From Dr Hamid Hussain
Someone asked my two cent worth opinion on ongoing saga of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. More informed people have commented on the subject and many details are still murky. Based on my own work on the Kingdom’s power dynamics in the past, following is may take;
Thanks. With time, we change and our thoughts also evolve. This may be the case with Mr. Jamal Khashoggi and he may have been genuinely convinced that some kind of people’s participation in government is the way forward. However, we need to keep in mind the broader context as this incident is related to struggle inside the royal family. Khashoggi held some progressive views by Saudi Arabian standards related to extreme austere code of Wahabbism. However, he never questioned the legitimacy of the rule of al Saud family. He advocated increased consultation with population on important issues. He was employed by many government newspapers and any significant alternative view no matter how mild is simply a career ending move. He was not a dissident but mild critic of some policies of Prince Muhammad Bin Salman such as blockade of Qatar, Yemen war etc.
There are many Saudis in exile who are much harsher critics of royal family but why Khashoggi? More important to remember is his links with members of royal family who have been sidelined by the meteoric rise of the mercurial Prince Muhmmad Bin Salman (MBS) in 2015. Government’s view is published by a number of influential newspapers (Arab News, Sharq-ul-Awst etc) run by Saudi Research and Marketing Group. Owner of this group is Prince Turki Bin Salman. Khashoggi worked for some of these newspapers in the past. He also worked with former intelligence chief Prince Turki al Faisal and billionaire Waleed Bin Talal. He served in some advisor capacity to Turki projecting his softer image to the outside world. In 2015, Waleed opened a satellite channel Al Arab in Bahrain and in this venture partnered with Bloomberg News. Khashoggi was to be the star kid of Al Arab. This channel lasted mere eleven hours on air before it was shut down by Bahrain; a close Saudi ally and dependent on Saudi forces on its soil to protect its royal family from the restless Shia majority population.
MSB started grand purge on two fronts. One front was to sideline powerful brokers in royal family such as Crown Prince designate Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef; former interior minister, Prince Mitib Bin Abdullah; former head of Saudi National Guard (SNG). Head of SNG is a powerful position as SNG is royal family’s insurance policy against army coup. SNG recruits on tribal basis and head inserts his loyalists at various levels of positions. The second front was to weaken the financial muscle of some princes. This resulted in famous/notorious Ritz Carlton saga of billionaire princes hauled up there until they coughed up billions to get their limited freedom. Waleed was the prized prisoner of Ritz Carlton; the world’s only five star jail. Members of both groups cannot leave the country. On the other hand, other family members who have kept their heads down in the tent like Prince Turki are allowed to travel. With this in background, alleged rumor of an assassination attempt on MBS by his guards raised the fear factor by several degrees. Some reports suggest that most of his inner circle of security is now manned by foreigners.
Where Khashoggi fits into this picture? He was the window of these disgruntled royal family members to the outside world. Everybody in Washington who wanted to know what was happening in the Kingdom would knock at Khashoggi’s door. This was the main threat that MBS feared that angry royal family members may attempt to make some kind of deal with Washington to pull the royal rug from under his feet. A close study of MBS personality suggests that he acts rashly without thinking through and no one around him would even suggest an alternative thought. Hence, a very sloppy operation which is not even an intelligence operation. A rag tag team of guards, special forces people and a forensic doctor was to emulate a Mossad style overseas hit a la 2010 Dubai saga of assassination of a Palestinian operative.
Looking at the fall out of the operation, Khashoggi’s own words seem prophetic that ‘Saudi brand has been severely damaged’. What will be MBS likely response? The old Arab bedouine tradition is that when a big dust storm come down furiously (haboob), the Arab ducks down in his tent covering his head and wait until it passes away. For the next few weeks, MBS will be spending more time in his $500 million yatch parked in red sea than in his palaces. The only suggestion one can give to MBS is the words of one his own elders late King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz; “a friend is someone who tells you the truth; not someone who believes in you’.
