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Saudi Arabia underestimated the response to Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance

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Saudi Arabia underestimated the response to Jamal Khashoggis disappearance

Saudi Arabia denies any part in the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi. All evidence points to the theory that they have either abducted or killed Khashoggi after luring him to the consulate to obtain wedding documents. The Washington Post columnist has been a critic of the Saudi regime.

At this point, either Saudi Arabia ambushed Khashoggi or Turkey is going to great lengths to fabricate evidence pointing at them. While still possible, the latter seems highly unlikely, especially in light of a new report that shows the U.S. may have been aware of the plot.

Jamal Khashoggi: Saudis discussed plan to lure journalist to Saudi Arabia

https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/11/politics/khashoggi-us-intelligence-saudi-plan-to-lure-journalist/index.htmlThe US has intercepts of Saudi officials discussing a plan to lure journalist Jamal Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and detain him, according to a US official familiar with the intelligence.

The official would not go so far as to say Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the operation but said that, although he may not have known the specifics such a plan couldn’t have taken place without his approval.

This was a bold move made on foreign soil against a Saudi citizen with ties to the United States. In retrospect, it may seem obvious the world would pay attention, but it’s likely the Saudis expected this to be a blip on the news radar.

It hasn’t been. Between the Washington Post using every ounce of clout and reach they have to push out the story to nearly every U.S. news outlet covering it, the exposure Saudi Arabia is receiving from this had to be underestimated. If they’d known taking and/or killing a journalist would have this much blowback, it’s hard to imagine them executing the plan.

Now, they’re stuck with an international incident that isn’t going to go away until Khashoggi is returned unharmed. That is likely impossible.

Saudi Arabia has been one of the harshest dictatorships in the world when it comes to silencing dissidents. Khashoggi is far from the first journalist to be punished for his criticisms, which may have helped push the notion through Saudi leadership that they could sweep this under the rug as they have so many times in the past.

There are huge implications if the White House is forced to respond. Saudi Arabia is the key to peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Any successful peace deal will go through Riyadh and pass through the hands of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This puts the White House in a predicament. If they call out bin Salman, they could jeopardize their strong relationship with their second most important ally in the region. If they say nothing and the story continues to have legs, it could make the White House seem complicit in the coverup.

Some on Capitol Hill have taken steps to make the White House act:

Senators trigger law forcing Trump to probe Saudi journalist’s disappearance

https://thehill.com/policy/defense/410865-senators-force-trump-to-investigate-disappearance-of-saudi-journalistThe Magnitsky law requires that the president conduct an investigation after a request from the leaders of the Foreign Relations Committee into whether a foreign person is responsible for an extrajudicial killing, torture or other gross violation of internationally recognized human rights against an individual exercising freedom of expression.

Under the law, the president has to report the findings back to the committee in 120 days, along with a decision on imposing sanctions on the person or persons responsible.

If Saudi Arabia can be proven to have abducted and/or killed Khashoggi, should we continue to call them friends and engage with them as allies? To me, the answer is a resounding ‘No!”

Foreign Affairs

Saudi Arabia issues warning over “false accusations”

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Saudi Arabia issues warning over false accusations

Representative John Ratcliffe (R-TX) took to Fox News to try to bring calm to an escalating situation. Saudi Arabia has been accused of murdering Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist who has been outspoken against the Saudi regime.

He points out that Saudi Arabia’s threats and proposed actions against them are premature. Until we see the evidence Turkey has against them, we must presume innocence, Ratcliffe said.

My Take

The Representative is right and wrong. He’s right that we shouldn’t act against the Saudis until we know for use. Then again, the evidence that U.S. officials have almost certainly seen and/or heard is enough to make pro-Saudi groups in Washington DC squirm. Then, there are the previous and ongoing abuses Saudi Arabia has committed that must be considered.

Backing away from our relationship with Saudi Arabia will hurt. Backing down to their threats is inexcusable. The White House is in a real pickle on this one.

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Foreign Affairs

Mike Pence calls out the reality in China

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Mike Pence calls out the reality in China

Headlines have been popping up for over a decade that China is embracing Western-style freedoms for its people. Some variation of praise and hope have littered our news wires for some time, yet the incremental changes that are so often touted rarely turn into anything substantial and are often replaced by setbacks.

The economy is still far from free. Access to information television and internet is heavily controlled. Religious activities must be held in secret. This isn’t the China we’ve been promised.

It’s not the China the government has been promising its people.

