Trump and Jamal Khashoggi— Saudi Arabia Has Been Bribing the US with Arms Sales for Years

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Yves here. The uproar over the almost certain execution of Jamal Khashoggi is so disproportionate to the event that it’s become a proxy for something else in terms of the US-Saudi relationship. The post by Vijay Prashad makes the argument that Khashoggi went too far in defending his allies in the royal family who were opposed to Mohammed bin Salman, which led to his presumed execution, and that the US won’t do much about it due to the importance of the arms sales. While this is probably part of the equation, the US also has important air bases in Saudi Arabia. The US recognized that it was at risk of having the kingdom become unstable regardless of whatever the path of succession was after King Salman, who was well liked internally, decided to cede power. But Salman’s choice of MbS was contrary to tradition and expectations (57 year old Prince Mohammed bin Nayef would have been the new ruler under the usual protocol), setting factions in the royal family even more against each other. And MbS has consolidated power in an extremely heavy-handed way, by using corruption charges to arrest rivals and their allies and stripping them of assets. As Wikipedia noted:

The arrests resulted in the final sidelining of the faction of the late King Abdullah and MbS’s complete consolidation of control of all three branches of the security forces, making him the most powerful man in Saudi Arabia since his grandfather, the first King, Ibn Saud.

There are likely members of the US military apparatus who are sympathizers with the losers in the royal family power struggle But if what Wikipedia says is correct, MbS looks to have consolidated his position quickly and with a ruthless show of force.

It’s puzzling to see the press up in arms about Khashoggi, given that the US has been joined at the hip with the thuggish Saudis for decades. Informed reader input welcomed.

By Vijay Prashad, a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute, chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is also the author of Red Star Over the Third World (LeftWord, 2017) and The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (University of California Press, 2016), among other books. Originally produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute

By now, few doubt that Jamal Khashoggi is dead. It is most likely that the Saudi journalist—who once advised kings and billionaires—was killed by an interrogation team sent from Saudi Arabia to meet him in Turkey. If this was the case, then it is impossible for the hit on Khashoggi to have taken place without a green light from the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman (affectionately known as MBS). The Saudi royal palace would have signed Khashoggi’s death warrant because he had turned on the kingdom he otherwise loyally served. Nothing in Jamal Khashoggi’s career suggested that he would become a dissident. But, MBS had consolidated power against the fragile balance within the royal family and he had arrested and humiliated Khashoggi’s friends, including Al Waleed bin Talal of Twitter and Goldman Sachs. Khashoggi’s dissent was the complaint of one fraction of the ruling elite against another. If he were an unknown Saudi blogger sitting in Virginia, fulminating for a miniscule readership, he would have been left alone. That he represented powerful interests inside the kingdom made it impossible for him to survive.

Saudi Arabia is in the midst of an internal review of the death of Khashoggi. Whispers from inside the kingdom suggest that the final report will say that this was a “rogue” operation, a word introduced into this incident by U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump, who has bet a great deal on Saudi Arabia, has been caught flatfooted. He did not want this scandal. He thought that disavowing Khashoggi—because he was a permanent resident of the U.S. rather than a U.S. citizen—would make the case disappear. But it has not, largely because Khashoggi has close friends in Washington, D.C. (including colleagues at the Washington Post), because he is so well-connected inside Saudi Arabia, and because the Turkish government—which is in a long-term tussle with Saudi Arabia—will not let the matter drop. Even a substantial bribe from Saudi Arabia was rebuffed by Turkey. This news is not going anywhere.

Guns from Washington

Pressure came upon Trump to at least block U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. But, Trump is a pragmatic man. He knows that this would do two things he cannot afford—it would show that the U.S. does not stand by its allies, who might then seek allies elsewhere, and it would jeopardize the massive arms deals that the U.S. arms manufacturers have signed with the Saudis. Buying arms from the United States has come into use in Saudi Arabia’s insane war against Yemen, but more than that it has always been an insurance policy, a way to recycle Saudi petrodollars into the U.S. exchequer through arms deals. Not many U.S. politicians—who have arms manufacturers in each district—would be willing to throw Saudi Arabia overboard as long as it buys weapons systems that it mostly never used. Given this situation, Trump quite rightly ignored calls to stop the arms sales—“I actually think we’d be punishing ourselves if we did that.”

