For sake of moral­ity, can­cel Saudi arms deal

Simcoe Reformer - Times-Reformer - - OPINION - AN­DREW CO­HEN

It has been al­most two months since Ja­mal Khashoggi was mur­dered in Is­tan­bul. For all the threats and cries in Canada and the United States, noth­ing much has changed.

A cynic might say that things are un­fold­ing as ex­pected. This is what hap­pens in a world in which your friends are the en­e­mies of your en­e­mies — or, more crassly, you just want their money. Call it prac­ti­cal.

Don­ald Trump is in de­nial over the mur­der; the U.S. pres­i­dent re­fuses to be­lieve the find­ings of his in­tel­li­gence ser­vices, who be­lieve Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man of Saudi Ara­bia or­dered the killing.

The man who swore Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States and claimed mil­lions of Amer­i­cans voted il­le­gally in 2016 now can­not be­lieve the volatile crown prince was be­hind the killing of one of his crit­ics. Trump says the prince says he didn’t know about it and Trump be­lieves him.

In Oc­to­ber, a shrewd ob­server in Wash­ing­ton told me what he thought would hap­pen: the Is­raelis would ap­peal stren­u­ously to Trump to pre­serve the al­liance against Iran, keep­ing the Saudis in at all costs. The Amer­i­cans would agree, give the Saudis “a slap on the wrist” over Khashoggi and move on.

Congress may still sus­pend arms sales to Saudi Ara­bia. But for Trump, what’s the lousy life of a jour­nal­ist against all that money and those jobs?

In Canada, things are more com­pli­cated. We don’t worry about the Is­raelis, the Ira­ni­ans and geopo­lit­i­cal ques­tions. We’re caught be­tween com­merce and con­science.

Like all civ­i­lized peo­ple, we are ap­palled that the Saudis killed Khashoggi. Be­fore that, we were ap­palled the Saudis tor­tured and im­pris­oned lead­ing hu­man rights ac­tivists. We said so, and the Saudis hit us with a suite of diplo­matic and eco­nomic mea­sures.

Since then, though, not much has been said. The Saudis are still sell­ing us oil and some of their stu­dents re­main here, at least for now. We have not can­celled a crown cor­po­ra­tion’s $15-bil­lion ar­moured ve­hi­cle con­tract with the Saudis that Gen­eral Dy­nam­ics Land Sys­tems-Canada is ser­vic­ing. And there things sit.

For all in­tents and pur­poses, then, our con­sid­ered si­lence on Saudi Ara­bia is no bet­ter than Trump’s brazen ac­qui­es­cence. It amounts to the same thing: a de facto ac­cep­tance that a gov­ern­ment can kill a jour­nal­ist it doesn’t like, in an­other coun­try, and get away with it.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau says can­celling the con­tract could cost us a bil­lion dol­lars. And if we are not pay­ing the Saudis for walk­ing away, we would have to com­pen­sate the work­ers. As Joe Castaldo re­ported in The Globe and Mail on the week­end, break­ing the con­tract would have real eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences in and around Lon­don, Ont. It would cost jobs and quite pos­si­bly the two seats the Lib­er­als hold there.

If the Lib­er­als are con­sid­er­ing can­celling the con­tract and com­pen­sat­ing work­ers, that is now harder with Gen­eral Mo­tors clos­ing its plant in Oshawa. If the Lib­er­als have to find money for work­ers in Oshawa, they will have less for those in Lon­don.

Is there some­thing more im­por­tant in sell­ing arms to Saudi Ara­bia than pol­i­tics and money? What about — dare we say it — moral­ity?

Canada calls it­self a pro­gres­sive coun­try with val­ues as well as in­ter­ests. We have never had colonies, never fought wars of con­quest and never fought alone. We be­lieve in democ­racy and de­cency, though we are of­ten im­per­fect and hyp­o­crit­i­cal in choos­ing our trad­ing part­ners.

Here we are sell­ing arms to a me­dieval regime, help­ing them but­tress a lead­er­ship that is killing in­no­cents in Ye­men and jail­ing, tor­tur­ing and killing with­out apol­ogy.

At the end of the day, if we stand for any­thing, we have only one choice: Can­cel the con­tract. An­drew Co­hen is a jour­nal­ist, pro­fes­sor and author.

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