Friday, October 26, 2018

How a post-Khashoggi US 'correction' on Saudi relations could unfold: Transactional VS Soft Power

Christian Science Monitor

Why We Wrote This
President Trump's foreign policy has been emphatically transactional.
Transactional: Based on business interests

Could the Khashoggi affair reintroduce an element of soft power on behalf of human rights?

Vs the illusion of a foreign policy based on the perception management idea of “human rights”?
"The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi will have far-reaching repercussions in the coming months – from the viability of the US-Saudi strategy to counter Iran, to the price of oil, and on to prospects for President Trump’s Middle East “deal of the century” peace plan.

What is less certain is whether the horrific violation of one Saudi regime critic’s human rights will do much to stem the rise and free rein of rights-violating regimes across the Middle East and indeed around the world, many regional experts say.

The Saudis may have believed they had a “blank check from the Trump administration” to pursue actions like the silencing of regime critics such as Mr. Khashoggi, says Steven Cook, senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington. If they did, it is at least in part because they saw other authoritarian leaders – from regional players Turkey and Egypt to global powers Russia and China – silencing their critics and stamping out dissent with impunity, he adds.
“None of those leaders have been held accountable for their acts” – by the US, the West, or the international community, Mr. Cook says – “so why should the Saudis in this environment think they should have to act any differently?”

A blank check from the Trump administration? How to interpret that statement?
Should we take it as presented? Or realize that the presentation is intended to obfuscate the possibility that the Saudi’s or MBS really did have a blank check from the US administration?

Can it be mere coincidence that the West is gunning for MBS today? All attention is on what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. But what really happened in the run-up to his ghastly murder in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul we may never get to know. Can it be comparable to the mistaken impression Saddam Hussein received that Washington would condone his occupation of Kuwait?
A mistaken impression. The precedent is there. Being set up for the take down.  As has been discussed here
"In these three news items we see that Saudi Arabia was, by all appearances, moving in an independent direction. This had to have been a problem for the US and it's military industrial complex!"
CSM: "That sobering assessment of unchecked impunity could very well play out in the Saudi case, including with respect to its disastrous war in neighboring Yemen, considered the world’s worst humanitarian disaster by the UN, despite the intense global attention the Khashoggi case is garnering, regional analysts say."

Will the Khashoggi affair change the course of US-Saudi relations?

But, some add, the US is uniquely placed to alter this course if a transactional White House that has been single-mindedly focused on American economic and military interests adjusts to make values like human rights and the rule of law part of its equation. A course correction could also occur if another influential power – for example, the US Congress – asserts itself and demands consequences strong enough to alter regime behavior.
The US presenting itself as concerned with human rights is not new. Should we expect a revamping of Trump's presentation via the media? Like we did for a brief moment when the US attacked Syria because of the children?

“Under this White House, the US-Saudi relationship has been overwhelmingly focused on military-to-military relations … and left to the relationship between [Trump son-in-law] Jared Kushner and [Saudi Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman, but we’re going to see some correction,” says Elizabeth Prodromou, a professor of conflict resolution at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Mass.

“This event will push the Trump White House to make some adjustments, and the question will be whether the White House takes the lead in that correction or Congress pushes the White House to take action,” she says. “But either way, we’re going to go in the same direction.”

Among the concrete steps Professor Prodromou and others expect to see in the coming weeks:

    -The nominating finally of a US ambassador to Riyadh to “professionalize” the relationship and take it out of Mr. Kushner’s inexperienced hands.
    -Renewed congressional efforts to stop arming the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
    -Perhaps sanctions aimed at putting on notice Saudi Arabia – and for that matter other US partners in the region – that America is going to act in defense of its values and count human rights among its vital interests.
America is going to count 'human rights' among it's vital interests?

“The Saudi relationship will become perhaps the key metric for how seriously the world takes us for our exercise of soft power and our commitment to universal human rights,” says Prodromou, an expert in the intersection of religion, democracy, and security. “It’s going to provide a measure of how we’re perceived in the world, of our ability to lead on human rights – and whether our moral authority holds any longer.”

Clearly the US is not going to sever or even seriously downgrade relations with Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi affair. Mr. Trump has consistently stated – since shortly after Khashoggi, a resident of Virginia and columnist for the Washington Post, disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul – that no matter what he would not jeopardize US arms sales to the kingdom, and the “American jobs” he says those sales create.
New leverage for US?
This week Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin visited Riyadh and met with the crown prince, though he tried to give the stop on a six-country trip a low profile (until the Saudis issued a photo of Mr. Mnuchin with the prince).
The Treasury Secretary tries to keep his visit quiet but the Saudi's publish a picture of MBS and Mnuchin together? The 5 eyes media appears to have done a good job keeping this visit off the radar.
Image was originally at CNBC but it's gone now

But CIA Director Gina Haspel was also dispatched this week to the region – in her case to Turkey, where she is reported to have listened to tapes Turkish officials have claimed to have of Khashoggi’s murder. Some unnamed US officials with knowledge of Ms. Haspel’s meetings described the tapes as “compelling.”
Ms Haspel did not state she found the tapes compelling, despite what is being claimed via the misleading media
And Congress has made it clear that it intends to hold the administration’s feet to the fire over the Khashoggi scandal. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has already invoked the Magnitsky Act, which directs the president to report back to the committee on a country’s grave human rights breach within 120 days and determine whether sanctions will be imposed.