Why say that Trump was right to do what he did? It was not only because Trump wanted to maintain the U.S.-Saudi relationship. It was largely because Trump’s industrial strategy relies upon weapons sales around the world. And this is not merely Trump’s strategy. This has been the industrial strategy of the U.S. ever since manufacturing began to escape U.S. shores from the 1970s and ever since the USSR collapsed and Russian weapons manufacturing deteriorated (a situation remedied only recently). It is worth pointing out that the U.S. has been the world’s largest arms exporter for decades. It is also worth pointing out that U.S. arms exports have increased astronomically since 2008; it was arms manufacturing that was the fulcrum of the U.S. recovery from the credit crisis. Twenty percent of U.S. arms sales go to Saudi Arabia, whose appetite for U.S. weapons has increased by 448 percent from 2008-12 to 2013-17. This monstrous relationship that deposits Saudi petrodollars into the U.S. in exchange for weapons benefits the U.S. financial markets and the arms manufacturers—two key fractions of U.S. capital.

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.

Trump has been ferocious in his arms dealings. In the first half of 2018, the U.S. sold as many weapons as it did in all of 2017. This will be a record year. It is fated to continue in this vein. Arms will flow not only to Saudi Arabia, but to other Arab states, parts of the world that need to dry out from war rather than be put in the position where the gun becomes the solution to any problem.

Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam

Now, Saudi Arabia is using the arms sold to it by the U.S. and the UK in its barbarous war against the people of Yemen. Last year, Khashoggi made it clear that “when Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen erupted in March 2015, there was widespread Saudi popular support for it—including by me.” Khashoggi believed that Saudi Arabia must go to war to beat back an Iranian threat—an illusionary story that the Saudis had been flogging since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Two years into the war, Khashoggi said that the humanitarian crisis in Yemen—entirely the fault of Saudi Arabia—had “badly damaged” the kingdom’s reputation, and it had weakened Saudi Arabia’s credibility. Khashoggi called upon MBS to recognize all factions in Yemen as legitimate and to get serious about peace. This advice fell on deaf ears. The deafness of the palace annoyed people like Khashoggi, many of whom had full sympathy for the goals of the Saudi campaign but saw it poorly executed.

There is a full-blown humanitarian crisis in Yemen. That is true. But there has also been quite fierce military resistance to the Saudi and UAE war against Yemen. Plucky Yemeni forces from many factions have not permitted the Saudis to feel safe for a major land invasion. They have been restricted—since 2015—to an aerial bombardment of Yemen, a destruction of its infrastructure that includes its crucial ports. Anyone who looks at the Saudi war in Yemen is quickly disgusted by its brutality, but they should also see the resistance of the Yemenis that has prevented the much-wanted Saudi victory.

But the Saudi war on Yemen has slipped off the radar. It was Khashoggi’s disappearance that captured the imagination—a macabre story of a man that many journalists knew. During the wall-to-wall coverage about Khashoggi’s disappearance and now murder, Cyclone Luban struck Yemen’s Al Mahrah governorate. Relief workers in the area say that the cyclone was very destructive and the governor of the province, Rageh Bakrit, tweeted photographs of the high flood waters. The “disastrous” conditions, Bakrit said, “surpasses our humble capabilities.” He wants help, but help cannot easily get there. The Saudi war prevents assistance. This is the fifth cyclone to strike Yemen since the Saudi bombing began. The war continues; children continue to die (five killed a day since the Saudi bombing began in March 2015). Nothing is going to stop that. Not Khashoggi’s critical column nor his death. Nothing—as long as Saudi Arabia pays those billions of dollar in insurance payments in the guise of arms purchases

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    1. The Rev Kev

      In that case you will not want to watch a video of an autopsy saw versus a soup bone-

      I always figured that the Saudis would, after a little delay, would go down into their dungeons and drag out 15 poor suckers. That they would then bound their arms, place black bags over their heads, then behead them with those great big dirty swords. They would then claim that they have executed the 15 man team that went to Turkey and all would be well. Apparently not. Just read a story of how one of those 15 was apparently killed in a tragic traffic accident back in the Kingdom-

      The mind boggles at the thought of something like this happening in a Russian or an Iranian consulate. Can you imagine? The Russians were being sanctioned on what amounted to rumours and nothing so brazen as what the Saudis did.

