficiently terrifying. But we're learning about other methods by which the Saudi leaders fight against the opposition. They have hired a Twitter troll farm – one hundred rogue employees – that provokes critics of the Saudi regime on Twitter. These critics are being written down to a list, given to some "agency", and they are being blackmailed and harmed in various ways.

JK knew about this troll farm and in his case, the cleaning operation went further. He was murdered. For some time, Saudi Arabia denied he was dead. Then they switched the official explanation to "he died in an accidental fist fight" and today, we finally hear that he was killed in a "rogue operation". But so far, it's still being denied that the Crown Prince has anything to do with that rogue operation.

Saudi Arabia is an important U.S. ally, at least it's believed that it's the case. For years, the main reason was the Saudi Arabian oil that the U.S. depended upon. I believe that especially due to fracking, the U.S. doesn't really depend on Saudi Arabia in this powerful way today. So maybe the U.S. arms exports to Saudi Arabia are the main reason why the U.S. – both the Trump and Hillary side of the U.S. – seems to be far more friendly towards Saudi Arabia than what would be adequate for the Saudi behavior.

Saudi Arabia is a rich country. There is clearly some correlation between the civilized behavior and the wealth. The correlation is far from perfect, however, and we should understand the causal relationship if there's one at all. The wealth may be the cause of the civilized behavior; or the civilized behavior may be the cause of the wealth. I guess that both influences operate to explain the correlation. Societies that consider the human life – and even a comfortable enough life – important enough simply try to achieve it for its citizens, and that's how they become wealthy. On the other hand, when a society becomes wealthy, it may afford to care about the human lives and the comfort.

But as I said, the correlation sometimes doesn't work too well. Saudi Arabia is rich yet pretty much controlled by many cruel standards of the medieval society. A disagreement with a leader is considered a legitimate justification for violence – or a murder. I think that our societies can't believe that an "offensive word" may ever justify violence or a murder. Does it make sense for "us" – well, the TRF community is diverse enough for a lot of uncertainty about the meaning of "we", but we still have some unifying themes – to try to be too friendly with such countries?

I think that the U.S. leftists often challenge the notion that Israel should have advantages as the U.S. ally. But the criticisms of the alliance with Saudi Arabia seem far weaker to me – even though Saudi Arabia is clearly far less humane. I guess that anti-Semitism – and I mean anti-Jewish sentiments that are really powered by jealousy – explain most of this strange treatment of Israel vs Saudi Arabia.

Just to be sure, similar issues arise in Israel. Israel's authorities are really hostile towards Iran and the Shiites – but they're far more compatible with Saudi Arabia and the Sunnis. Does this asymmetric treatment really make sense for Israel? Or is it forced upon Israel because the foreign Sunnis are more willing to tolerate Israel's very existence than the Shiites?