By Javad Heirannia

U.S. has buried its moral compass in the Trump-Kushner-MBS disaster: Askari

October 19, 2018 - 12:23

TEHRAN – Professor Hossein Askari, an expert on Saudi Arabia who also teaches international business at the George Washington University, believes that Jamal Khashoggi was tortured and murdered.

“U.S. intelligence services knew about the danger that Khashoggi faced, maybe not the details, but that MBS was trying to capture or even kill him,” Hossein Askari, who served as special advisor to Saudi finance minister, tells the Tehran Times
Following is the text of the interview:

Q: Where are we in the Khashoggi-MBS-Salman-Trump-Kushner disaster gripping the world?

A: We have a pile of lies. Let’s face facts. Jamal Khashoggi was tortured and murdered.   U.S. intelligence services knew about the danger that Khashoggi faced, maybe not the details, but that MBS was trying to capture or even kill him. Given this fact, the U.S. was complicit in his murder. This is a black mark on America’s credentials. The U.S. should have warned Khashoggi. The Saudis have lied and lied with Trump as their agent. He has suggested that ‘rogue killers’ are to blame! What a lie. Fifteen Saudis come on two private planes to Istanbul; they are welcomed in the embassy; they torture and kill Khashoggi inside the consulate; the Saudi Consul and the staff say nothing; and the fifteen assailants leave Turkey on their two planes. Rogue agents do not get away with murder in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has always been micro-managed from the top—today by MBS. Now the Saudis are caught naked and they will go along with a Trumpian fairytale. A fairytale that no one outside of Trump’s magical base will believe. For some reason Trump is trying to protect MBS and Saudi Arabia but unfortunately, when you lie, you need a bigger lie to cover the first lie and on it goes. After each lie, they became less believable. This situation will have repercussions in the Muslim World, in the Middle East and in how the United States will be viewed in the world for years to come.

Q: What are the facts behind Trump’s support for Saudi Arabia—military sales, oil, regional policies in the Middle East?

A: Trump says it is all about money and U.S. jobs, $110 billion in military sales and the jobs that go along with the sales because Saudi Arabia will now buy arms from China and Russia. This justification for supporting Saudi Arabia and the policies of MBS is a series of blatant lies and distortions that Trump wants his ‘base’ to buy. The $110 billion is a distorted figure. All he has are signed letters of intent and the time limit approved by Congress on some of these hoped-for purchases has come and gone. At most we may be talking about $60-70 billion stretched out over a number of years with most agreed upon during the Obama era.

This fact is especially the case for MBS. He has tried to establish himself as a reformer to the outside world, something that he is not when it comes to practicing governance in Saudi Arabia. He is oppressive. His internal security apparatus abducts, tortures and kills those who oppose him. Equally important is the fact that Saudi Arabia cannot just turn a switch and buy all its arms from China and Russia. Its past arms purchases and military systems are mainly American, with a small quantity of arms and munitions from the UK. Arms have to be compatible. This is more obviously the case for spare parts. All Saudi advisors and training are from the U.S. It would take years, if not a decade or two, to transition to Chinese or Russian systems. Saudi Arabia is a captive buyer of U.S. arms and of U.S. military training and political support. The Saudi ruling family would not last without U.S. support. It cannot afford to offend the United States.

This fact is especially the case for MBS. He has tried to establish himself as a reformer to the outside world, something that he is not when it comes to practicing governance in Saudi Arabia. He is oppressive. His internal security apparatus abducts, tortures and kills those who oppose him. He abducts people and extracts money without judicial process. He and his family live a life of opulence, an opulence that is derived from oil, which is the heritage of all Saudis of this and future generations. He kills innocent women and children by indiscriminate bombing in Yemen. These are not the attributes of a reformer.

A word of warning. Saudi Arabia is using U.S. arms to kill civilians in Yemen and elsewhere. Trump should not be so boastful of U.S. arms going to Saudi Arabia. The U.S. is knowingly complicit in his atrocities and is not winning friends.

Q: Is Saudi support only from Trump-Kushner? Are members of Congress behind Saudi Arabia? What about U.S. corporations? Who else supports Saudi Arabia in Washington and why?

A: Sadly, everything in the U.S. centers on money these days. Morality, decency and doing the right thing have little or no traction in the United States. Trump and Kushner think first and foremost of their own business empires. Saudis have done business and do business as we speak with Trump and Kushner. Moreover, knowing what I know about Saudi Arabia, I believe that MBS has made financial promises to Kushner—he and Trump will be taken care of given their support for his policies. The Republican Congress follows Trump like little puppy dogs to get votes from his base, to get campaign donations from rich Republicans and to secure lucrative contracts when they leave office. They have no love for an arrogant MBS or for Saudi Arabia, they are thinking just of themselves. U.S. companies and financial institutions are just looking for business. And last but not least are the lobbyists. There are literally dozens of ex-U.S. officials and influential corporate leaders on the Saudi payroll. They are guns for hire and Saudi Arabia has the money.

Q: What does Trump’s support for Saudi Arabia say about the United States?