    2. Eduardo

      I never travel without my bone saw. I call him “Bones.”

      I have found that he cuts through a lot of red tape. And, when it comes to negotiating or getting answers to difficult questions there is nothing like introducing folks to “Bones” to loosen their wallets or tongues. “Bones” can be very convincing.

      Nothing unusual or improper that he would be present for a little Q&A at the embassy. Nothing at all. /s

  1. Hameloose Cannon

    The US-Saudi relationship is even more fraught. A 2003 US troop withdrawal from Saudi Arabia left only non-combat instructors in Eskan Village. The troops shuffled for bases in Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Eritrea, UAE. I believe the French Air Force has taken over the role the US once held. But have you ever noticed the Kingdom lacks a conventional army? National Guard, Counter-Terrorism, sure but no occupation-capable forces anywhere. And the bulk of the air force is concentrated in Riyadh where they are heavily monitored. Ever since Egypt became an effective military dictatorship, the House of Saud has never trusted a standing conventional army of subjects within their Kingdom. Or the House never trusted one another with an army of subjects. So, for whom are these arm purchases? After the padding of accounts, I imagine the swag is mothballed in the desert, kept in its wrapping until the region really goes South. Can any of the players have confidence in the stability of this arrangement? Even the Kingdom’s bete noire, Iran, should be terrified that it will find itself having to throw down in a Worldwide Holy War. To Western eyes, it’s cuckoo. And expensive. And relies on the US. But it also explains the protracted Yemen campaign, an endless loop of air strikes to keep sharp the one blade our ally has, for when they cruise across the Gulf.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      The House of Saud learned the lesson from countries like Syria and Iraq not to have a strong army, because that army might decide it doesn’t like taking orders. So the ground force element is deliberately weak, and strengthened with mercenaries (mostly Pakistani and Egyptian) who are deemed more loyal. The F-15’s are for princes to play around in. Almost all the ground work (maintenance, logistics) is done by foreign contractors.

      This is a domestically safer system, but as you suggest, this means they are incapable of carrying out a proper military operation outside their borders, hence their dependence on air attacks in Yemen. I believe the original idea was that the Egyptians would be bribed to help out and do the dirty work on the ground, but they proved more sensible than that.

      The next big issue is that the Saudi’s and UAE are starting to fall out over Yemen. They both ultimately want the ports – the Saudi’s want an Iran-free (i.e. not using the Hormuz Straits) route for oil exports, the UAE wants control of all key ports in Yemen. The UAE seems to have hired much more effective mercenaries than the Saudis, they are doing much better on the ground. There is a strong possibility that Yemen could turn into a three (or more) way war.

  2. Synoia

    If the Saudi’s had wanted to have friends in Yemen, for a similar cost they could have improved the country. Just as the US could have bought what they wanted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

    However this does have precedent. Thomas a Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury and past member in Henry III’s court, was murdered by members of Henry court, as depicted in the famous Murder in the Cathedral play.

    With the immortal line: Who will rid me of this Turbulent Priest?

    It appears MBS did not reflect more on history.

    Friends come and Friends go. Enemies accumulate.

  3. vidimi

    the interrogation gone wrong story is undermined by the following facts:
    -the 15-man execution team brought a bone saw
    -there was a forensics expert to destroy the gruesome evidence among them

    it was premeditated murder. and if killing this one swine is enough to get the world to stop dealing with the saudis, i’ll take it.

    as much as i have been against every war in my lifetime, i would not be opposed to taking down the saudis. the reason, while countries like iraq, iran, north korea, or syria are not international menaces, the saudis are. their spread of wahhabiism is a global danger. at the very least, there needs to be a king faisal solution to mbs.