Thursday, October 11, 2018: US to Apply the Magnitsky Act Regarding the Khashoggi Incident?

After an initiative by Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky to stop arming Saudi Arabia’s Yemen war lost by only four votes in June, many observers now expect the Khashoggi case to prompt Senator Paul to try again – and very possibly with a different result this time.

What all of this tells some diplomats and foreign policy analysts is that the US post-Khashoggi will have unprecedented leverage over Saudi Arabia and in particular Crown Prince Salman, also known as MBS – if the Trump White House decides to use it.

Noting that US-Saudi relations have been “bouncing from one problem to another under MBS’s leadership,” Middle East expert and former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk says the Khashoggi case adds fresh urgency to an already needed reassessment.
“We have an opportunity to sit down with MBS … and say, ‘We cannot go on like this, we need a reliable partner,’ ” he says. “We need to restructure our relationship with MBS if we decide we can’t get rid of him and have to work with him.”
Impact on Yemen war
Indyk says the Khashoggi debacle only reinforces the already growing sentiment that the White House strategy of relying on Saudi Arabia to deliver the Palestinians to accept a grand peace accord with Israel is in tatters. But he says the new leverage the US has with the Saudis could salvage some aspects of the strategy to counter Iran.

Noting that new US sanctions targeting Iran’s oil production will go into effect shortly, Mr. Indyk says Trump could pressure the Saudis to make up for the estimated 1 million barrels a day of Iranian oil that will no longer reach the global market. The worrisome aspect of such a scenario is that Trump might “soft-pedal” the US response to Khashoggi in order to get the Saudis to boost oil production.

But perhaps the most significant impact Indyk and others see from a post-Khashoggi recalibration of US-Saudi relations will be on the disastrous war in Yemen, where Saudi bombing campaigns (using US-supplied bombs) continue to hit civilians, and where millions of people face starvation.

“Part of the positive side” of something as horrendous as the Khashoggi killing could be “getting the Saudis out of Yemen,” says CFR’s Cook. The White House has shown little interest in the war, he says, “but the Congress is in a completely different place on this,” he adds. He expects to see Congress “using this brutal murder to hold MBS accountable on Yemen.”
Indeed some experts see a congressional effort to stop the Saudis’ use of US arms in Yemen spilling over into heightened attention to the state of rights and the rule of law inside Saudi Arabia. “We see in Congress a growing preoccupation with the gross human rights violations in the Saudis’ prosecution of the war in Yemen,” says the Fletcher School’s Prodromou, “but what I think generally is that there’s going to be more rather than less concern over the human rights part of this relationship.”

Prodromou says she believes there’s a “50-50 chance” of some sanctions on Saudi officials being triggered by the Magnitsky Act. “And if that happens it will be a sea change in the relationship.”

‘Windfall for Iran’
What worries Prodromou is that while the Khashoggi affair may end up prompting the US to assert its values and other aspects of its soft power in its relations with Saudi Arabia, the scandal will only empower and embolden others in the region with as bad or worse human rights records – including Turkey and Iran.
Ya getting the feeling yet that the US is hoping to take down more then just Saudi Arabia with this incident?

“Turkey has more journalists in prison than China, and that’s been true for a decade, and yet Turkey is going to come out of this a big winner,” she says, arguing that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has played the Khashoggi affair adroitly – even using it to make that case that Turkey and not Saudi Arabia should be the center of Sunni Islam.
Beyond Turkey, the shambles of the Trump White House MBS strategy can only be seen “as a windfall for Iran,” says Indyk, who notes that the region will now see the US strategy for countering Iran as a failure.

“In the end,” he says, “MBS has really helped the Iranians instead of helping us.”
 If you don't already, you may as well warm up to this idea as being what the US is striving for.


  1. Hi Penny: I finally managed to finish my post about the Canada-Khashoggi connection. I made a point of not reading your post until mine was finished.

    It includes a link to an Al Jazeera item posted a bit over 4 hours ago stating that the Khashoggi incident is a "boon to Turkey" and that Erdogan warns there is "more evidence" to come.

    And a New Yorker item about how Kushner recommended "going soft" on the Saudis.

    The rest is pretty much focussed on Omar's inconsistent story.
    Do you suppose all of this craziness is the predicted October Surprise?

  2. Just an fyi:
    I left this comment over at Yaya's:
    regarding her excellent post on the Canadian connection to the Khashoggi killing

    Hey Yaya: it's a good post and obviously Omar has been coached. I mean, it's pretty obvious.
    Yes, I noticed the language he was using- the plaintive look on his face and I too wondered when the RCMP got in touch with him, what they provided him with "everything he needs"
    Everything he needs for what?

