Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Unspoken Darker Side of the Khashoggi Affair

The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul has indeed turned it into the 21st version of the movie Casablanca: an illiberal democracy (Turkey) encircled by regional rivalries (Qatar, Iran, Saudi Arabia) and competing superpowers (US, Russia) with their unique assets specifically, cash, oil, democracies, illiberal democracies and autocracies supported their respective brutish internal security and military intelligence, not to mention the 3.5 million refugees held within Turkey’s borders thanks to generous European financing for care-taking purposes in exchange of, for lack of a better word, “protection money” to keep them there indefinitely to prevent an exodus to Western European countries.

Since Khashoggi’s death the media has focused intensely on the role of the Saudi government. But the question not being asked is why would the Saudi government risk killing a prominent, US-based journalist? Certainly Khashoggi irked the Saudi government with his criticisms of the Saudi leadership as well as close friendship with Turkey’s President Erdogan and his associates.

Turkey is Saudi Arabia’s regional adversary whose policies & practices are diametrically opposite of those with Saudi Arabia’s such as economic support for Qatar during Saudi Arabia’s embargo and political support for the Muslim Brotherhood. One could even argue that Khashoggi’s divorce to a Saudi woman and engagement to a Turkish woman was an ironically symbolic final straw.

It begs the question why the Saudis would utilize outrageously expensive resources in an military-like operation that require approval at the highest levels of government utilizing two private jets flying long-distance carrying a reportedly total of 15 Saudi royal security agents with a 24-hour turnaround time to commit a crime in a sovereign NATO member country with the objective of intercepting a mere journalist, a poet warrior who fights with a pen not a gun.

For sure there are endless other more economical ways to discourage dissents from expressing their view. A case study is the Russian government’s alleged assassinations of dissents outside of Russia which have been quiet, subtle and “professional” a literal poison pen versus the Saudis’ blunt force trauma against a journalist that appears brutish, clumsy and amateurish.

This over-the-top effort begs the question whether there’s something far deeper, sinister than the neutralization of a dissident poet warrior. For decades Khashoggi has been a well-respected, well-liked journalist with an envious depth of extensive connections at the highest corporate and governmental. Although his criticisms of the Saudi government were professionally articulated his superb reputation carried more political far greater weight than some unknown rabid blogger spewing far more aggressive language.

Viewing this scenario from a conspiratorial perspective, which is not a stretch in regions such as the Middle East, is whether one or more of Khashoggi’s contacts or even friendships posed an existential threat to the Saudi leadership. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), has made many enemies amongst the Saudi royal families during his ruthless rise to power and is certainly mindful of being overthrown by high-level disgruntled parties. Perhaps Khashoggi, knowing or unknowingly, is the messenger to these parties whose leader is assuming the role of Claus von Stauffenberg, the infamous German officer who led the plot against the Third Reich leadership under the name Operation Valkeyrie.

For this reason I believe that in some way the Saudi government at the highest levels believed that Jamal Khashoggi was an existential threat to them, not as a journalist, rather as a willing or unwilling active participant in a growing underground movement to overthrow MBS and neutralize a critical go-between like Khashoggi was of the highest priority. It was a situation that required extreme, brutal and immediate action regardless of the public relations fallout.

To find out whether this theory has been mentioned amongst journalist circles I had the opportunity to ask journalist Chris Hayes of the TV program “All In With Chris” who was the moderator of the panel discussion “National Security Journalism in an Age of Disinformation” about this possibility during the question & answer period that took place at NYU School of Law on 22 October 2018. Disappointingly the usually loquacious and verbose Mr. Hayes provided an unusually short response that Khashoggi’s death was the result of nothing more than his dissenting writings of the Saudi government in The Washington Post. Even more surprisingly the rest of the five-person panel consisting of distinguished journalists and one former high-level US government official declined to add to his comment.

As in the movie “Chinatown” (1971), there’s more than meets the eye to a murder when ruthless land baron Noah Cross ominously tells highly seasoned private detective Jake Gittes, “You may think you know what’s going on, but you don’t” to which Mr. Gittes simply smirks thinking that it’s a straight-forward, open and shut murder case of a jealous housewife and her supposedly cheating husband and doesn’t consider the possibility that there’s something far more sinister. Nevertheless the Khashoggi affair may present a huge misdirection that is being played out at the highest geopolitical levels.

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