  4. Bill

    Iran’s expansionist adventure into Yemen and its overthrow of the Yemen government that was friendly to the US and Saudis started this. War does not make for the tendency to be kind nor limited in cruelty. The Sunni verses Shiite stage is a bitter stage with insanity, more than enough to go around. Khashoggi was himself insane to get in the middle of that against his own Saudi homeland. What would some over patriotic group of Americans have done in all good conscience if a mouthy, traitorous, Nazi commentator had visited an American embassy during World War II, if they knew in advance about the visit, and had the means to stage a strike against him? This is crazy. The patriotic group of Saudis needs to be rebuked, but war is war and comes with the accompanying insanity. It is reasonable for us to want the Saudis to be successful in this war. At least they are on our side. May peace prevail, but we know that is not a reasonably soon likelihood. Was this any crueler than what a roadside bomb does to its victim?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      There are no – precisely zero – Iranian forces in Yemen. This is a Saudi lie. At most the Iranians may have sent some weapons, but even this is unilikely. The Houthi’s aren’t even considered Shiites by the Iranians – the Zaydi sect most Houthi belong to mixes various elements of Sunni and Shiite beliefs. The Houthi movement itself is political, not religious. The war in Yemen is entirely the result of the Saudi’s and UAE interfering in a domestic power struggle which had nothing to do with Iran (or anyone else).

    2. Ignacio

      War is war!. Superb reasoning in line with the rest of the comment. Keep the hard job going on Bill!

    3. just me

      Wait What??
      Iran did not Overthrow the governement in 2011 after arab spring. Please educate yourself on what happened, its all public. (who sheltered and brough back Saleh against the will of a unified people?)
      No proof of iranian presence in Yemen even brought
      12 million people on the brink of famine… and you say you support this war?
      Just a question: do you know how many times KSA has intervened militarly in Yemen in the last 100 years? please look at it, and re read your answer.
      ps: Chite vs Sunites os nothing more than KSA vs Iran. very few muslims are fooled by that (ps ps: do you thinks Hezbollah, a chiite party, is popular in sunnite countries? you bet it is!)

  5. Carolinian

    it was arms manufacturing that was the fulcrum of the U.S. recovery from the credit crisis

    That’s a bit of news. So presumably US refueling of those Saudi planes on the way to bomb school buses should be looked on as product support.

    How long before our Manichean elites, so upset about Kavanaugh, admit that capitalism is not just misguided but also downright evil? Their moral compass seems to swing around the dial quite unreliably.

  6. bassmule

    “It’s puzzling to see the press up in arms about Khashoggi, given that the US has been joined at the hip with the thuggish Saudis for decades. Informed reader input welcomed.”

    I’m not particularly informed, but he was a columnist for the Post and lived in Virginia, and as best I can tell was part of the DC Establishment scene. Which would make him One Of Our Guys, no?

    1. EoH

      The out-of-proportion argument is akin to the observation that one death is a tragedy, a thousand is a statistic.

      Khashoggi’s death was reportedly horrific and painful. It was virtually a medieval public execution (public in that word of it would inevitably come out). We can partially take that in. And we can see that in its cruelty, the actors responsible for it are making a political statement, rather than merely achieving a desired end.

      When such deaths happen to a thousand or more people in Yemen – at Saudi hands – it is hard to take in, but surely it is “worse” than a single death. Yet the US is underwriting the Saudi campaign in Yemen and nary a word is expressed in criticism of it.

  7. Iapetus

    It’s worth mentioning that a deeper exploration of relationships between U.S. officials and Saudi Arabia might reveal corruptions which are larger than bribing the U.S. with arms sales. In early 2017 Softbank received a $45 billion investment commitment from the government of Saudi Arabia, and since then has invested over $700 million in private tech companies which the Kushner family’s Thrive Capital also own a stake in.

    Softbank’s investments since October 2017 include Mapbox ($164 million), Compass ($450 million), and Lemonade ($120 million). Thrive Capital has a venture stake in Mapbox, Compass, and Lemonade. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia appeared to be doing some local fundraising at the same time that these investments were being made. Just last month, Compass raised another $400 million in venture funding led by SoftBank and the Qatar Investment Authority.