“Man’s history is waiting in patience for the triumph of the insulted man.” Rabindranath Tagore
Follow up intelligent questions from well informed people were inevitable thus a follow up. I wandered a little bit further as my personal quest of learning about military and conflict is to paint the horrible picture of the killing fields so that we can all avoid filling more graves.
Thanks Sir. You are correct. Trump will give him cover in view of personal/business relationship. However, there is a little bit shift in other power centers. In senate, recent vote to approve munitions to KSA was 53-47; a significant shift against KSA. If in mid-term, democrats take house of representatives, then there will be little more heat. In the long run, KSA is important and MBS cannot be pushed aside without arrangement with alternative leadership from royal family. This usually takes time. However in short term, single point agenda of getting Iran is making things complicated and they don’t want to quarantine MBS/KSA at this stage.
Anti-Iran camp of current administration coupled with almost messianic change in Bibi Netanyahu personality where he thinks his historic role is to strike nuclear assets of Iran is the possible ‘escape hatch’ for MBS. If Bibi wins in elections called early then watch for who he picks for IDF chief; who is retiring by the end of the year. In 2009-15, IDF COS, heads of all three intelligence agencies (Mossad, MI & Shin Bet) pushed Bibi back on military strike against Iran. This was complemented by Obama administration warning to Israelis that they will be alone in the mission with no military or diplomatic cover. Bibi wants a security team that will not second guess his mission. Bibi has covered a lot of ground by appointing his former national security advisor Yossi Cohen as head of Mossad, a more mellow head for Shin Bet and a new director of MI. The only chip left is COS. Two top contenders (Yair Golan & Aviv Kochavi) are their own men especially Kochavi is considered a ‘prince’; very well respected and highly professional man who cannot be bullied. Bibi may go for one of the two juniors ones for the post. If two conditions are met; first Bibi wins elections and still PM and then he picks one of the juniors as IDF COS, then I’ll put chance of Israeli strike on Iran around 50%. To hold the Arab bag, they will need MBS with General Sisi playing the second fiddle. Water is too muddy in the middle east to read tea leaves.
MBS is following the footsteps of all autocrats; thinking that they are invincible and normal rules don’t apply to them even if they see things like Saddam caught like a rat and Qaddafi dragged on the streets. This they watched with their own eyes and not something read in history books of decades or centuries old events. Power has its own logic not comprehended by commoners like us.
I can only think about words of Voltaire when I closely review personalities of three main actors on the stage for coming production; Trump, MBS & Bibi Netanyahu. “If you are desirous of obtaining a great name, of becoming the founder of a sect or establishment, be completely mad; but be sure that your madness corresponds with the turn and temper of your age. Have in your madness reason enough to guide your extravagances, and to not forget to be excessively opinionated and obstinate. It is certainly possible that you may get hanged; but if you escape hanging, you will have altars erected to you”.
As far as bankrupt leadership is concerned, Arab poet and philosopher Nizar Qabani has summed up nicely;
Every twenty years
Comes to us a gambling man
To stake our country and culture
And resources and rivers
And trees and fruits
And men and women
And the waves and the sea
At the gambling table
We die; broken, hated
Cursed like dogs
While our philosopher in his shelter cogitates destruction into victory
In the post-world war II period, in mad search for security, humanity has invented modern and more lethal killing machines to find itself less secure and living in fear. A whole new model of peaceful co-existence emerging from the wretched of the earth is needed. War mongers are busy 24/7 while those who wish peace are sleeping. They need to wake up, shake dust of their clothes and reach to the ‘other’ over the head of their leaders. The question for present generation is whether they will continue to fight the wars of their grandfathers and fathers on the altars of religion, nation etc. or choose a new path.
“Ishmael, my brother hear my plea
It was the angel who tied thee to me
Time is running out, put hatred to sleep
Shoulder to shoulder, let’s gather our sheep”
Shin Shalom, an Israeli Jewish poet
14 thoughts on “Why Kill Jamal Khashoggi? (A personal view from Dr Hussain)”
“For the next few weeks, MBS will be spending more time in his $500 million yatch parked in red sea than in his palaces.”
