“Maybe He Did, and Maybe He Didn’t:” Reflections on Morality in 2018

Photo Source Garry Knight | CC BY 2.0

I expected this, actually. I just didn’t think it would be so crude, so buttheadedly amoral.

Trump’s view of the Saudis, in a nutshell, was announced last week: “They’re a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development.” Okay, ’nuff said.

The Saudis buy billions in war planes, missiles, tanks, helicopters and other military equipment every year. Over half of their arms come from the U.S., Britain serving as number two supplier. This means jobs. The annihilation of 50,000 Yemeni men, women and children puts bacon on the tables of Lockheed and Boeing workers in Seattle. The meddling in Syria, where Riyadh has supported al-Nusra-linked (al-Qaeda-linked) jihadis against the secular regime, means more jobs. The suppression of protesters during the Arab Spring in Bahrain was carried out by Saudi-led troops using U.S. small arms.

Trump was briefed on the Khashoggi matter last Friday. He knows that the CIA has concluded, with a “high degree of confidence” that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin-Salman  is “personally responsible” for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Istanbul consulate Oct. 5 But Trump said after the meeting that it was “premature” to assess responsibility.

I suspect it wasn’t premature at all. An announcement was merely timed to give the appearance of a decision after a formal procedure. The moral decision had been made. Billions in arms sales, billions from cheap oil, the priceless gift of Saudi help in destroying Iran (to help Israel assert hegemony over the region in tandem with the U.S.), the invaluable retention of the Jared-MbS blood brotherhood bond made the decision easy.

Now Trump, albeit in peculiar language that virtually advertises his amorality, language that frankly acknowledges that maybe the prince did it —“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”—has proclaimed his satisfaction with the Saudi explanation. Much of his base might accept it.

Fox “News” has already floated the idea that, since Kashashoggi was once a member of the Muslim Brotherhood (which by the way is not a “terrorist” organization, whatever the U.S. State Department–which inflicts terror on people daily–has to say about it), his death might not be such a bad thing. In his disturbed statement today Trump raised that too.

In familiar fashion, the Idiot President today cites vague dirt. His statement on Khashoggi includes this: gem “Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an ‘enemy of the state’ and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that…”  (Just thought I’d bring it up…)

So Khoshoggi was (maybe?) a “terrorist.” So the president’s statement asked his audience to understand the unpleasant killing matter in that context.

The amoral thug’s long-awaited missive begins Goering-like: “The world is a very dangerous place! The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen…”

What idiocy.

The Houthi movement has a mass base in Yemen. Shiite imams ruled northern Yemen for a thousand years up to the 1960s. Yemen was a U.S. ally from 2001, helping to fight al-Qaeda (although the U.S. presence in Yemen came to stimulate al-Qaeda and then ISIL presence in the country, and the current chaos). During the Arab Spring of 2014 the U.S. forced the (Shiite) president, Ali Saleh, to step down in favor of his Sunni vice-president, who assumed power in an uncontested election and was then toppled in a bloodless occupation of the capital Sana by Houthi militia in 2015. Since then there’s been an ongoing, vicious Saudi effort through their own proxies to return the ousted Sunni Yemeni president to power. In their war the Saudis claim that the Houthis are Iranian puppets, reliant on Iranian arms. Neither charge is true. The Houthis practice a form of Shiism that differs greatly from that of the mullahs of Qom; they are not connected to Iran as intimately as Lebanon’s Hizbollah. Their arms are overwhelmingly drawn from captured arsenals and the international arms market, not a pipeline to Iran.

The Houthi “insurgency” in Yemen has nothing to do with Sunni Islamist terrorism, such as is massively financed by private Saudis and other Gulf state donors. It is not a threat to the U.S. Saudi Arabia is waging a bloody war on the Yemeni people for no good reason than to show that MbS is boss of the peninsula and that he can get away with virtually everything he wants.