    Softbank made additional large investments in the firms WeWork ($4.4 billion), and Kabbage ($250 Million). Shortly after these investments, Thrive Capital sold its majority stakes in the Flatiron School to WeWork, and in Orchard to Kabbage, all for undisclosed sums of money.

    While Saudi Arabia is an ally, it is not out of the questions that large investments like these might influence decisions which are important to them like providing U.S. intelligence to identify locals who are disloyal to the Saudi king, increased military assistance to help the Saudi’s war in Yemen, the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions against Iran, firing the U.S. Secretary of State, and submitting a Congressional Bill to facilitate the listing of Aramco’s upcoming IPO on U.S. exchanges.

    All this becomes critically important because Ivanka, who is a member of the Trump family, is legally entitled to at least half of Jared’s stake in Thrive Capital.

  8. Michael Fiorillo

    Kashoggi was a CIA/National Security State asset, at least in the past, no? Based on the news reports I’ve read, he was much more of a political operative than he was a journalist.

    Thus, the expressions of horror (justified) and indignation (preposterous, given MbS’ demonstrated and previously-ignored thuggishness ), at least some of which stems from the US’ collapsing influence in the region.

    Sure, we can cause chaos (a profit center for the politically-connected), and sell weapons (likewise) that are inevitably instruments of that chaos, but that’s about it. Every intervention of ours simultaneously demonstrates and diminishes our power at this point.

    1. rjs

      Kashoggi was a Saudi Security State asset before he was a CIA asset…he goes to the WaPo with the true story that would implicate the Saudi royals in the 9-11 bombings….but the CIA was also complicit…the WaPo is a CIA front, so they tell the Saudis what’s up, and the Saudis take out Khashoggi before the true 9-11 story can go public.. WaPo then covers his murder as if they were the offended party, rather than the instigator…

  9. Andrew Watts

    I assume the collective meltdown over the assassination/execution of Khashoggi is because he was a CIA asset. I can only remember one article Khashoggi wrote for the Washington Post which caused me to question what exactly his role at that newspaper was. He openly advocated for the US to partition Syria along present lines of territorial control from what I recall. He also propagated the fantasy that supporting civilian control would counter-act the forces of Al Qaeda and Islamic State. That specific plan would probably empower groups connected with the Muslim Brotherhood who were supported by Turkey and the CIA if it was attempted. That proposal doesn’t have a chance of succeeding even if implemented. It’s just an interesting point to make since Khashoggi reportedly joined the Muslim Brotherhood in his youth and allegedly severed ties later on.

    Any observer of the Syrian Civil War has heard the mockery over the term “moderate rebels” as nothing more then Al Qaeda / Islamic State-lite. These “moderate” groups were usually Brotherhood offshoots. I don’t understand the relationship that the US has cultivated with the Brotherhood over the years, but they were historically seen as a counter-force to Arab nationalism that the Soviet Union supported during the Cold War. Whatever the status of the present relationship it is increasingly becoming problematic which has brought us to this point.

    If I had to speculate about the specific motivation behind the killing of Khashoggi I’d wager that his increased influence and rise to prominence in the US was the primary factor. Especially considering his (former?) membership in the Muslim Brotherhood. Neither Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, or the Egyptians are particularly fond of the Brotherhood or it’s adherents. These countries have the Brotherhood listed as a terrorist organization and have lobbied Congress and others to similarly take action against it.

    I don’t believe that Trump will do anything in retaliation against Saudi interests as a result of Khashoggi’s death. As a result another fissure in the American state will bleed open. That’s pretty much the only reason I have any interest in this particular subject.

    1. Schmoe

      “I don’t understand the relationship that the US has cultivated with the Brotherhood over the years” It is because they are Sunni extremists who could fight Hezbollah (or do now fight Hezbollah in Syria), who chased Israel from southern Lebanon in the early 1990s and fought them to a battlefield draw and probably strategic defeat in 2006.

  10. John k

    MBS latest escapade is, like Yemen, hurting saudi in various ways. Cia has always preferred the ‘rightful’ heir. Cia, working with in country factions, might find a solution…
    Trump doesn’t support this, his family has great relationship with MBS… but cia is no friend of trump. Might finally see our own rogues do something useful.

