Falling for a Saudi Prince's Charming Spell

By Jamie Stiehm

October 17, 2018 5 min read

WASHINGTON — The grand romance with the crown prince is over, with blood spilled at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey, where the three world religions and East and West meet.

Send the thank-you note to novice Jared Kushner and his father-in-law, President Donald Trump. Winging foreign policy, Kushner fell under the spell of Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi prince who is anything but a reformer, by his own admission. Now a countryman's murder points to the prince.

Not even murderous Macbeth, the Scottish villain in Shakespeare's greatest tragedy, would do what was done to the self-exiled Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

Here we stand at a turning point for the nation, the wide world watching, facing the question: What do we stand for?

No, really, tell me. Is it something besides being the richest arms dealer on earth? Surely Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, will sort it out on his emergency trip to see the Saudi rulers.

Riyadh, the capital, was the first foreign visit the president paid. Trump felt at home with the gold, glitz and servitude. Symbolically, that choice radiated a radical shift in America's strong stance on human rights. It sent a sour message to our best friends and allies, Britain, France and Germany: a new gang is in town.

U.S. intelligence tells us the Saudi journalist walked in and never left that squat building in beautiful Istanbul. A critic of the cruel desert kingdom, Khashoggi was (apparently) brutally murdered by Saudi agents at that very spot. Reportedly, they tried to wash the blood before letting investigators inside.

After days of denial, the kingdom has finally spoken: Death came during an interrogation. That confirms what Turkish authorities said, that the journalist was likely tortured. (Turkish strongman, President Tayyip Erdogan, is the good guy in the gruesome plot.)

Recall Trump declared "war" on the press his first full day in office, brazenly defying the First Amendment. So why should he really care about a foreign journalist's devastating death?

The White House Correspondents' Association hasn't issued a statement.

Khashoggi, just shy of 60, served the Saudi monarchy much of his life. A U.S. resident, he contributed columns to The Washington Post and had reason to feel good as a free man. He kissed his bride-to-be goodbye — "my darling" — and walked into the consulate alone in broad daylight, seeking a document for his wedding.

The writer once belonged to the shady Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, but became more progressive.

Well did he know King Salman and the crown prince — who goes by a Western nickname, MBS — hated his dissent from the repressive regime. But would they come for him in Istanbul, a thriving world capital and crossroads?

"This never would have happened without MBS's approval. Never, never, never," a former senior diplomat told The Washington Post. The crown prince, 33, with a tight grip on power, campaigns hard to impress upon Western leaders and investors that he is modernizing the medieval oil kingdom, literally the last place on earth for a woman to live, covered and silenced.

The prince let women to drive, but incarcerated several women's rights advocates. He detained untold numbers, "been ruthless in asserting power" and ordered a "wave of executions," since becoming heir to King Salman, according to The Post.

The brash crown prince once spoke sharply to President Obama, hectoring him — not often done with a head of state. True to form, Obama was too polite to walk out. Did the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks come up? Passing strange that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.

Kushner was bamboozled by the prince's aura. So were a host of rich powerful men who flocked to the first "Future Investment Initiative" conference last October in Riyadh. A second flashy showcase ("Davos in the desert") is scheduled his month, though the list of dropouts includes Wall Street titan Jamie Dimon and Uber chief Dara Khosrowshahi.

I'm sorry to say Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is on the fence about going. He'll decide Friday. But wars are raging — one of which Saudi Arabia is waging on Yemen. Then there's always Iran. So there are billions in arms to sell at that bazaar.

That may trump everything.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit Creators.com.

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