ADAM JOHNSON—Clearly Saudi money—like pro-Israel money—has influence around the margins (or else, one assumes, they wouldn’t spend it), but the idea that the US wouldn’t be backing violent dictatorships if it wasn’t corrupted by some sinister foreign actor has no historical or empirical basis. US backing of Saudi Arabia predates its current public relations machine by decades, a machine that exists largely to influence the scope and depth of the US/Saudi alliance, not the fact of it.
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From the beginning, the Khashoggi story wasn’t really about the fate of one man. The Saudis have been getting away with bloody murder, literally, for years. They’re daily slaughtering the civilian population of Yemen with American and British help, with barely a ho-hum from the sensitive consciences always ready to invoke the so-called “responsibility to protect” Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Syria, Xinjiang, Rakhine, and so forth.
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FINNIAN CUNNNGHAM—When former Russian spy Sergei Skripal went missing in England earlier this year, there was almost immediate punitive action by the British government and its NATO allies against Moscow. By contrast, Western governments are straining with restraint towards Saudi Arabia over the more shocking and provable case of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
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MARGARET KIMBERLEY—Of course Trump style politics provides further complications. Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner has formed a close friendship with Mohammed bin Salman. Kushner’s security clearance gave him access to information which he gave to the crown prince. Kushner is the likely source who turned in Saudi royals, also connected to the CIA, who opposed the de facto ruler. These people were imprisoned, at least one was killed, their assets were seized and many now live under house arrest. Trump publicly supported the move in one of his famous twitter messages. It is easy to find yet another reason to look askance at Trump and his vulgar and incompetent family but Saudi Arabia will be a U.S. partner in wrong doing no matter who is in the White House. Prince Bandar bin Sultan was known as “Bandar Bush” because of his close relationship with two presidents and their confidantes.
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VIJAY PRASAD—In previous decades, the Saudis warehoused the arms, watching them rot and then be replaced with new arms. They were not buying arms as much as using the oil profits to underwrite the U.S. financial and arms industries. This was a Saudi bribe, an insurance policy, to the U.S. political class. It ensured that Saudi Arabia was a key ally of the U.S., and it bought the friendship of the U.S. politicians who made sure to shut down any conversation about human rights abuses inside Saudi Arabia—and the very fact that it is a monarchy. U.S. presidents often talk of Saudi Arabia as an ally in the promotion of democracy, a witheringly bizarre tone that runs from liberal Democrats to arch-conservative Republicans.