Good Friday Morning! Early voting is here, and the midterm elections are officially upon us. I don’t think either party has experienced a full-blown October surprise yet, but various races and politicians are experiencing issues. Sen. Elizabeth Warren nuked her 2020 campaign by publishing a ridiculous DNA test. Democrats in Arizona are watching an almost daily carpet bombing of their candidate for Senate, nuked by her own words. Florida politics got thrown upside down by Hurricane Michael. And in Tennessee, the shadow of Brett Kavanaugh hangs over Phil Bredesen’s campaign.
In short, it’s not one major October surprise, but a bunch of smaller stories affecting individual races. The one story the media seems determined to make into a national issue is the apparent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, by Saudia Arabia. I’ll get into that below. Links follow.
Where you can find me this week
Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter. You can also go to their Facebook page. You can join Ricochet here. And I do recommend their ever-growing network of podcasts, which you can find on all popular podcast platforms. They have a show for every topic you can imagine, and the list continues to grow.
There are increasing reports on the left and right regarding mob violence. Given the political situation, we’re seeing more on the left right now. I go through why I agree with Senator Ben Sasse that this is an outgrowth of an age of loneliness. We’re more disconnected than ever from friends and neighbors, and that’s encouraging more fear of the other.
The latest line of attack against the Supreme Court is that its no longer a legitimate institution. This idea is crazy, and I go through why SCOTUS is legitimate and why Kavanaugh’s nomination only furthers the legitimacy of the court.
Saudi Arabia and the Jamal Khashoggi
It says something that the news cycle is beginning to return to normal that aside from Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 campaign imploding on the runway, the biggest story of the week involved Saudi Arabia’s killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
All evidence points at this stage to Saudi Arabian officials kidnapping, torturing, and murdering Khashoggi. And if true, it’s a gruesome reminder that Saudi Arabia continues to be one of the worst allies of the United States in the Middle East.
I say all that with the caveat of if it’s true.
A major red flag in all of this is that the “audio recording” everyone has referenced comes from Turkey. And in all the news reports, that audio tape is only described, not shared with western reporters.
It’s difficult to call Turkey anything but an enemy of the United States right now. So when journalists uncritically repeat anything Turkey tells them, it’s best to remain skeptical.
Two weird things also stand out, if Saudi Arabia did kill Khashoggi, they picked a wrong time and dangerous place.
Khashoggi first disappeared when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. That was the last anyone saw of him. If you’re going to kill or torture a guy, doing so on foreign soil where you’re not friends with the host country isn’t the wisest course of action.
Second, the timing places this just before a major conference where the Saudi’s planned on raising billions upon billions of dollars in investment for their country. Killing a western journalist before a meeting like this doesn’t make much sense. Especially as more and more sponsors are declining to attend.
One of the primary responses from the Saudis, other than denial, seems to be that it was a torture session gone wrong. That Khashoggi unexpectedly died from the pain they put him through.
That would explain some of the weird issues above — that the Saudi’s went beyond what was intended. That could also explain why one of the Saudi officials who arrived and went to the consulate at the same time as Khashoggi mysteriously died in a car accident a few days later. That could represent Saudi discipline for messing up the Khashoggi torture.
As you can tell, we’re dealing with a lot of speculation, inference, and missing facts. US intelligence seems to think the Saudis killed Khashoggi. The details are still blurry:
Intelligence agencies have not yet been able to collect direct evidence of the prince’s involvement, American and European officials said. They also have not been able to conclude whether Prince Mohammed directly ordered the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, or whether his intention was to have Mr. Khashoggi captured and taken back to Saudi Arabia, according to one official.
But intelligence agencies have growing circumstantial evidence of the prince’s involvement — including the presence of members of his security detail and intercepts of Saudi officials discussing a possible plan to detain Mr. Khashoggi, according to American officials.
Officials have also said the prince’s complete control over the security services makes it highly unlikely that an operation would have been undertaken without his knowledge.
I believe Sohrab Ahmari over at Commentary gives a much-needed bit a caution on how to react here:
An alliance that withstood the melting heat of the 9/11 attacks, carried out by a team of mostly Saudi terrorists, now appears on the verge of collapse over the fate of an op-ed columnist. The Obamans and members of a liberal foreign-policy establishment that have long favored Tehran over Riyadh are cheering the prospect. So, too, are reporters scandalized by the barbarous treatment meted out to one of their own. To call for sobriety at such a moment is to invite their wrath.