Vice President Mike Pence drew criticism from leftists who found his recent comments inflammatory, but at this point does it really even matter? After three presidencies that treated China like the great reformers they’re not, isn’t it about time we try to use honest words and aggressive actions to call them out rather than allow them to continue their expansion unchecked?

Remarks by Vice President Pence on the Administration’s Policy Toward China

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-vice-president-pence-administrations-policy-toward-china/Previous administrations made this choice in the hope that freedom in China would expand in all of its forms -– not just economically, but politically, with a newfound respect for classical liberal principles, private property, personal liberty, religious freedom — the entire family of human rights. But that hope has gone unfulfilled.

The dream of freedom remains distant for the Chinese people. And while Beijing still pays lip service to “reform and opening,” Deng Xiaoping’s famous policy now rings hollow.

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Foreign Affairs

Saudi Arabia has three choices

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Saudi Arabia has three choices on how to handle the Jamal Khashoggi situation

Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was very likely kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by a Saudi Arabian kill squad at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. All the evidence points to them and despite their denials, they haven’t put up a shred of evidence in their defense.

Now, the Kingdom is faced with three ways to handle the situation.

Admit some of the truth but pin it on a scapegoat

Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince and unofficial ruler of the Kingdom, was almost certainly the person who gave the order to take out Khashoggi. Decisions like these are not made by lesser officials or specific agencies without at least getting MBS’ blessing. Considering much of Khashoggi’s negative commentary about the Kingdom was directed at MBS, it would make sense for the man in charge to be the one who made the call.

While it’s hard for many of us who are paying attention to believe MBS wasn’t involved, the spin machine, political clout, and mainstream media pressure owned by Saudis is tremendous. This is the same nation that positioned itself as one of our prime partners in the war on terror despite having direct connections to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It’s also the same nation that spreads Wahhabism, one of the most extreme ideologies in Islam, around the globe while somehow having a public sentiment towards them that does not match. Ask your average American where they are on the extremism scale and they’ll be ranked as mostly moderate. After all, they let some women drive now!

With all this in mind, they could say, “Yes, there was an order to kill Khashoggi but it came from [insert low ranking scapegoat official]. The regime in general and MBS in particular just found out about it today after an internal investigation revealed [scapegoat] has a personal vendetta against Khashoggi because he [insert fabricated accusation]. The Kingdom apologizes to Khashoggi’s family and fiancee. We only wish we could have discovered the plot soon enough to prevent it from happening.”

In that scenario, as unbelievable as it is, the U.S. government would almost certainly forgive it following a token sanction or public scolding. We’d be back to normal relations within a month.

While this might seem like the easiest road to take, it’s also the least likely. Western thought accepts this as a logical way to cover it up and sweep it under the rug, but Saudi Arabia is conspicuous in their unwillingness to acknowledge any wrongdoing in any manner, ever.

Keep denying and hope their spin machine works

As mentioned above, the amount of control Saudi Arabia has in the United States is immense. It isn’t just the oil. They directly pay media, think tanks, lobbyists, and consultants who aid them in funneling money to all the right people.

If anyone can make a story disappear, it’s Saudi Arabia.

But this particular story may have legs that are too strong to trip up. Journalists are not accustomed to burying stories about journalists getting murdered and the Washington Post has clout of its own. As crazy as it sounds today, it’s still possible that they can make it fall in an active news cycle.

The midterm elections may not come soon enough for them, though.

This is the most likely scenario.

Keep denying but change the story to Russia and China

An interesting and potentially dangerous tactic may be for Saudi Arabia to become indignant towards the accumulated accusations towards them. They could start making threats and working with non-allies to change the tone of the story altogether.

By going to Russia and/or China, the mere threat of fundamentally changing the relationship with the United States over accusations it denies could be enough to force Washington DC to ease the pressure on them. Of all the scenarios, this is the one the White House fears the most. It won’t reduce coverage. It would force coverage to expand as leftist mainstream media ties the Saudis’ offenses to their nemesis in the Oval Office.

President Trump and Jared Kushner have worked hard to make the Saudi-US relationship stronger than it’s been in decades. They need that relationship if there’s any hope of brokering a peace deal in the Middle East. Even if we dismiss the economic blowback from a contentious relationship between Riyadh and Washington DC, the foreign affairs effects alone would be devastating.

The President has to play hardball, at least to an American public that wants repercussions against a murderous regime. If the Saudis start playing hardball as well, it could cause major issues that affect elections, hurt the economy, and end hope for reaching a peace deal any time soon.

Whatever path the Saudis choose, one thing is certain. The United States should not be in bed with a regime that will murder someone who works in the United States and has permanent legal residence here. That’s not what allies do to each other.

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