The alleged torture, murder and disposal of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by 15 agents of Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) has shocked many in the civilised world, but not in equal measure. Whereas practically all our closest allies were quick to condemn the Russian-led attacks on British soil earlier this year, the EU and the West is not so lively when it comes to talking tough or acting against the Saudi regime.
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In a candid moment of clumsiness from President Trump, the stark option of choosing between ‘hundred-billion-dollar defence contracts for Boeing’ or chastising the Saudi leadership, at once stripped the cover from the myth that foreign policy is, or should be, an extension of the ethics and morality of a society and redefined it as inextricably linked to the economy.
In America that is.
Trump was clear; he questioned whether American companies should lose out from weapons sales when China and Russia would simply step in and fill the gap, and their coffers, with the booty from arming the House of Saud.
Britain of course, fetes the charming and ‘reforming’ MBS and the May administration has been remarkably reticent in criticising the regime, which in recent times has bombed Yemen to the point of collapse – using ordnance provided, not exclusively, by Britain and our allies.
That millions of Yemenis now face starvation does not override the imperative to make money out of arms sales. Now of course, we should be pragmatic. On the world stage, it could be argued that the real issue here is which ideology controls or could control Middle Eastern affairs.
Should it be the Iranians, the Saudis, Russians, Americans or the Turks?
And what about Israel?
Let’s look at this in a simplistic way to fit in with this essay’s word restrictions. Turkey is a heavily influenced largely Sunni Muslim and – importantly – secular state which under Erdogan is gradually shedding its Kemelist policies and becoming more authoritarian. Although getting closer to Putin, perversely it is also a major NATO ally and has vital US bases on its territory.
Turks identify as Turks, not Arabs.
Iran is a so-called pariah state but most its people identify as Persians (not Arabs) and although it is constitutionally tolerant of other religions, Shia Muslims dominate (about 95% of the population).
Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy and its people identify as Arabs. With a dominant Wahhabi Muslim population, it is the centre of the global Muslim universe and although Christians and other religions (but not Jews) can live and work there, the Saudi state is intolerant of any other form of religious expression on its territory.
Significantly, Saudi Arabia spends more per capita on defence than any other country in the world, including America, and three times more than Britain.
Our military and intelligence links are strong. MBS has, in recent history, bullied Qatar and severed its land and air corridors, imprisoned 200 of his own relatives under house arrest and beheaded over 150 people.
Well, that’s what we know about…. Of course, women are now allowed to drive but this hardly changes the essential character of this regime. It’s wicked to the core. Theresa May and her more able Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, now have a very tricky job on their hands.
Under significant pressure regarding the Brexit fiasco, and with Corbyn snapping at their heels, and with the full weight of the media and journalistic glitterati baying for action against the Saudi state in reprisal for one of their own allegedly tortured to death and dissolved in acid, there should be a decision of whether to continue as normal with MBS or to impose some form of sanction.
France has said little yet, its own dealers of death and arms factories waiting to pounce, and British industrial figures have remained silent, their bonuses threatened by any possible sanctions…
Within UKIP, as far as I can fathom out, only Suzanne Evans has stuck her neck out to condemn the regime, and it seems that the historic importance of these events is seen by many as someone else’s, some other country’s problem, or perhaps just too difficult to engage with or even to understand.
But be sure, this issue will not go away. Foreign states must not be allowed to settle their internal scores on the territories of non-hostile countries with impunity. This is also the time to assess the consequences of intervention, at whatever level, and its effects on the conundrum which is the power game in the Middle East.
Now is the time for Britain to reach out and lead, with its able diplomats and through the auspices of the United Nations, a unified international response. In these matters, Britain still stands proud in the world and it should be a leader and a beacon of fairness regarding rules based foreign policy.
So, Mrs May and Mr Hunt must, in this case, give priority to Britain’s ethical policy over its economic ambitions. To do so will be respected on both the world and internal stages and separate us from the clumsiness of the Trump administration and the dithering EU, but even more importantly, it will demonstrate that Britain will never be cowed by dictators, never be seduced by the quest for gold and forever independent of the EU at this moment of history.
Inputs, “Mr Bav”, Editorial, Global Vision.