    Then this persistent idea?
    That Turkey is the biggest beneficiary of this?
    A boon?
    A gift?

    And everything then presented in that manner..

    But what was the boon to them, really?
    So far there is no indication of any benefit accruing to Turkey- though I'm watching for that.
    Are the Saudi's going to toss them some funding?
    Are the Americans going to drop sanctions?
    Give up Gulen?
    Stop funding their proxy Kurdish forces?
    Are the saudi's going to stop doing the same?
    Along with no longer providing 'reconstruction' funds for Raqqa?

    I've haven't seen any reports or indications along those lines-
    In fact the other day coalition forces and Kurdish proxies exchanged fire with Turkish backed rebels at Manbij

    This is well after the Khashoggi incident occurred- so where is the benefit to Turkey?

    Mostly- it seems to me Turkey has been adroitly doing damage control- It's not a boon to anyone to have to do damage control. This indicates Turkey is defensive, by employing a good offense- But still they are defending.

  3. The US-British Empire led by Trump/Kushner, Bibi, Mohammed Bone Sawman, bin Zayed, and so forth, wants to attack Iran, Turkey, Russia, but it's rather shooting itself in the foot. That doesn't damage Turkey, Iran, and Russia much, on the contrary.

  4. Laika Lammerink, you made me laugh out loud at "Mohammed Bone Sawman". His name lends so well to the occasion.

    Penny: Thanks so much for your comments. You know, it seems to me that this whole uproar is some sort of smokescreen, simply because it raises far more questions than it informs. It feels as if the media are complicit in keeping us plebes busy while they're pulling off something else that won't ever get written about. Still, it will be interesting to see what Erdogan comes up with next.

  5. Turkey didn't get the extradition of suspects for trial as they had wanted from Saudi Arabia

    "Riyadh will prosecute the suspects in the case of Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi and the investigation would take time, the Saudi foreign minister said Saturday.

    "The individuals are Saudi nationals. They're detained in Saudi Arabia, and the investigation is in Saudi Arabia, and they will be prosecuted in Saudi Arabia," Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at a regional defense forum in the Bahraini capital."


    The Long Struggle for Supremacy in the Muslim World
    Turks and Saudis have been enemies for centuries. Now the Khashoggi investigation has rekindled their fierce rivalry—and may upend the politics of the Middle East

    Gosh, if my goal (Usrael) was to remake an entire region... this type of rekindled hostility would serve me just fine....

  7. We see clearly That Turkey 'does not bite' the regime in Riyadh. That means that there had been an agreement between the Erdogan government and Riyadh (which had cost Riyadh probably a lot) .

    We can conclude this from the following:
    Ankara makes a big hype out of demanding the Saudi killers to be extradited to Turkey. See: "RIYADH REJECTS ANKARA CALL TO EXTRADITE KHASHOGGI KILLERS" -

    But recognizable(!) this leads to nowhere. This because no country on this planet would or - by it's own laws - even could extradite an own citizen, who committed a crime in a foreign land (due process had to take place in his own country).

    So the fact that Ankara demands something that definitely will be without any effect, shows that Ankara doesn't' really want to get (any more) at the throat of the Riyadh regime. It reminds me a bit of this Islamic "Stoning of the Devil". Satan wouldn't be worried about this "Stoning" even a teeny weenie little bit!

    Also that Erdogan's propaganda doesn't demand - in the fist place, and in a very loud tune! what it really can demand: 1) Information of the location of the remains of Khashoggi, 2) The handing over of Khashoggi's body parts. To this Turkey has a right - mainly, but not only - because of forensic reasons. Don't forget the crime took place on Turkish territory (and no, the consulate is not Saudi territory, although we read this false information here and there!). And also a dead body or it's parts are not "citizen" (of Saudi Arabia) to any national or international law.
    And such a demand of Ankara would really hurt Riyadh! Because this gruesomely sawing Khashoggi's body, or even the living Khashoggi, in pieces would really disgust the international public massively and for a very long time. Especially if MbS had happily been handed over the very head of his victim.
    But as we read on the Press TV-link above, Erdogan didn't demand, but only softly "urged": "On Friday, Erdogan urged Saudi Arabia to disclose the location of Khashoggi’s body ….."

    So we have to conclude, that Ankara and Riyadh obviously agreed to let this story peter out and fade away.
    For the regime in Washington that is bad news. They can't pressure neither side. And Ankara an Riyadh can go on slipping - carefully, and step by step - out of the hard hand of the USRaeli Empire (see Penny's "Saudi Arabia gets a friend in need – Russia").


    1. Sorry, Penny, when I posted my comment You had just already anticipated several points I made.


    2. Hi J!
      sorry for being so long in getting back here
      hectic week end

      and I see you've left another link for me to read
      Saudi Arabia to invest in Russian/Chinese wealth fund
      thank you!

  8. ... and here is some more, as I said: "…slipping - carefully, and step by step - out of the hard hand of the USRaeli Empire":