  11. Jeremy Grimm

    Unless the House of Saud can count on the affections of its roughly 30 million people — half under the age of 25 and a quarter of them foreign — how does it maintain control? Were the strong armies in Syria and Iraq kept for national defense against outside threats or for internal control like a police force on steroids? How does the House of Saud fend off threats from whatever force or forces it’s using to maintain internal control? If the Saudi military is “incapable of carrying out a proper military operation outside their borders” — what protects the House of Saud from whatever outside threats might have motivated the strong armies in Syria and Iraq?

    Isn’t the US economy very dependent on Saudi oil over the ‘long’ term whether fracked oil might let us feel temporarily independent? This post suggests the US is also dependent on Saudi purchases of military hardware. What fraction of our military hardware sales goes to the House of Saud?

    Given our tolerance for, fostering and encouragement of, and execution of some truly horrendous acts of atrocity world-wind — including on our own rendered non-persons — I cannot but wonder at the sudden concern over the supposed fate of Khashoggi. Are the friends Khashoggi is supposed to have in the belt-way really so powerful they could shift long-standing US policy of tolerating all sorts of outrage that trace back to the door of the House of Saud?

    I don’t have any informed answers but the answers I’ve read so far leave me with more questions than I started with.

  12. Susan the other

    Only 2 weeks ago Trump stated that SA couldn’t survive at all without our military protection. If that is not a treat I guess I don’t know one. Then this sickening interlude with parting out of Mr. J. Khashoggi, reportedly while he was not quite dead yet. Lovely people. Yesterdays link to the article by the 9/11 families was instructive. I remember naughty Uncle Adnan pretty clearly throwing his money around with abandon. This petri dish of Saudi royals is a cautionary tale for all autocrats and plutocrats. They will gladly turn on themselves as the world turns on them. Lots of stuff is coinciding: Trump’s threat followed by coddling; George Bush’s frantic push to get Kavanaugh on the Supremes; failures everywhere in the ME; the sinister shadow of the CIA and the curious i-watch that didn’t bark. And his girlfriend just sat there for 5 hours?? The Saudis are going down and we are in a position to fill the void is what it looks like. I always thought it was a harbinger of exile when the Israelis and the Saudis got so chummy. I’m only wondering will it smolder and stink or will it blow sky high?

  13. Catullus

    I had a theory that came to me unbidden last night, surprising me unpleasantly. It’s pretty far out but it scares me enough to comment here. Hope that my theory is grossly wrong!

    First of all… all of this Khashoggi business is too brazen for MBS and the Saudis if they want the status quo to continue.

    This means they want the status quo to end. The end of the Petrodollar, in particular.

    The Saudis may have betrayed the US (and Trump himself) and decided to go brazen just to make the US put up or pull the plug. Pull the plug, the Saudis have an excuse to end the Petrodollar then our US dollar gets worth much less.

    The one who benefits most of all from this… is China. China must have bribed the Saudis excellent terms on stuff, perhaps weapons or promises to buy more oil. China is the Saudis’ largest customer, after all. The US no longer buys much oil from the Saudis – not for a long time because of oil supplies closer by (thus cheaper transportation) or inside the US.

    The Saudis bought weapons from Russia recently, upsetting the US MIC.

    So there you have it… the Kashoggi business is a prelude to the end of the US Petrodollar (i.e. oil no longer bought with dollars). That’s my theory and I hope I am WRONG.

    1. TheHoarseWhiperer

      Where this theory fails is the assumption that the US will sit idly by and watch the petro-dollar system go diwn the drain. The house of Saud are survivers – they would not make such a mistake. Most likely just a matter of hubris – even if it gets out, it will blow over in a few days.

      1. Catullus

        You’re probably right.

