This generation suffers from an extreme lack of perspective in the realm of foreign policy. That may be because they are coddled and sheltered, raised at the trough of feel-good heroes in Harry Potter and Star Wars, or because they’ve been privileged—yes, privileged—to grow up in the sunset years of the American golden age.
It’s probably a combination of all these things, but whatever the cause, from Generation X to Generation Z a startling disconnection from reality is unfolding in the discourse surrounding the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Along the way, it hasn’t been helpful that critical details have been misconstrued and deceptively framed arguments have muddied the waters making it far more difficult for Americans to make sense of this incident and even harder for them to properly assess how the United States should respond.
Journalists have falsely claimed that Khashoggi was an American national, confusing his status with that of his children. They have claimed that he had never been a part of the Muslim Brotherhood—despite Khashoggi’s own Washington Post colleagues confirming that he had, indeed, joined.
The most subversive deception campaigns have been coming from rogue actors within the federal government itself—people we’ve grown accustomed to calling the deep state. CIA agents have leaked to numerous outlets that their findings indicated the Saudi crown prince is culpable for the murder or Khashoggi. That part, at least, is probably true.
Be that as it may, their release of such information was a devastating blow to the public discourse and an act of mutiny, an act of treason.
But his death doesn’t matter, or, at least, it shouldn’t.
I say again, it doesn’t matter. Khashoggi’s murder, insofar as foreign policy and the national interests of the United States are concerned, should only be used as leverage to achieve our goals. Any bleeding heart decision-making is best left for the family kitchen table.
If you want a feel good moment, don’t look for it on the diplomatic stage, go volunteer and help your fellow Americans. For everyone else, let’s talk about the real issues at stake here.
For those not apprised to the situation, it’s worth laying out the key details briefly so everyone is on the same page.
On October 2, Khashoggi stepped into the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in order to pick up some documents related to his marriage license. It would be the last day of his life.
Inside the consulate, Khashoggi was tortured, his body dismembered, and the constituent parts smuggled out presumably using diplomatic bags brought into Istanbul’s airport for departure.
His disappearance was marked as just that—the case of a disappearing person. That would have been the end of it there—as is the case with countless dissidents that have been disappeared from the regimes of nations we dislike but are forced to deal with.
But the Saudis were sloppy. Two weeks later a joint-investigation between Turkish and Saudi authorities resulted in Turkish officials uncovering what they described as “tampering” of evidence within the consulate. The Saudis allegedly had brought in a body-double, a doppelganger used to deceive the world with security footage of “Khashoggi” leaving the consulate. His sneakers didn’t match, and the jig was up.
Three days later, the Saudis had changed their story: Khashoggi, they said, had died in a fistfight. A week after that, their story had once again changed with Saudi Arabia’s Attorney General finally admitting what the world already knew: the murder was premeditated.
Now, American media outlets are reporting that the CIA has leaked to them intelligence that confirms our suspicions. It seems that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, ordered the killing.
That’s basically the gist of it. Let’s get back to why this horrendous violation of human rights should play no role in the decision-making process of national policy.
National interest must be the sole motivating factor in the decision-making process of national policy.
This is an uncomfortable notion that Americans will have to learn to accept and do so quickly. Our presence as the world leader demands it and the future decision making will be inherited by the younger generation drunk on their idealism.
A large part of foreign policy is benefited by, for lack of a better term, the fog of war. Nations aren’t entirely sure what other nations have for goals, that’s why we form intelligence agencies, develop spycraft, and networks in foreign regimes. This is relatively common sense. The talking points of foreign nations can’t be taken alone at face value, that’s the old Reagan trust but verify.
But an often very purposefully disregarded aspect of that notion is that your own people are left in the dark, fed narratives, and constantly deceived by the federal government. Why? Because they’re not capable of thinking like foreign policy directors. They think like ordinary humans and are prone to personifying the relations of states. “This state is a good state, that one a bad.”
Naturally, they think their own state is, or, should be, one of the good guys. That’s a problem and a very critical one for a people that pride themselves in self-governing. It’s a well-intended naivete. Strictly speaking, it isn’t possible to become a superpower by always siding with the oppressed. If you were to swap today’s population with that of the 1930s, we’d have entered WWII at the initial onset of German aggression—and there would be four times as many American casualties to speak of. Like it or not, the hesitation to enter the war saved tens of thousands of American lives.
And, frankly, the lives of one American is more important than ten foreigners and if you aren’t able to think like this, to dabble in the devil’s arithmetic, you don’t belong dipping your toes into foreign policy discussions. Sooner or later, your advocacy will be on the side that ends up getting someone from this country killed.
