Okay, let’s start by admitting that the murder of Jamal Khashoggi remains a murky business. We suspect he is dead, but don’t know it for absolute certain. We are pretty sure, but do not yet have proof, that he was murdered, and maybe tortured by Saudi intelligence operatives. We think, but are not certain, that the man who ordered the hit was by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Further, the evidence regarding Mr. Khashoggi’s death is extraordinarily odd. We hear, from Turkey, that there are audio and video recordings of the man’s abduction, torture, execution, and, seemingly, dismemberment. But, there’s the rub. How was it that Turkey’s own intelligence agencies were able to get recordings…not just reports, recordings…of an incident which occurred inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, technically Saudi territory and inviolate under the rules of diplomacy? How was it, indeed, that those recordings were reported so quickly in the international press? If, that is, Turkish intelligence had genuinely bugged the Saudi consulate or had agents in place, wouldn’t it be loath to reveal that fact?
In short, while we are pretty sure that we know the general outline of events…i.e., that Khashoggi entered the consulate, was detained, and was killed by Saudi agents…exactly what happened and when remains far from clear, and we should be very careful about making too quick a judgement. That is particularly true given that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are emerging rivals for control of the Islamic world, with Iran playing the role of spoiler in the background.
However, there is something of which we can be completely certain. To wit, that Trump hasn’t the foggiest idea of what’s going. If we are puzzled, then he is utterly bewildered and has no idea how to respond to this crisis. He cannot pursue justice without alienating the Saudis, to whom he is financially beholden, and upon whom his whole Middle Eastern policy depends. But, he cannot simply sweep the whole affair under the proverbial rug, because that opens him up to not only attacks from his critics at home, but also from important powers abroad — for example, the nations of the European community, Qatar and other Arab states which are not aligned with the Saudis, and, again, Turkey and Iran.
Simply put, Trump has revealed himself yet again as an utter incompetent. He seemed to believe he could dictate events, and, worse, that he could make “a deal” with the Saudis …as he “made a deal” with North Korea’s Kim…and that the Saudis would honor it, even though they had precious little to gain from doing so.
The problem here, though, is that Trump is not just a fool. He is also naive, in the way that business executives sometimes are — even very clever ones — when they find themselves outside their usual and familiar confines. In business culture, particularly in the US and Western Europe, there are rules and regulations. People understand each other. They dress alike. They know each other’s motivations. They know the limits of the game. You may defeat your rival, you may even humiliate him/her…but you don’t murder them in cold blood, and slice up the remains with a bone saw.
Not so in international politics. On that stage, where kings and potentates and Putin compete with bombs and knives and polonium…and where losers don’t just face bankruptcy but rather death everlasting…well, even the toughest, smartest CEO can come off looking a bit like a fool.
And thus,we have Trump…our president, the tough guy who sold himself to an ignorant people as the strongman who’d face down foreigners everywhere…now wanders about the world stage, as ignorant as a newborn, as innocent as the village idiot, while all about him dangerous men and women commit their atrocities, and construct their horrors…
Is there, then, any silver lining in all of this? Anything positive to be gleaned from the martyrdom of Mr. Khashoggi?
Only this: if the American people can see his helplessness for what it is…
Maybe we will never again believe that success as a business professional automatically means that you can run a government better than mere politicians, or that a government run “like a business,” is better than any other sort.