Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman may have miscalculated when it came to the missing (and presumed butchered) Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. New details keep coming out, most recently an alleged recording of Khashoggi being beaten, tortured, and beheaded. Many former regime apologists have turned on bin Salman, who's looking more and more guilty of ordering the apparent assassination by the day.
Elites from both parties have long had close ties to the Saudi regime, going back decades. But while practically every Democrat bigwig has at least expressed concern about the Khashoggi story, many Republicans have actually doubled down on their support. It's a good demonstration of how deep the moral corruption has gone in the GOP under Trump, and the extent to which their foreign policy "thinking" is dictated by foreign lobbying.
One way Republicans have argued Saudi Arabia's case has been to just give in completely to seething cultural grievance and make excuses for Khashoggi being slaughtered. The Federalist, which has become the prime source for fire-eating anti-anti-Trump coverage, suggests the entire thing might be a Turkish operation. Meanwhile, the website's co-founder Sean Davis discovered that Khashoggi reported on the Arab fighters who joined the Afghan mujahedeen fighting the Soviets back in the 1980s, some of whom went on to found al Qaeda. He's quite obviously suggesting (helped along by Donald Trump, Jr.) that Khashoggi was a terrorist sympathizer who got what was coming to him.
There are a number of ironies here. First is that the mujahedeen war effort was heavily subsidized by the United States (both the CIA and bin Laden denied receiving any of the money directly, though other journalists have reported otherwise). Back in those days, before al Qaeda became a globally notorious terrorist group, numerous Western journalists gave bin Laden relatively generous coverage — like Robert Fisk of The Independent back in 1993. Khashoggi's reporting was perhaps a bit credulous, but it was not at all out of the ordinary for the time.
More obviously, it is Saudi Arabia who is today directly arming and funding al Qaeda, as part of their genocidal war in Yemen. One would think that would cast some doubt on the regime's excuses for Khashoggi's disappearance, but apparently not. I guess many conservatives just can't be bothered to keep their smear campaigns internally consistent these days.
However, Davis' mention of Iran ties into one of the more coherent rationalizations for the Saudi alliance. Over at Fox News, Jim Hanson attempts to defend it based on U.S. strategic interests, "which require that we maintain good relations with the Saudi government." What might those be, one might ask?
In the Middle East we must keep our eyes on the biggest threat in the region — the dangerous and virulently anti-American government of Iran, which poses a military danger to its neighbors and our ally Israel. [Fox News]
The pieces fall into place. In the conservative brain, Iran is an absolute menace hell-bent on destroying America and freedom, while Israel is our perfect friend and ally, the only nation without sin.
Neither is true. Iran might be a quasi-authoritarian Islamist regime, but it poses no more of a military danger to its neighbors than Saudi Arabia, a completely authoritarian Islamist regime which really did start a war with its literal neighbor, Yemen. As for Israel, the democracy is hardly saint-like, as it keeps 2.7 million Palestinians under military rule in the West Bank bantustan, and 1.9 million more in what's basically the open-air prison camp of Gaza.
But more importantly: None of this has anything whatsoever to do with U.S. interests, particularly in the selfish way (America First!) conservatives tend to frame them. We don't need Saudi oil, and we should be cutting back our oil consumption as fast as possible anyway. I've argued before at length that slowly bringing Iran back into the community of responsible nations through the nuclear deal was a good move for America, but the brute truth is that neither Israel nor Iran really matter that much to any concrete U.S. interests. Mexico or Canada are probably 10 times more important than either one. Indeed, given our recent history of squandering trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives on pointless wars of aggression in the Middle East (not to mention hundreds of thousands of local lives), probably the wisest background stance for America in the region is just to mind our own business.
At any rate, that should make clear just why conservatives bend over backwards to support a brutal Islamist dictatorship. American interests don't enter into the equation.