I believe that MBS is in a much better position than you picture; both, Jared and Trump are in his pocket, and if how shamefully Pompei behaved today is an indication, the administration plan is to just ignore everything. The MBS-kashoggi battle is actually the MBS battle with Turki al Faisla and Tarki bin Salman and Waleed Bin talal. yeah, may be I cannot do this to you, but see what I did to your boy? That is the crude way MBS is doing this. He is not going to some yacht, and he will visit US or Turkey soon and shake hands over all this, even paying off the GF.
The only outstanding question is how much Erdogan wants and if King Salman is willing to foot that. 6-12 months ago, this would have been a smaller issue. But huge US crude buildup has muddied the issue, and 70 $/bbl means it is not readily evident that Salman will pony up 15 billion or so, like qatar did in August. But 100 $/bbl will make the whole process of lubricating transactions easier.
In spite of very secretive killing operation we already know enough. They cut of his fingers, cut his body while he was still alive and turned on music loudly not to listen his screaming, they cut of his head and destroyed his body with acid.
We will see what US will do. They may bomb the S.Arabia? What US mainstream media will say? Already happened before, jihadists were cutting of hundreds of Serbian heads and publicly taking photos with heads in their hands. US media haven’t seen anything, US military bombed Serbs and even conducted satanization of those who were killed.
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Thank you aamir
If anyone thinks the US is going to impose sanctions on the Saudis over some dead journalist think again.
One word the Petro dollar.
The US is a exporter of oil. it does not need oil from SA.
Petro dollar: All crude oil. LNG etc are traded in USD.
So the whole world needs USD to buy oil and the USD value is high.
If countries stop using USD for oil, dollar value fall and funding US debt will become expensive and imported baubles to keep the citizenry will become not be affordable.
Two countries tried to trade oil in gold and other currencies. Iraq and Libya.
Iran (and Russia) does trade oil in other currencies. Thats why they are evil.
What currency commodities are traded in makes little difference except for seigniorage .
= Monetary Base * Interest rate.
America’s seigniorage/GDP is tiny.
We are agreed that Trump will do didley squat about KSA.
One of America’s finest moments was in 2003 when President Bush made a speech about freedom, calling for freedom in KSA, Egypt, other Arab countries and Pakistan. Sadly he was denounced for this and the idea of supporting freedom was attacked as imperialist neoconservative. The Arab world and Pakistan responded by trying to destroy Iraq, kill the Iraqi Army and kill the Iraqi government.
I liked Bush’s 2003 speech. But Bush himself backed away from this in 2007 and tried to offer to be nice to the oppressors and dictators if only they would make friends with Iraqis.
I like the idea of global freedom. But it needs to be expressed with humility. And with a clear understanding about the infinite potential power and wisdom of others and with a clear understanding, acceptance and celebration of the rise of the rest.
Oh I remember when petrodollar was brought up to explain how US is an importer of oil, it needs petrodollar so that it can BUY oil with dollars and this is why it destroyed Libya, Iraq, holds a grudge against Iran etc etc. But since a couple of years, with the shale oil boom this has fallen apart and we are left with an even more nonsensical substitute.
Guess it’s just hard for people to accept the pointlessness of all the wars. “There has to be a reason. Surely, they aren’t all idiots up top….”
I am well aware that the US is a net exporter of oil.
If not the Petrodollar I assume you then have some theory as to why the US keeps propping up the rabid middle eastern dictatorship like the Saudis.
I assume you know that if you deposit a 1 USD in a bank that gets transmitted through a US bank. When inter country trade (and the biggest is oil) is done in dollars
a) Dollars are needed for the transaction, dollar demand goes up and dollar value is high
b) Easy to impose sanctions as the transaction goes thru SWIFT and US banks.
Because of the pact with the Saudis (and by extension OPEC) all oil is traded in dollars and the dollar becomes a de facto reserve currency.
sbarrkum, the US relationship with the Arab dictators is not related to their use of the US dollar as a reserve currency and a medium of exchange or should not be.
