It’s All About Iran, Stupid!

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Once upon a time, there was a brutal and reckless dictator of an oil-rich Arab country who, despite his well-documented excesses, was stroked and supported by the United States and other Western governments. His crimes were terrible, went the rationale, but he was modernizing his country and he was holding the line against Islamist jihadism and Iran. Anyway, there was probably no alternative.

The ruler heard that message. He concluded that, as long as he kept supplying oil and opposing Iran, he was free to butcher his opponents and bully his neighbors.

His name, of course, was Saddam Hussein. The bet made on him by the United States and its allies directly led to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and from there to the “endless wars” in the Middle East that are now almost universally bemoaned by the West’s foreign policy establishment.

And yet, 30 years later, those mandarins and the politicians they report to are blindly repeating the mistake. They are saying they abhor the blatant crimes of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including the murder of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the torture and imprisonment of women seeking greater rights. They see his bombing campaign in Yemen as a war-crime-ridden disaster.

Yet, at the summit of the Group of 20 in Osaka, Japan, a week ago, they cheerfully clustered around him. Not just President Trump but also prime ministers and presidents from the big European democracies. And not just them but also the leaders of India, South Korea and Japan, all of whom have received Mohammed bin Salman warmly in the past six months.

Ask them why, and you get an all-too-familiar response:The crown prince, who is also known as MBS, is the best chance for modernization in Saudi Arabia. He’s fighting the Islamist extremists, and he’s allied with us and with Israel against Iran. The alternatives to him are worse.

The determination with which politicians and policymakers cling to this blinkered view can be seen in the lonely quest of Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. At her own initiative, Callamard conducted a five-month investigation into Khashoggi’s murder and dismemberment inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last October. On June 19, Callamard released a powerful report making the case that “Mr. Khashoggi has been the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia responsible” — and that Mohammed bin Salman was almost certainly complicit in the operation and in its subsequent coverup.

Callamard’s report called for a halt to the closed Saudi trial of 11 lower-level operatives blamed for the murder, and for an independent investigation by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, or the FBI. The report also called for sanctions to be imposed on Mohammed bin Salman and his foreign assets “until and unless evidence is provided and corroborated that he carries no responsibility for this execution.”

The Article First Apeared In The Washington Post


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