The world–or that small portion paying attention–has recoiled for many months at the savagery of the Yemen War. The figures are astounding. 50,000 civilians dead, three million displaced, 12 million facing starvation. The Saudi jets routinely refueled by U.S. aircraft, striking at sites targeted by U.S. allies, have cut off the Yemeni people from outside trade except at one besieged port. This is all well-known to be the Crown prince’s doing.

Trump lies. The above idiot-statement continues:

The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more.

No, Iran is not trying to undermine Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy. Only recently has a fairly legitimate government emerged in Baghdad from the electoral system imposed by the U.S. occupation following the criminal war based on lies in 2003. It consists of a Shiite nationalist party in alliance with the Communist Party and is quite independent of Iran.  The Iranian’s are Iraq’s next-door neighbors and share the Iraqi majority’s Shiite faith; it is not unusual that Iran might have more influence in Iraq’s politics than (say) a despised imperialist country that has slaughtered half a million Iraqis. But Iran has been trying to stabilize Iraq—certainly much more so than the U.S.

Hizbollah is not a terrorist group but a political party that holds seats in the Lebanese cabinet and parliament. It has radio stations, newspapers, runs hospitals, schools and charities. While the U.S. spurred by Israel has successfully campaigned to get Europe to designate Hizbollah a “terrorist” organization, it is recognized as a legitimate party by Norway (which while a NATO member tries to be slightly independent on Middle East policy), Switzerland, China, Russia, Turkey, India, Iran, Syria, Algeria, and Venezuela, among others.

Iran has provided  assistance to its ally Syria following the U.S. intervention in that country beginning at least in 2014. Hillary Clinton wanted to bring down Bashar al-Assad as the U.S.-NATO effort had brought down Muammar Gaddafi. The U.S. intervention as Donald Trump used to emphasize was disastrous. Assad has not killed millions; that is a foolish claim from a well-known serial liar.

Best estimates for the death toll of the Syrian conflict since 2014 hover around 400,000, with about 120-180,000 combatants on each side, and from 85,000 to 200,000 civilians. One must note that on the opposition side, the al-Nusra (al-Qaeda) forces have played a dominant role.

“…and much more,” the idiot president concludes, explaining why Iran is so bad that the U.S. has to stay in bed with a murdering thug who ordered his buddies in his security detail to head a kill team of 15 experienced professionals to take secret flights to strangle a dissident journalist in a diplomatic facility, dismember and dissolve his body, fake the dead’s emergence from the consulate, and deny the murder passionately even as the host country gainsaid his lies. So many more examples of Iran’s perfidity!

The Washington Post reports that Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Egyptian dictator Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi have both “reached out to the Trump administration to express support for the crown prince.” What do those butchers care about Jamal Khashoggi or the rule of law, when the anti-Shiite, anti-Iran, anti-Muslim Brotherhood axis of Washington, Riyadh and Israel underwritten by billions in arms sales and rivers of blood is at stake?

Russia and China will likely tow the U.S. line and give the Saudis a break. One can only hope that Europe balks and tells the president that he’s not just a moron but a moral monster and his leadership is not so much weakened as abrogated.

In standing with MbS Washington stands with sheer evil. It does so with refreshing clarity. On the White House just now (3:43 PM EST) Trump reiterates: “It’s all very simple for me. It’s America first….just look at Iran. If we abandoned Saudi Arabia it would be a terrible mistake.”

Actually if one looks at Iran one sees a country with a far better human rights record than Saudi Arabia. Whether you look at women’s rights, or press freedom, or the operation of the legislature and judiciary, religious rights of Christians and other religious minorities including  Zoroastrians and Jews, you find that Iran is light years ahead of Saudi Arabia. Only a fool would deny that.

But here is the president of the United States, whom (foolish) parents tell their kids is leader of the country, worthy of respect. He is now plainly an accomplice, an enabler, a liar, an object of well-deserved contempt. How can Europeans rooted in empirical reasoning and Enlightenment thought accept this call from across the Atlantic to prettify a ghastly murder—just to help a medieval monarchy stave off political crisis?

There are many good reasons for this country to slip from a position of global hegemony. May Trump’s decision on Tuesday hasten its end.

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu