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“The world is a dangerous place!” The statement on Khashoggi that Trump could have made (but never would).

November 25, 2018

A couple of days ago Donald Trump issued a statement about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It attracted widespread criticism, largely because it seemed to imply that America’s trading relationship with Saudi Arabia was more important than the state-sponsored assassination of a Saudi citizen who happened to be a US resident. Here is a statement that in some parallel universe a president other than Trump might have made. As a a starting point, I have retained his first sentence:

The world is a very dangerous place!

It is not only dangerous to the human beings that inhabit it. Other species, unlike us, are unable to unable to influence their futures. They did not produce the plastics that choke them in the oceans. Nor do they light the wildfires that consume humans and animals alike.

But we humans can influence the future. Through technology, we can improve lives or destroy them. We can use education to help people to think for themselves or to indoctrinate them. We can bring hope, encouragement and confidence through our media, or use it to spread fear, confusion and hatred. We can lift billions out of poverty through international trade, or we can use it to create a small number of winners and large numbers of losers.

We have choices.

Humanity is organised into nation states that act in their own interests. Some make poor choices that ultimately damage those interests. The United States is no exception. But regret over the past does not exonerate nations and governments from mistakes made today and in the future.

The death of Jamal Khashoggi and the nerve agent attack on the United Kingdom are two examples of state actions that no government committed to upholding the rule of law and preserving human rights would take. Those who planned, approved and carried out those actions know who they are, and we know who they are.

The government of Saudi Arabia, as the government of Russia has discovered, needs to understand that state-sponsored torture and assassinations will inevitably affect relations between it and the United States.

For the past 75 years the United States has been a steadfast friend and defender of Saudi Arabia. Our values and cultures might be different, but we have always found common ground and mutual interests that have kept the relationship strong.

The brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi violates both international law and universal norms of diplomatic protocol. It has horrified Americans – both ordinary citizens and lawmakers – and caused them to reconsider the long-held respect with which Saudi Arabia is viewed in our country.

No relationship between the United States and any other nation is so sacred that it is beyond question and review.

The United States therefore expects Saudi Arabia to take legal action against all who were involved in planning, approving and carrying out Mr Khashoggi’s murder, and take measures to insure that such actions will not occur again.

We will make further representations through diplomatic channels. But in the absence of a satisfactory response, Saudi Arabia needs to understand that it is in danger of sanctions that might include restrictions on trade, investment and military support.

Generations of Americans have contributed to Saudi Arabia’s economic development, safety and security. We want those contributions to continue, whether they be by Americans living and working in the Kingdom, by American companies supplying goods and services or by our military providing assistance in times of need.

That said, we cannot condone state actions that bring our partners, however valued, into disrepute, and by implication – in the event that we were to ignore those actions – the United States.

Of course Donald Trump would never issue such a public rebuke. Would any of his predecessors? I’m not sure. They would probably have been more inclined to communicate such a message through the State Department.

Either way, the whole episode is overwhelmingly sad. It’s not for me to tell the United States how to conduct its diplomacy. But we in Britain, having some time ago lost a credible voice in the Middle East, have to rely on the United States to lead the way in trying to curb the worst excesses of authoritarian rulers in the region, something that it is clearly failing to do.

From a personal perspective, the Saudi Arabia that has emerged over the past two years is no longer the country I know, even though I continue to have great affection for its people. Under previous rulers who held power during my time living and working in the Kingdom – Khaled, Fahd and Abdullah, governance might have been at times capricious, inconsistent and indecisive, but only on rare occasions was it shamelessly cruel.

I wish the country well, but I fear for its future.

One Comment
  1. John Butler permalink

    Excellent piece. It is truly tragic.

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