In my book The Arab Lobby, I documented how Saudi Arabia undermines our values and interests. No one cared then, and I don’t think they really care now. Fox media critic Howard Kurtz noted that no one would be talking about Saudi Arabia if Jamal Khashoggi had been just another dissident rather than a journalist. Now, at least, the Saudis are being scrutinized, but much of the reaction to Khashoggi’s murder has been hypocritical and will undoubtedly be fleeting.
Suddenly, we hear lots of people talking about how US foreign policy should be based on morality, human rights, and American values. Well, of course, those are important, but they have never been the overriding determinants of our relations with other countries; otherwise, we would have no ties with China, Russia, Egypt, Turkey, or many other countries that are serial violators of human rights. We periodically give lip service to our values, and occasionally slap the wrists of these countries, but realpolitik takes precedence in the end.
It is particularly amusing to hear all the criticism of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS) over his treatment of his critics when we are treating Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a hero for exposing the Saudi perfidy. This is the same man who has been purging, arresting, and murdering his opponents for years. Just three days before Khashoggi’s disappearance, The New York Times reported how Turkish riot police broke up a demonstration of aging mothers and their relatives who were protesting the disappearances and extrajudicial killings of their family members. It is particularly ironic for Erdogan to be pretending to be a champion of journalists given that he jails his Khashoggis and other activists who have criticized him on social media. He has also been trying to get the United States to extradite his rival Fethullah Gulen to face almost certain imprisonment if not execution.
Erdogan has become an increasingly extreme Islamist in an effort to become the leader of the Muslim world. His values in no way correspond to ours. Here are a few highlights of his abuses from the State Department human rights report:
Alleged torture of detainees in official custody; allegations of forced disappearance; arbitrary arrest and detention under the state of emergency of tens of thousands … for alleged ties to terrorist groups or peaceful legitimate speech; executive interference with independence of the judiciary … severe restriction of freedoms of expression and media, including imprisonment of scores of journalists, closing media outlets, and criminalization of criticism of government policies or officials; blocking websites and content; severe restriction of freedoms of assembly and association; interference with freedom of movement; and incidents of violence against LGBTI persons and other minorities.