        That said, remember that actions to prop up the petro-dollar costs money and undermines the US dollar itself. So there will be a day that it’s cheaper to sit idly by…

  14. David

    It’s tempting to make this just an “arms sales” issue but, as the article itself half-acknowledges, it’s more than that. From the 1960s, the House of Saud knew that ultimately its grip on power depended on foreign military support. For professional reasons, I spoke to a number of people who had been involved in these issues, and they were unanimous that the deal was that the Saudis would buy weapons, which they had no intention of using, as a way of deterring foreign powers or even domestic unrest. The point about military equipment is that it requires extensive support, which the Saudis did not provide. Thus, you had huge numbers of expatriates in Saudi keeping the system going, and any attacker would therefore have risked a confrontation with western powers. The Saudis got protection and deterrence, the West got exports and a reliable ally in the region. This was fine until MbS screwed it all up.
    It’s also worth pointing out that the US is far from the only supplier of weapons. The Air Force operates Tornados and will operate Typhoons (the Israel lobby has tried very hard, and sometimes succeeded, to block export of the latest US military technology). The Navy has a number of French ships.

  15. yan

    My humble mind still does not understand one thing in this whole imbroglio: why did khashoggi buy an apartment in istanbul and was going to live there. Moreover, could he not have gotten his divorce certificate/marriage license (can´t remember what it was) in the DC consulate?

    1. N

      Allegedly he tried and the Saudi government told him he had to go to the consulate in Turkey.

      Seems like that would have been an obvious red flag, but maybe not.

    2. sd

      “Hattie Cengiz, a doctoral student at a university in Istanbul, is Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée.” They met at a conference in Turkey. He needed the paperwork to get married.

  16. TheScream

    Indeed. Where is all the outrage when the US kidnaps people off the streets in Europe and elsewhere, whisks them off to Jordan, Egypt or Bulgaria and tortures them to death?

    Hypocrisy and racism. In a sense, Trump is right to be blase about this. The US has done the same hundreds of times. We have stood by or helped as other nations have done the same.

    The Saudis assumed that, given Trump’s attitude to extra-judicial murder and mistreatment of the press, that this would be accepted even if it was so blatant.

    Poor Saudis. They should have consulted with Kuklinski!

  17. TheHoarseWhiperer

    Where this theory fails is the assumption that the US will sit idly by and watch the petro-dollar system go diwn the drain. The house of Saud are survivers – they would not make such a mistake. Most likely just a matter of hubris – even if it gets out, it will blow over in a few days.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      We’ve debunked the idea that oil trading is denominated in dollars makes any difference. The dollar is the reserve currency because the US is a large economy, runs consistent trade deficits, which is required to get currency in a lot of foreign hands, and even in its fallen state, has the best regulated and largest capital market in the world, so you can park your dollars in US securities as opposed to just hold cash.

      1. TheScream

        Speaking from experience, I have never met any oil trader who cares that oil is priced in dollars per se. But since the USD is universal, it makes life simpler and safer to manage. But given that the Euro is also a large capital market, is freely convertible and is gaining wider acceptance despite any internal Euro problems, it is reasonable to assume that traders would easily trade in Euros whether or not the market is priced in USD. In fact, there are many more deals being conducted in Euros and other currencies than before.
        Will this lead to the Saudis not rolling over their treasury holdings and cashing in their bills? Possibly, if they get annoyed enough.
        Anyone know if Netflix has the movie “Rollover”? Terrible movie but very appropriate viewing right now.

  18. AEL

    Colbert referred to Mohammad bin Salman aka MBS as “Mr. Bone Saw”. I don’t know where he got it from, but I think that nickname will stick.

  19. Tomonthebeach

    So let me understand Trump’s position. We are a nation that tolerates genocide in places like Yemen, because it will expand our capacity to produce more weapons of destruction which we will sell to more despots who will expand their wars, which will kill yet more people, rinse-repeat.

    I vote that we re-rename DOD to the War Department.

  20. precariat

    Armcahir observations:

    Turkey is (or was) a known destination for quite a few Saudi expats who get to be in an Islamic environment but enjoy relatively greater freedoms. Now that the Muslim Brotherhood (Turkey, Qatar) and Sunni Monarchies (KSA, UAE) are in direct confrontation after the Arab Spring, demonstrating reach and striking fear was at least part of what MBS hoped to achieve. Erdogan could see this as not just a crime against a friend or the diplomatic community, but also as an attack on Turkey’s sovereignity.

