An Elegy from Hell: Pompeo Smears Khashoggi

“De mortuis nil nisi bonum” (“Speak no ill of the dead”) we are told.

Screw that, says Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo, who served as CIA director and secretary of state under President Donald Trump, has excreted a new book: Never Give An Inch: Fighting for the America I Love. Pompeo may love America, but he does not love Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist Saudi Arabia murdered in their Istanbul consulate on October 2, 2018. US intelligence concluded that Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia, had been assassinated on the direct orders of Saudi strongman Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (popularly known as “MBS”).

In Never Give An Inch, Pompeo, a hack politician with presidential ambitions, exhumes Khashoggi’s corpse and pisses on it. Pompeo writes that Khashoggi “didn’t deserve to die, but we need to be clear about who he was—and too many in the media were not.”  Khashoggi, Pompeo writes, was an “activist,” not a journalist. He accuses the media of portraying Khashoggi as “a Saudi Arabian Bob Woodward who was martyred for bravely criticizing the Saudi royal family through his opinion articles in the Washington Post.”  Pompeo also accuses Khashoggi of being “cozy” with the Muslim Brotherhood (Khashoggi had been a member of the Brotherhood, but quit in the 1980s).

Nor is Pompeo happy that Khashoggi had mourned the mastermind of 9/11. Khashoggi had been friends with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in the days before Al-Qaeda. After US Navy SEALs killed Bin Laden in 2011, Khashoggi tweeted: “You were beautiful and brave in those beautiful days in Afghanistan before you surrendered to hatred and passion” (emphasis added). That’s hardly full-throated support for terrorism. Maybe Pompeo forgot that in the 1980s the US backed the Afghan Mujahideen which included Bin Laden in their war of liberation against Afghanistan’s Soviet occupiers. The 1987 James Bond film The Living Daylights depicts the Mujahideen as heroes.

Pompeo’s comments closely follow the official Saudi line on Khashoggi.  As Trump’s secretary of state, Pompeo compiled an impressive record as a stooge for Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

On September 12, 2018, Secretary Pompeo falsely certified that the Saudis and the UAE were “undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure” in Yemen.  That was a lie.  Kamel Jendoubi, chairperson of the UN Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen, said the previous month that “There is little evidence of any attempt by parties to the conflict to minimize civilian casualties.”  But if Pompeo had told the truth, the US would have been required under the National Defense Authorization Act for 2019 to terminate military assistance to the Saudis and the UAE.  Goodbye lucrative US arms sales.

On November 28, 2018, Pompeo and then Secretary of Defense James Mattis gave a classified briefing urging the US Senate to reject the pending War Powers Resolution which would force the Administration to end assistance to the brutal Saudi war on Yemen.  The resolution passed Congress, but was vetoed by President Trump.  Shortly after Pompeo’s and Mattis’ briefing, the international humanitarian group Save the Children reported that as many as 85,000 children in Yemen under the age of five may have died of starvation brought on by the Saudi war.

In May 2019, Secretary Pompeo concocted a phony emergency with Iran in order to push through $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates without having to consult Congress.

Oil and Arms

Pompeo was not the Trump Administration’s only cheerleader for Saudi Arabia. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is chums with MBS. Kushner smeared Khashoggi as a “terrorist masquerading as a journalist,” according to Michael Wolff, author of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (2018).

Finally, there was Trump himself.  “He says he didn’t do it,” Trump replied when Bob Woodward asked him whether MBS had had Khashoggi murdered. In his typical classy fashion, Trump boasted that he had “saved [Bin Salman’s] ass” from retaliatory measures the US Congress wanted to take against Saudi Arabia.

Trump didn’t care who killed Khashoggi. What Trump did care about was US arms sales. During a meeting with Bin Salman on March 20, 2018, Trump told reporters: “Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation and they’re going to give the United States some of that wealth, hopefully, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world.” (One imagines Trump looking into the camera while 1-800-WEAPONS flashed on the bottom of the screen.) In the conversation with Bob Woodward already quoted, Trump pointed to “$400 billion [in Saudi arms sales] over a fairly short period of time,” a figure the Associated Press and other fact-checkers have questioned.

Enter Biden

A new president has not meant a new policy. Biden talked tough about Saudi Arabia on the 2020 campaign trail. During the November 20, 2019 Democratic presidential candidates’ debate, Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah state.”  Biden vowed to make the Saudis “pay the price” for Khashoggi’s murder. In addition, Biden “would make it very clear we were not going to, in fact, sell more weapons to [Saudi Arabia].”  One of Biden’s first acts as president was to declassify the CIA report on Khashoggi’s murder.  On February 4, 2021, in his first foreign policy address as president, Biden announced that he was “ending all support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.”

The speech was the high-water mark of progressives’ hopes for a reformed US approach towards Saudi Arabia.  By August, Biden had proposed arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE totaling $5 billion.  Biden continued US military assistance to the Saudis and UAE begun by President Obama, albeit at lower levels. By last Summer, Biden was scuttling hat in hand to Riyadh to beg MBS for cheaper oil.

Khashoggi had gone to the Saudi consulate to pick up papers needed for his upcoming marriage.  Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatiz Cengiz sued Crown Prince Bin Salman in federal court in 2020 for Khashoggi’s murder. Disgracefully, the Biden Administration issued a “suggestion of immunity” arguing that the crown prince had head of state immunity. The court dismissed the case.

The State Department wrote that the Administration “reiterates its unequivocal condemnation of the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi.” That must have been a great comfort to Ms. Cengiz.

Seventy-seven years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Saudi King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud met on the USS Quincy in the Suez Canal.  Since then, Saudi Arabia, a brutal, anti-democratic regime, has provided the US with oil in exchange for US military protection.  As the Oil Age nears its end, it is well past time for the US to break with the Saudis.  But that day seems as remote as ever.

Charles Pierson is a lawyer and a member of the Pittsburgh Anti-Drone Warfare Coalition. E-mail him at