Monday, 15 October 2018

Missing In Istanbul

When I last wrote, it was about the international silence that followed the Saudi response to a tweet that came out of the Office of the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs which condemned the restrictions placed on human rights in the kingdom. That response was so extreme that it apparently cowed into silence even Canada’s staunchest allies, especially those who claim to espouse virtues of human rights.  My assessment then was that that lack of response was a result of cowardice most likely induced by dread of potential loss of commercial ground in the arms trafficking business. In the case of America, arms trade with the kingdom is worth a colossal one hundred and ten billion. That was straight out of the mouth of the president himself. Britain, Canada’s other main ally is also a big trafficker in arms to Saudi Arabia to the extent that, since 2008, 15 billion dollars have accrued to that other kingdom.

         So, the two principal arms dealers to the Saudi kingdom bank profits that usually come from trading dodgy commodities, profits large enough to keep human rights credentials in suspended animation. The Slave Trade is probably the most notorious example of that route to national wealth. But that is another story.  It was no surprise, therefore, that neither Britain, nor the United States, found the bottle to call out their Saudi clients when Canada’s interests were on the line just a few weeks ago. Human rights did not matter. But the consequences of such dereliction can be predicted. The more you derelict, the more likely it is that perpetrators will be emboldened, and it was only a matter of time before the Saudis would attempt another and an even more shocking atrocity, as alleged.

         So now we see the image of Jamal Al Khashoggi entering the gates of the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, played and replayed, and him not coming out afterwards, whilst his fiancĂ©e waits faithfully outside, a most tragic image, if ever there was one. What happened to Khashoggi in that Consulate compound? Speculation is rife. Was he killed there by a team of hitmen sent from Riyadh and, even more gruesome, was his body butchered like that much cattle carcass? The denials from Riyadh have been angry, claiming that the alleged hit team were just tourists (where have we heard that one before?). And, predictably, the response from Saudi Arabia’s arms suppliers have been muted. President Trump uttered the weasel words that there is no evidence yet of Saudi complicity but that if any emerged, he would have to consider “punishment”. But he reminds us that there is a great deal at stake amounting to the one hundred and ten billion dollars that was referred to earlier. Thousands of American jobs hinge on this deal and jeopardizing it could impede that grand ambition to make America great again. There is a delicious irony in the making as MAGA becomes a creature of Saudi largesse.

         The Brits are also now delicately pussyfooting around the issue and, seeking safety in numbers, have banded with the French and Germans to call on the Saudis to agree to an investigation, “if they have nothing to hide”.

         Policies are of course made by governments, among whom may be individuals with their own vested interests. Canada’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia – the one who was expelled in the summer while he was on leave outside the kingdom, Dennis Horak- has now retired from the diplomatic service and, freed from civil service restraints, regrets that things have come to such a pass between the Saudi kingdom and Canada. Now that he is retired, he is bemoaning, on national TV, the tweet from his ministry that started the imbroglio of a few short weeks ago. He sees himself as collateral damage , in that no corporation would now consider him for a position on their board because his name is now toxic in Saudi business circles. Poor man. Cant blame him. None of us was prepared for that turn of events.

         We just have to wait and see.

Tell Fren Tru