A: Nothing good, I am sorry to say. The U.S. espouses support for human rights and freedom and yet supports the worst dictators in the world. How can these two polar opposite positions be reconciled? They cannot. The United States has lost its moral compass. It is focused on personal interests and financial rewards. Moreover, after the U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA—an agreement that it had signed along with five other countries and that was endorsed by the UN Security Council—who can believe the U.S. on anything? Furthermore, after Trump denied the reality of global warming and withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, who believes that the U.S. is committed to the survival of humanity? I could go on, but the point is clear. The U.S. is losing its soft power. It has only its military as an instrument of foreign policy. All this is made worse by the fact that Trump and his government are acting as a publicity agent and advisor to King Salman and MBS. It will take the U.S. years to recover from this low point.

Q: Does the U.S. appreciate the importance of its soft power?

A: Apparently not. To my mind, this was America’s greatest asset. It is being dissipated at a rapid rate. People around the world, especially those living under oppressive regimes, will no longer see the United States as a country that stands for hope. The U.S. will be seen as a country that not only supports dictators but is complicit in the murder of innocent people, not just in the Khashoggi case but also in its military and intelligence support of Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen. The growing negative perception of the United States is confirmed by the Pew Research results. It has taken America ages to build its soft power and it will be eroded in just a few years.”

Q: What does the Khashoggi tragedy and Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA say about the rule of law in global affairs?

A: The rule of law is in reverse gear. It is a free for all world. We will see many more cross-border intimidations, abductions and assassinations. The reason is simple. If the U.S. or its friends can do these things, so can any rogue actor, be they a sovereign state or ISIS or whoever. The world will lose every ounce of security that it has painfully built up since WWII. The world will become a veritable jungle.

Q: What can Muslim countries do to reign in Saudi excesses that give Muslims and Islam a bad name?

A: I am glad you asked this question. Saudi Arabia is giving Muslims and Islam a bad name. The governance of Saudi Arabia under the Al-Sauds has nothing to do with Islam. I could give you hundreds of reasons but let me give you three indisputable Islamic teachings. In Islam, Allah gave humans the freedom of choice, a freedom that no ruler can take away; Allah gave the world and all its depletable resources, such as oil, to all humanity and to all future generations to be shared equally; and Allah condemns oppressors, murderers and all forms of corruption. Do the Al-Sauds rule at the pleasure of the people and give them the freedom that Allah gave to all humans? Do MBS and his family access oil revenues equally with all their subjects? Is MBS and his tribe guilty of corruption? I will leave these three questions for the reader to answer for him or herself. Suffice it to say that MBS cannot claim to be the defender of Islam.

As for MBS, he is a murderer pure and simple. He ordered the death of Khashoggi. Why do I say this? Anyone who knows Saudi Arabia can tell you that such decisions have to be approved at the very top and he is at the top. He must be tried and if found guilty, he must be punished as required in Islam. If Al-Saud rule is to have any credibility, in a country that claims its legitimacy from Islam, MBS must be judged and punished as any other criminal.  

Muslims and governments of Muslim countries around the world should condemn what has been done to Khashoggi. The world must know that what they see in King Salman’s handling of this tragedy should not be associated with Islam. Saudi Arabia must not be supported in this act. Sadly, some Arab governments have already come to Saudi Arabia’s rescue because of financial assistance or being comrade in arms as autocratic rulers. How can a government be credible when it applauds the murder of an innocent Muslim, followed by denials, and then false admissions? Truthfulness matters in Islam! Allah does not embrace liers, especially those who commit murder and lie to cover it up. Countries whose government profess Islam have a duty to condemn false pretensions to Islam by Saudi Arabia and its supporters.

Q: How will this tragedy end?

A: No one knows. Little things can change the course of history. We could be at one of these points. The U.S. Congress should end its blind support of oppressive rule in Saudi Arabia and should withhold support for other dictators unless they have a firm schedule for restoring freedom for their people, begin to respect human and civil rights and move toward representative governance. If this tragedy nudges the U.S. in this humanitarian direction, it would benefit the world and the United States. Arms sales, financial benefits, and money for U.S. politicians and lobbyists hurt the United States in more ways than one can list.

One word of advice to the wise who make important foreign policy decisions. No one, I repeat no one, in this world can predict the full fallout of policy decisions. Did anyone predict the full fallout of the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadeq, a multidimensional fallout that we feel even today? Because of the limitations of the human mind, we need a minimum dose of morality so that when things take an unexpected turn, we don’t plunge the world into total chaos where might makes right. Morality calls the world, and especially the entire Muslim World, to stand up to MBS and Saudi Arabia.

Out of this tragedy, we might still be able to extract something good for the world. U.S. senators and members of the House of Representatives should say enough is enough, denounce MBS and stand up for what we all thought were American values. Muslims and Muslim countries should stand up and condemn MBS and his father and state that what they have done is criminal and against everything that Islam preaches. Turkey has a special role here as it must tell the truth and not succumb to Saudi and U.S. bribes. Evangelicals should begin to put the teachings of Jesus Christ before the requests of hypocritical and self-serving politicians. This tragedy affords human rights activists an opportune moment to fight for human rights and to preach the importance of doingwhat is right to governments and peoples the world over. In the end, doing the right thing for the right reason says it all.

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