But sobriety must prevail, given the sensitivity of the region and the Saudi-American relationship.
In the modern Middle East, the region gets split between the Iranian and the Saudi Arabian sides. During the Obama administration, as they worked closer and closer towards signing a deal with Iran, it hampered long US ties with Saudi Arabia going back to WWII.
With the Iranians strengthening in the post-Iran Deal world, it forced unlikely alliances between the Saudis and Israelis, who are working in cooperation to hamper Iran in the Middle East.
Khashoggi wasn’t without his own opinions in this arena too. The Washington Post is accusing everyone on the right of pushing smears and conspiracy theories against Khashoggi. It’s worth noting this passage in their piece:
While Khashoggi was once sympathetic to Islamist movements, he moved toward a more liberal, secular point of view, according to experts on the Middle East who have tracked his career. Khashoggi knew bin Laden in the 1980s and 1990s during the civil war in Afghanistan, but his interactions with bin Laden were as a journalist with a point of view who was working with a prized source.
Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen, left his home country last year and was granted residency in the United States by federal authorities. He lived in Virginia and wrote for The Washington Post.
What they’re saying is that Khashoggi has supported the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and terrorist attacks against Israel. He had appeared to moderate in the last few years. Seth Mandel also put this best on Twitter:
Khashoggi’s support for terrorism against Israel was indeed reprehensible. But that is, sadly, fairly common among journalists I don’t want to see tortured and dismembered for their opinions. Argue against his ideas. But those ideas are not why he is in the news.
The ease with which Khashoggi’s worldview–the Jewish state should be fought in perpetuity–fit in with the US press and the DC think tank scene is unfortunate. But I find it quite disrespectful to use this occasion as an excuse to have that discussion.
And I’d agree with Seth here. You can go back and find articles Khashoggi wrote supporting vile groups. You can also read the viral pieces he wrote towards the end of his life, writing for freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Like everything in the Middle East, it’s complicated. But even with that complication, he didn’t do anything to deserve murder.
So what happens here?
If the US is forced to sanction the Saudis over Khashoggi’s death, it’ll be something like no longer air-fueling Saudi bombing runs in Yemen. Low-hanging fruit that won’t create long term damage on the US-Saudi relationship. The US State Department won’t be interested, in this administration, or any prior, in harming those ties.
Otherwise, I expect the US-Saudi relationship to continue, because the alternatives are worse right now. Again, Sohrab put it best:
Tightening the diplomatic screws on the Saudi regime could have deeply unsettling effects on the country, and for what? What do the proponents of maximal pressure imagine would follow the House of Saud in a country with no tradition of constitutionalism, a minimal to nonexistent civil society, intense tribal and sectarian rivalries, a thousand ambitious princes and princelings, and an ultra-fundamentalist Sunni clerical class? As the outcome of the so-called Arab Spring taught Western elites, order is paramount in the Arab world. Don’t flirt with a destabilizing rupture with Riyadh unless you are prepared to countenance state failure, an Islamist takeover, and/or further Iranian encroachments.
The US isn’t prepared to replace the current government in Saudi Arabia. Removing anyone from power there would unleash chaos and allow Iran to roam free. We know it’ll be chaos because the US isn’t committed in any meaningful way of building a new country like we are in Afghanistan and Iraq.
If the Saudis honestly did torture and murder Khashoggi, I don’t see how we avoid some form of sanctions. Pulling out of this year’s conference and curtailing mutual defense obligations might be the full extent of any penalties.
Aside from that, I’d say beware of fake news involving this story. Because of a large number of unknown facts, that makes it easy for media manipulators to insert invented information. Conspiracy theories are also highly likely to pop up. When it comes to the Middle East, everyone has an agenda, and no news organization can avoid their bias.
And aside from all that, the odds this story has any impact on the midterms is near zero percent. Americans haven’t cared about foreign policy in a major election since 2004/06. This story won’t change that fact.
Links of the week
Satire piece of the week
U.S. — Upon looking at the bleak, uncivilized nature of our political discourse, millions of people across the nation announced Thursday they are feeling nostalgic for a more refined time when politicians just shot each other with pistols to resolve their differences.
The nation dreamily looked back at the time before all these brutish tactics invaded our politics, and politicians just shot one another in broad daylight like civilized human beings.
“Frankly, it’d beat all the protesting and swarming people in restaurants,” said one man in Iowa. “Just one simple, civilized duel, a couple o’ bullets flying through the air, and you’re done.”
Thanks for reading!