Trump and Co’s Mid­dle East fi­asco

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP - BY ERIC S. MARGOLIS

SAUDI ARA­BIA has been shaken to its core by the grue­some mur­der of jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi.

Turk­ish in­tel­li­gence has leaked that the Saudi jour­nal­ist, who wrote op-ed pieces for The Wash­ing­ton Post news­pa­per, was stran­gled in the Saudi con­sulate in Is­tan­bul, then cut up into pieces for dis­posal or dis­solved in acid. His re­mains have yet to be found.

Khashoggi’s brazen mur­der has caused a cri­sis in US-Saudi re­la­tions, an an­gry con­fronta­tion with Turkey, and se­ri­ous ques­tions about the Saudi war in wretched Ye­men, which so far had caused 60,000 deaths and left this re­mote land fac­ing star­va­tion.

Trump and his al­lies ini­tially sup­ported the Saudi-Emi­rati war against Ye­men, hav­ing fallen for the false claim that great Satan Iran was back­ing the Ye­meni Houthi forces. Bri­tain and Is­rael strongly sup­ported the Saudi war.

In re­al­ity, Saudi Ara­bia’s head­strong Crown Prince Mo­hammed, got his na­tion em­broiled in a no-win war against tough Ye­meni tribes who re­fused to ac­cept a Saudi­im­posed fig­ure­head ruler. The United Arab Emi­rates, a Saudi ally, also got in­volved to ex­pand its lit­tle coun­try-big am­bi­tions around the Red Sea lit­toral.

But the Saudis lacked a real army to wage war in Ye­men. They feared an army might mount a coup against the royal fam­ily as hap­pened in Egypt, Iraq and Libya. In the past, the Saudis had rented crack Pak­istani troops to pro­tect their palaces and oil. But Pak­istan re­fused Saudi re­quests to send troops to sub­due Ye­men.

As Libya’s late leader, Colonel Muam­mar Gadaffi told me, “the Saudis are a small bunch of rich peo­ple liv­ing be­hind high walls in ter­ror of their poorer neigh­bours”. The Saudis hated Gadaffi be­cause he kept call­ing them “traitors to the Arab cause, pros­ti­tutes, whore-mon­gers and crooks”.

In­stead, the Saudis re­lied on their US and Bri­tish-sup­plied air force to pros­e­cute the war in Ye­men by in­dis­crim­i­nate ter­ror bomb­ing and try­ing to starve the Ye­me­nis into sub­mis­sion.

Vil­lages and schools were flat­tened, wed­ding par­ties rock­eted, school buses at­tacked.

US and Bri­tish tech­ni­cians and mil­i­tary ex­perts kept the Saudi war­planes fly­ing and pro­vided bombs and tar­get­ing data from satel­lites. West­ern merce­nar­ies fly and ser­vice the Saudi and Emi­rati air force.

No one in the West cared about this mas­sacre un­til the un­for­tu­nate Khashoggi was mur­dered in Is­tan­bul. This crime al­lowed dis­gust with Saudi Ara­bia over its Ye­men war, be­head­ings and cru­ci­fix­ions to fi­nally take prece­dence over arms sales and tawdry geopol­i­tics.

The US and Bri­tain fi­nally ques­tioned their bil­lions of arms sales to the Saudis who use these mam­moth pur­chases to buy sub­servience from the west­ern democ­ra­cies. France and Ger­many re­coiled from ma­jor arms sales. Self-right­eous Canada pre­var­i­cated, try­ing to get the Saudi cash while duck­ing op­pro­brium for arm­ing a cruel, mur­der­ous regime.

Wash­ing­ton’s most ar­dent Is­rael sup­port­ers – Se­cu­rity Chief Bolton, and Sec­re­tary Pom­peo – rushed to sup­port the Saudis. They re­peated the lu­di­crous claim that Khashoggi was a Mus­lim Broth­er­hood mem­ber and thus wor­thy of ex­e­cu­tion. In truth, the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood is a ven­er­a­ble, moder­ate or­gan­i­sa­tion com­posed of Arab pro­fes­sion­als that calls for democ­racy.

But the most in­ter­est­ing de­vel­op­ment may have been the flight from Lon­don to Riyadh by ex­iled Saudi Prince Ah­mad Ab­du­laziz. This 70-some­thing younger brother of King Sal­man was re­port­edly given se­cu­rity guar­an­tees by the US and Bri­tain that he would not be ar­rested by Crown Prince Mo­hammed when he re­turned to Riyadh from a golden ex­ile in Lon­don.

You could al­most hear them yelling “bad pup­pets, bad pup­pets” at the Saudi roy­als. Only two weeks ear­lier, an un­usu­ally frank Pres­i­dent Trump had even ob­served that the Saudi 7,000-mem­ber royal fam­ily would not last “more than a week” with­out US sup­port.

He was quite right. Since the 1930’s, the Saudi dy­nasty has been de­fended and sup­ported by first Bri­tain, then the US.

Few ques­tioned the sup­port of the world’s lead­ing democ­racy for a cruel medieval monar­chy. There was too much oil money in­volved. The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment even quashed crim­i­nal charges when huge kick­backs to Saudi roy­als on air­craft or­ders were re­vealed. Wash­ing­ton cov­ered up the Saudi role in the 9/11 at­tacks and fi­nanc­ing of anti-US groups.

Back to Prince Ah­mad. Has he been cho­sen by Wash­ing­ton and Lon­don to re­place the rash, vi­o­lent Crown Prince Mo­hammed?

How wor­ried is the US that the Khashoggi mur­der could set off a re­bel­lion in Saudi Ara­bia? Or civil war in the royal fam­ily? The aged cur­rent king, Sal­man, is re­ported to have cog­ni­tive prob­lems.

The clumsy, ham-handed med­dling of Trump in Saudi dy­nas­tic af­fairs pro­pelled the bull-in-a-china-shop Crown Prince into power. The machi­na­tions of Trump’s son-in­law, Jared Kush­ner, and his Is­raeli al­lies have ig­nited the cur­rent cri­sis.

Trump and Co have very much to learn about the Mideast. So far, their at­tempt to play colo­nial viceroys has been a fi­asco.

Eric S. Margolis is an award-win­ning, in­ter­na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist, writ­ing mainly about the Mid­dle East and South Asia. Com­ments: let­ters@the­sundaily.com

Friends of Khashoggi hold posters and ban­ners with his pic­tures dur­ing a demon­stra­tion out­side the Saudi Ara­bia con­sulate in Is­tan­bul, Turkey last month.

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