This part should be kept brief as well since a substantive policy solution isn’t the purpose of this article. There are some crucial factors that deserve to be pointed out though.
First, the CIA agents that leaked information to NBC, Washington Post and the New York Times about their investigation are treasonous. They should be punished, relieved of their duties, and fired. Their names should be made public—just as they made public information that didn’t belong circulated on the newscasts while the president was concocting his own response to the slaying of Khashoggi.
Intelligence agencies are a tool. If they do their job right, Americans shouldn’t even know they’re working. It’s an unloved and unappreciated job, but that’s what they signed up for. By releasing information to media outlets, the CIA attempted to sway public opinion via leaks. Small-minded Americans that have no grasp of how foreign policy must be crafted are currently advocating for an entire breakdown in US-Saudi relations. That is insanity.
Saudi Arabia is currently pitted against Iran in a satellite war taking place in Yemen. They’ve been using our bombs, often in violation of the laws of war, to drop them on residential areas. I’ve written about this. They’re committing atrocious war crimes, targeting Western aid workers in the region, and escalating a war to the point of famine.
But here’s the thing, there are five major arms dealers in this world: The United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom. Roughly in that order. Those also happen to be the five permanent members on the UN Security Council.
The nation-state arms dealing business is simple: supply is equivalent to influence. It would be fair to say that supply demands influence. Of those five nations listed above, there are two on that list that don’t give a damn about human rights but they’re quite interested in Middle East influence. There’s no need to spell it out, we’re talking about China and Russia.
Liberal journalists and commentators are calling on us to cut off arms deals with Saudi Arabia. Do you know who is going to fill those gaps rather quickly? Here’s a hint: they won’t be shooting NATO rounds.
When Obama was crafting a policy framework for droning US citizens, there was hardly any outcry
Asha Rangappa is a CNN analyst who recently put out one of the most misleading and duplicitous statements regarding the Khashoggi affair. Here’s what she said:
The average person looks at this and compares Khashoggi, a foreign national, to an American. He’s not an American. He’s a man who made decisions based off of his ideology to take on a corrupt regime—because, yes, the Saudis are corrupt—in a judgement call. That was his personal choice and he was fool if he didn’t understand the very obvious risks.
He operated out of Turkey, a country that is no better than Saudi Arabia. Under Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan more than one purge of military leaders and intellectuals has taken place.
Further to the point, President Obama previously and infamously issued a framework for justifying the droning of an American citizen on foreign soil without due process. Hardly even the slightest interest was given to that affair until Senator Rand Paul filibustered for hours seeking answers to the measure.
There’s not a single good country in the Middle East, they’re all desert theocracies laden with sins. Even Israel.
This is the high cost of oil and influence in the Middle East. It isn’t something you have to enjoy, it’s something you have to accept. Nations, when operating correctly, get their hands dirty in the interest of their people. It’s a universal truth.
Now, these actions are not always just and there’s a difference between acting out of necessity and acting in search of excess. Saudi Arabia is a crucial playing piece on the international stage and to abandon that relationship because they killed one of their journalists is a fool’s gambit. The easiest way to prevent us from putting more troops on the ground in the Middle East is to have strong regional allies—proxies acting in our interests for mutually aligned goals.
The CIA knows this. They’re leaking information for the sake of destabilizing the Trump presidency since in some cases he does violate their plans for the future. It must be frustrating to be an unelected bureaucrat working on an agenda for two decades only to have a regime change disrupt and revoke your mission statement. Many of them are out for blood. That’s tough. They should know their place and obey their executive.
It may be cold, but how can we make Khashoggi’s death work for Americans?
This is the question you should be asking whenever an event occurs on the national stage: how can this be worked to the advantage of Americans? If you’re asking yourself who the good guys and bad guys are, you’re missing the point and need to adjust your mindset.
The Saudis screwed up big time. But if we’re to move forward, the only reasonable path is by using this as leverage. We do have interests in the region and we can make the Saudis work towards them. First and foremost we should ensure that the peace talks in Yemen go smoothly. We should pressure the regime by sanctioning individuals as we have, we should insulate the crown prince since it looks like he’s not going anywhere anyways, and we should stop supplying cluster bombs to the kingdom so long as we are unsure of their intended use.
Meanwhile, we should keep the other arms flowing.
What we shouldn’t do is irresponsibly throw the Saudis out so that they land in the hands of Chinese or Russian arms dealers. That’s not in America’s interest. It’s petty revenge for the death one man when we know full well Saudis are chopping off heads of dissidents every week in the village square. You run a family with your heart. You run a country with your brain.
Reactionary break ups are something only foolish ideologues will suggest.