Tom Friedman Reaps What He Sows: the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi

Photo Source Alfagih | CC BY 2.0

Six days ago the American-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. He has not been seen since and news reports suggest he was brutally murdered inside the consulate by a Saudi team who had been sent to Turkey for specifically that purpose.

Thomas Friedman writes about this in his latest column: “Praying for Jamal Khashoggi.” The piece amounts to a very mild reevaluation of Friedman’s past praise for “modernizer” Mohammad Bin-Salman and a lament for Khashoggi, who is a friend.

Two thoughts immediately come to mind. First is that contrary to his expressed prior equivocations, Friedman has spent the last year and probably longer whitewashing the newest Saudi leader and insisting the country is on a path to reform. Note that the linked piece was published only last November. 

Second, Friedman references Yemen twice in yesterday’s essay. These mentions are so egregious they require specific note. The first: “the Saudi-United Arab Emirates war in Yemen has been so badly botched that the Saudis have been accused of possible war crimes, even though Iran and the Houthi rebels have also contributed mightily to Yemen’s destruction.” The Saudis have not “botched” anything, nor have they been “accused” of “possible” war crimes; there is repeated proof of such crimes, committed intentionally, with American complicity. The second note about Iran and the Houthis is the recurring fallback point for Saudi apologists and is also inaccurate. More to the point, the misplacement of blame in this way is staggering, as one regional power continues to bombard, blockade, and effectively starve the poorest country in the Arab World.

In his second reference to Yemen, Friedman writes: the apparent murder, if true, “would be an unfathomable violation of norms of human decency, worse not in numbers but in principle than even the Yemen war.” Worse in principle that Yemen? Really? Why—because you know Khashoggi? The murder indeed appears grizzly, but is it more brutal as a “violation of norms of human decency” than bombing busloads of schoolchildren in Yemen in order to collectively terrorize the population?

Friedman’s byline notes that he “has won three Pulitzer Prizes.” This remains astounding. Perhaps he should take a hard look in the mirror and consider whether his soft-pedaling of the Saudi dictatorship under the guise of “reformism” coupled with decades of cheerleading wars in the Middle East helped push us to this dreadful place.

Will Solomon can be followed at endtalk.substack.com or on Twitter at @wsolol.