Most American politicians since the time of Nixon have been complaining about the “strong dollar” and demanding that the US dollar weaken. In other words they want foreigners to use less dollars.
“b) Easy to impose sanctions as the transaction goes thru SWIFT and US banks.”
This is an important point. But note that SWIFT and US banks are also heavily used for transactions in other currencies. It does not matter what currency is used from the perspective of SWIFT and US Banks.
Yes the US benefits greatly from the US financial sector . . . most of whose revenues are generated by exporting financial services to foreigners. The only major exception being London. Hong Kong and Singapore also dominated by US financial institutions.
The Gulf states and Pakistan have invested heavily into the Arabist lobby to influence the United States and almost every other major country. They also have great influence over Moscow, New Delhi and Beijing.
“Those who believe that oil being traded in U.S. dollars gives the U.S. economy a unique advantage in the global economy have it exactly the wrong way around.”
Vijay and D,
Agree: Like any economic theories, the Petrodollar cannot be proved true or false.
Back to that all important question:
Why does the US keep propping up the rabid middle eastern dictatorships like the Saudis. Whats your theory.?
Kind of related
The article you referred to is not based on economics.
When two nations trade in USD and buy commodities, other than setting a big dollar sink in China or Saudi Arabia, there is no net gain to US economy. Most nations quickly convert that into other goods and services, and only a few nations leave it in dollar or US treasury bond.
Many attempts have been made to do Rupee-Rial or yuan-rial or Yuan-ruble trade in oil, but they have all failed because the value of barrel of oil in yuan or rupee is not unique and discoverable. Tomorrow if China or Russia stopped all energy trading in USD, there will be no impact on us currency, but if they dumped the bonds, it will be a big impact on currency.
Petrodollar is not a real thing. the crude and the value earned by selling the crude and obtaining new products and services is ral.
Like I said economic theories are hard to prove.
However you can follow the money.
If there are more traders/speculators who see a possibility that more oil is going to be traded in other currencies (eg Iran and India/China cross currency swaps) there will be an increase in the dollar shorts, specially long term options.
if I had the money I would be putting down about USD 50/month in out of the money long term PUT options. I think a 2 year time horizon is enough to see results one way or the other.
Some physical gold too no Gold ETF’s.
“Guess it’s just hard for people to accept the pointlessness of all the wars. “There has to be a reason. Surely, they aren’t all idiots up top….”
Policy makers in most major countries have been thoroughly brainwashed by a post modernist learning framework (the liberal arts of almost all major global universities outside of China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos are dominated by them) and have enormous difficulty understand the world as it is or thinking creatively/innovatively. This problem has gotten significantly worse over time. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature, character, meditation, power, innovation, the source of income/wealth, deep intelligence. This leads to a cascade of bad decisions that makes things worse.
The world (almost every country) has only two major security threats:
—Islamic civil war (which has raged for 14 centuries)
The rest of the supposed threats are exaggerated and not that important.
The solution to the Islamic civil war is simple. All muslims are entitled to freedom of art, thought (manas), intuition (buddhi), feeling (ananda maya kosha or Chitta). If all muslims get it, muslims and spiritual nonmuslims will engage in dialogue with Islamist Jihadis and solve the civil war very quickly through the sweetness of love.
All muslim related wars have three purposes:
—temporarily suppress violence to buy time for Islamic reform to succeed
—protect the freedom of art, speech and thought of muslims
—suppress the worst aspects of organized crime
“Oh I remember when petrodollar was brought up to explain how US is an importer of oil, it needs petrodollar so that it can BUY oil with dollars and this is why it destroyed Libya, Iraq, holds a grudge against Iran etc etc. But since a couple of years, with the shale oil boom this has fallen apart and we are left with an even more nonsensical substitute.”
Did any intelligent college educated people really believe any of this? Or were they just saying this despite not believing it? I use to think that the people saying this couldn’t be stupid enough to actually believe it.
Did they believe that America wanted to destroy the capacity of middle east hydrocarbon production to drive the price of energy up? So that American energy providers could sell energy at higher prices? [America exports a lot of energy.]
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