Why we should care about miss­ing Saudi jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - MONA CHAREN @monacharenEPPC Mona Charen is a se­nior fel­low at the Ethics and Pub­lic Pol­icy Cen­ter. Cre­ators Syn­di­cate

He had an ap­point­ment at the Saudi con­sulate in Is­tan­bul to col­lect some doc­u­ments he needed to marry his Turk­ish fi­ancee — a cer­tifi­cate show­ing that he was di­vorced from his first wife. He en­tered the con­sulate on Oct. 2 at 1:14 p.m., ask­ing his fi­ancee to wait out­side for him. She did. Un­til 2 a.m. He never emerged. A num­ber of news out­lets, cit­ing Turk­ish sources, are re­port­ing that Ja­mal Khashoggi, the for­mer ed­i­tor of a Saudi news­pa­per, regime critic and Wash­ing­ton Post con­trib­u­tor, was mur­dered.

The New York Times quoted sources who said that 15 Saudi agents from the se­cu­rity ser­vices, in­clud­ing one au­topsy ex­pert, en­tered Tur­key that same day on two char­tered flights. They de­parted that evening. The Saudis claim that Khashoggi left the con­sulate an hour after he ar­rived and have no idea what be­came of him. The Turks would like to send a foren­sic team in­side, but the Saudis have re­fused.

The story is mak­ing head­lines around the world. Mur­der and pos­si­ble dis­mem­ber­ment in a diplo­matic fa­cil­ity will do that. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has forged very close ties with Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, has de­scribed it as “a very sad sit­u­a­tion.” Trump con­tin­ued: “It’s a very bad sit­u­a­tion. We can­not let this hap­pen, to re­porters, to any­body.”

If, as looks very likely, Khashoggi was kid­napped and mur­dered on the or­ders of the crown prince, it should be a cau­tion­ary tale for his overly en­thu­si­as­tic fans in the West. Just six months ago, the 33-year-old prince spent three weeks in the U.S. meet­ing lead­ers of busi­ness and gov­ern­ment. In ad­di­tion to an Oval Of­fice ses­sion, he met Hol­ly­wood big­wigs Mor­gan Free­man, James Cameron and Dwayne “The Rock” John­son.

CBS’s “60 Min­utes” hailed Mo­hammed bin Sal­man as a “revolutionary” who was eman­ci­pat­ing women. He was re­ceived by Bill Clin­ton, Oprah Win­frey, Ru­pert Mur­doch and Stephen Sch­warz­man of the Black­stone Group. Jared Kush­ner re­port­edly felt that the two young scions un­der­stood one an­other, and helped per­suade Trump to make Saudi Ara­bia his first for­eign des­ti­na­tion.

But Crown Prince Mo­hammed’s nods in the di­rec­tion of re­form — he has per­mit­ted movie the­aters to open for the first time in decades, and women now have the right to drive (at least in the­ory) — shouldn’t cause hearts to flut­ter. The his­tory of western wish­ful think­ing about “re­formist” dic­ta­tors is very, very long and nearly al­ways ends in tears.

After Leonid Brezh­nev died, the Amer­i­can press was sud­denly en­am­ored of for­mer KGB head Yuri An­dropov. He spoke English! He “re­laxed with Amer­i­can nov­els.” The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported that he “is fond of cyn­i­cal po­lit­i­cal jokes with an an­tiregime twist … col­lects ab­stract art, likes jazz and Gypsy mu­sic,” and “has a record of step­ping out of his high party of­fi­cial’s co­coon to con­tact dis­si­dents.”

It was the purest KGB dis­in­for­ma­tion, but we so wanted it to be true. An­drew Young called the Ay­a­tol­lah Khome­ini a “saint.” Ge­orge McGovern com­pared Ho Chi Minh to Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton. And Hil­lary Clin­ton de­scribed Bashar al-As­sad as a “re­former.”

Crown Prince Mo­hammed has made re­formist noises; it’s true. But the ar­rests and con­vic­tions of peace­ful protesters have not abated. If any­thing, they’ve in­creased. On Oct. 28, Is­raa al-Ghomgham, a fe­male Shi­ite ac­tivist faces trial and pos­si­ble ex­e­cu­tion. Hu­man Rights Watch says the charges against her are not rec­og­niz­able as crimes. Ac­cord­ing to the Guardian, the charges in­clude “par­tic­i­pat­ing in protests, chant­ing slo­gans hos­tile to the regime, at­tempt­ing to in­flame pub­lic opin­ion and film­ing protests and pub­lish­ing on so­cial me­dia.”

The crown prince seems to have hair trig­ger about crit­i­cism from abroad as well. When Canada’s for­eign min­is­ter tweeted out a call for the Saudi monar­chy to re­lease two jailed dis­si­dents, the crown prince went to De­f­con 4. He cut all ties with Canada, or­dered all Saudi stu­dents home from Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties, and ex­pelled the am­bas­sador.

Ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post, in­tel­li­gence in­ter­cepts re­veal that Mo­hammed bin Sal­man de­vised a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Ara­bia and de­tain him. It looks as if he might have or­dered some­thing quite a bit worse.

Some­times you have to deal with bad ac­tors on the world stage. But you don’t have to de­lude your­self about who and what they are.

IF, AS LOOKS VERY LIKELY, KHASHOGGI WAS KID­NAPPED AND MUR­DERED ON THE OR­DERS OF THE CROWN PRINCE, IT SHOULD BE A CAU­TION­ARY TALE FOR HIS OVERLY EN­THU­SI­AS­TIC FANS IN THE WEST.

JACQUELYN MARTIN/AP

Protesters hold signs Wed­nes­day out­side the Saudi em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., call­ing at­ten­tion to the dis­ap­pear­ance and sus­pected mur­der of Saudi jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi.

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