THE KHASHOGGI SCAN­DAL AND THE FU­TURE OF RE­GIONAL OR­DER

Since the U.S. will never leave the Mid­dle East, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion needs to find a way to be en­gaged with the re­gion’s re­al­i­ties and set out a rea­son­able road map with ra­tio­nal lo­cal part­ners

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page - BURHANETTİN DU­RAN

THERE is no doubt that Trump en­gaged with Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates in cer­tain ways that made those coun­tries more au­da­cious

Saudi Ara­bia has been backed into a cor­ner due to jour­nal­ist and dis­si­dent Ja­mal Khashoggi’s mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance in Turkey. New in­crim­i­nat­ing ev­i­dence has come to light in re­cent days, as diplo­matic pres­sure on Is­rael has mounted. The Turk­ish news­pa­per Sabah pub­lished the per­sonal in­for­ma­tion of the 15-mem­ber Saudi as­sas­si­na­tion team. With all eyes fixed on the Saudi con­sul’s res­i­dence in Is­tan­bul, a num­ber of me­dia out­lets have re­ported that Turkey had an au­dio record­ing of Khashoggi’s ex­e­cu­tion.

As Turk­ish se­cu­rity forces con­tinue their ef­forts to shed light on what hap­pened, Turkey has started ask­ing Saudi Ara­bia more di­rect ques­tions. On the re­turn flight af­ter an of­fi­cial visit to Hun­gary ear­lier this week, Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan told re­porters that, “We can­not keep silent in the face of the in­ci­dent that oc­curred in our coun­try.” He added that the con­sulate of Saudi Ara­bia was equipped with “ad­vanced cam­era sys­tems.” Mean­while, un­der pres­sure from sen­a­tors to take ac­tion, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump be­gan to de­mand an­swers from Saudi Ara­bia: “We are look­ing at it very, very se­ri­ously. We are work­ing with Turkey. We want to find out what hap­pened.”

One thing is clear: Riyadh was wrong to as­sume that it could cover up the Khashoggi mur­der.

With his son-in-law Jared Kush­ner’s close ties to the crown princes of Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates (UAE) un­der scru­tiny, Trump has been com­pelled to deal with the Khashoggi case. Af­ter all, the vic­tim was a con­trib­u­tor to the Wash­ing­ton Post, which cited U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials on Thurs­day who in­ter­cepted com­mu­ni­ca­tions that linked Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man (widely known as MBS) to the as­sas­si­na­tion. U.S. me­dia out­lets have been at­tack­ing Trump for spoil­ing the Saudi crown prince over the “dis­ap­pear­ance” of Khashoggi. Some be­lieve that Trump’s re­luc­tance to act was proof that the United States had of­fi­cially stopped pro­tect­ing the lib­eral in­ter­na­tional or­der.

Oth­ers con­cen­trated on the U.S.’ pres­ence in the Mid­dle East. Ear­lier this week, an op-ed es­say ap­peared in Bloomberg View mak­ing the case that Khashoggi’s mur­der was proof that Wash­ing­ton could not just with­draw from the re­gion and hand over con­trol to re­gional pow­ers: “A post-Amer­i­can Mid­dle East will not be sta­ble and peace­ful.”

There is no doubt that Trump en­gaged with Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE in cer­tain ways that made those coun­tries more au­da­cious. He re­versed for­mer U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ef­forts to rein­te­grate Iran into the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem by scrap­ping the Iran nu­clear deal and pub­licly tar­get­ing Tehran – the stuff of dreams for the Saudis and the UAE. Com­bined with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s open sup­port of Is­raeli ex­pan­sion­ism, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi as­sumed that they could con­tain Iran and re­store the re­gional or­der, which the Arab Spring rev­o­lu­tions have dis­rupted. Their ex- pan­sion­ist cam­paigns in Ye­men, Libya and else­where, they thought, could suc­ceed.

The des­ig­na­tion of MBS as crown prince was fol­lowed by a crack­down on his op­po­nents in the House of Saud. En­cour­aged by his close ties to Trump and Trump’s son-in-law, he pro­ceeded to im­pose a block­ade on Qatar last year. Khashoggi was one of the most prom­i­nent names on Saudi Ara­bia’s hit list, but he isn’t the last.

Trump cre­ated an al­liance be­tween Saudi Ara­bia, the UAE, Is­rael and Egypt with the pri­mary pur­pose of con­tain­ing Iran; yet, he can­not cre­ate a new re­gional or­der. Quite the con­trary, the most re­cent de­vel­op­ments in the Mid­dle East fu­eled new power strug­gles and in­cited vi­o­lence. The Khashoggi af­fair is one of the most dev­as­tat­ing re­minders of that fact.

Iron­i­cally, it was Wash­ing­ton’s mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion that caused vi­o­lence in the re­gion – even though the United States re­mained com­mit­ted to the lib­eral or­der at the time. The mem­ory of the hu­man cost of the U.S. oc­cu­pa­tions in Afghanistan and Iraq, in­clud­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of ca­su­al­ties, mil­lions of refugees and the rise of rad­i­cal groups, are still fresh. To­day, the Amer­i­cans aren’t re­ally pulling back from the Mid­dle East by throw­ing their weight be­hind Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv. They are merely cre­at­ing the con­di­tions for a dif­fer­ent kind of in­ter­ven­tion. As such, one can­not rea­son­ably make the case, cit­ing the Khashoggi as­sas­si­na­tion, that the U.S. can­not with­draw from the Mid­dle East be­cause its al­lies would fail to main­tain or­der.

At the end of the day, no­body re­ally be­lieves that Wash­ing­ton will ac­tu­ally leave the re­gion. The United States must bring its meth­ods of en­gage­ment, set of lo­cal part­ners and goals in line with the facts on the ground. The Gulf-Iran ri­valry can­not be kept un­der con­trol un­less Turkey’s bal­anc­ing role be­comes clearer. There can be no peace or or­der un­til then. Pro­vided that this is quite ob­vi­ous, the only plau­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion is that the United States does not want peace and or­der in the Mid­dle East.

A mem­ber of the se­cu­rity staff opens the Saudi Ara­bian Con­sulate’s door, Is­tan­bul, Oct .10.

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