    Meanwhile, I suspect there are many well-informed here in the US who are paying attention to Yemen, and KSA and UAE’s actions and failures; and who do not want these Gulf monarchies calling the shots getting everyone embrioiled in a confrontation with Iran. Having a Sunni split exacerbated may distract and disable KSA/UAE’s ambitions. MBS walked perfectly into it. A plus is that MBS is not the intelligence establishment’s guy. Bin Nayef is.

    And the Press: What the Establishment and IC know is that to enact their agendas, they need buy-in from journalists and news corporations. So encouraging and pretending to care enough about a ‘journalist’ and international norms amplifies a story that justifiably harms MBS and reinforces to the journalistic class that their lives are not cheap.

    All of this has the hallmarks of a chess game, or am I reading too much into it?

  21. John Zelnicker

    When Jamal Khashoggi’s name first came up in the press recently with his disappearance, it brought back memories of the last time I had heard of the Khashoggis, which was back in the 1980’s. Adnan Khashoggi was the middle-man who supplied the weapons for the Iran-Contra deal. He had previously earned over a hundred million dollars in commissions from Lockheed for selling weapons to Saudi Arabia.

    I think it’s interesting that very few stories in any press, MSM or alternative, mention that Adnan was Jamal’s uncle. Adnan was also an associate of Bebe Rebozo, one of Richard Nixon’s good buddies.

    Fun facts: When Adnan Khashoggi ran into financial trouble in the 1970’s he sold his super-yacht to the Sultan of Brunei, who sold it to Donald Trump for $29 million. Trump ended up selling it to Sultan Al-Waleed bin Talal for $20 million as part of a deal to keep one of his casinos out of bankruptcy. (This super-yacht, The Nabila, was used in the Bond movie Never Say Never Again. At the time, it was the largest yacht in the world.)

    What was that about no ties to the Saudi’s? And, the Art of the Deal?

  22. N

    Here is a good article on Khashoggi. Calling him a journalist is a real stretch. He worked for several Saudi media outlets over the years, but state media there is literally just publishing what the ruler wants.

    Calling him a dissident, as the west is nowadays, is just flat out wrong. He supported the Saudi dictatorship right up to the end, albeit he favored a different faction than MBS.

    Here is a great article from Asad Abukhalil, who wrote several books on Saudi Arabia.

  23. David in Santa Cruz

    I, too, thought of Adnan Khashoggi and Iran-Contra. However, we are being typically Beltway-centric. MBS was sending a message to Erdogan and to Saudi royals who are still hostile to his take-over. Khashoggi’s Washington ties were meaningless.

    Why meaningless? The Dean of American Investigative Reporting, Seymour Hersh, was making the book-flogging rounds earlier this year, and Jeremy Scahill of the Intercepted Podcast drew him into saying more than he might have originally intended. Hersh shared his theory that Trump’s 2020 re-election bid will be based on a massive Saudi-financed “infrastructure reconstruction” program to be initiated after the mid-terms — essentially selling the U.S. infrastructure to the Saudis for about $300 Billion dollars — which will temporarily spike “good jobs” for working Americans. In other words, MBS knew up front that Trump ain’t gon’ do sh*t.

    As for the bone saw, it is not as sinister as some would make it out to be. Amputation as a punishment for petty crime used to be about as common in Saudi Arabia as a suspended driver’s license is in Ferguson MO (although the last reported case of amputation for theft was in 2010). Probably still standard issue for a quasi-judicial interrogation.

  24. everydayjoe

    Is the guy wielding the bone saw more inhumane than the person ordering the kill? War is War mentality is equally inhumane. Khashoggi was collateral damage and the proxy war’s others fight for powerful nations( US, Iran) will ultimately spread to the host countries….directly or indirectly. War is War mentality can be numbed if CNN and others telecast war at home . Most dont even know of the war in Yemen .

  25. TheScream

    Well, Trump has out-trumped himself…again. Turns out this plump, sixty year old journalist took on 18 “rogues” at the Embassy and got himself killed! It was all his fault because he started shouting. He shouted so loud that these 18 guys heard him in Saudi and jumped onto two planes to go confront him. They brought a bone saw in case…well, in case a bone needed sawing! duh!

    Trump must go. Now.

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