Does Saudi Arabia Realize Quite How Serious This Is?

Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN's Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Jason Miks.

October 11, 2018

Does Saudi Arabia Realize Quite How Serious This Is?

The alleged killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Kingdom's consulate in Istanbul would be a sign of enormous weakness not strength, suggests Elliott Abrams in The Washington Post. "[U]nless the Saudi government speaks and acts quickly and honestly about this terrible event, its own reputation will incur irreparable damage."
 
If Khashoggi has been killed, it would suggest "either a regime without internal procedures and controls, or one in which an impulsive decision to kill a critic living in Washington cannot be contradicted or even questioned. The Saudis may not realize what a wide impact that conclusion will have on governments and on investors, but it will be profound. All Saudi decision-making will come into question, and the government's reliability as a partner will be rendered uncertain," Abrams writes.
 
"Saudi Arabia is and will remain for a very long time an absolute monarchy. What the crown prince must grasp is that his entire modernization program, indeed every defense of his own personal power, is undermined by what all the evidence suggests was a carefully planned murder."
 

How to Clip a Crown Prince's Wings

President Trump has suggested that his administration is unlikely to halt US arms sales to Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi's disappearance. That means forgoing the most effective leverage the US has over the Kingdom, argues Bruce Riedel in Lawfare.
 
"The three-and-a-half-year-old Saudi war in Yemen is hugely expensive. There are no public figures from the Saudi government about the war's costs, but a conservative estimate would be at least $50 billion per year," Riedel writes.
 
"Maintenance costs for aircraft and warships go up dramatically when they are constantly in combat operations. The Royal Saudi Navy has been blockading Yemen for over 40 months. The RSAF has conducted thousands of air strikes. The war is draining the kingdom's coffers. And responsibility for the war is on Mohammed bin Salman, who as defense minister has driven Riyadh into this quagmire. Shaking the arms relationship is by far the most important way to clip his wings."

What China's Communist Party Fears

The detention in China of former Interpol chief Meng Hongwei and the about $130 million tax evasion fine reportedly slapped on popular actress Fan Bingbing have something in common, writes Jiayang Fan in The New Yorker. They're both about showing who's in charge.
 
"If economic liberalization was the animating principle of [Deng Xiaoping]'s tenure, what defines [President] Xi's 'socialism with Chinese characteristics' is a political adherence to his vision. His strategy may seem brutal, but it's hardly illogical," she writes.
 
"Authoritarianism short-circuits when any single person, no matter how exceptional, is able to extricate himself from political obligation...Other forms of power—outsized wealth, fame, and prestige—present the possibility of success independent of Party patronage, and, most alarming to Xi, a vision of China without the Communist state. The existence of a troublemaker like [billionaire] Guo Wengui is an unforgivable offense, but the possibility that China is rearing a generation of connected, monied individuals who live unbeholden to the Party is an existential terror."

Why the Strongmen Are Feeling
So Bold

From the Skripal poisoning in the UK, to the killing of Kim Jong Un's half-brother to the disappearance this month of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, foreign powers appear to be growing bolder in conducting operations in other countries, suggests Joshua Keating in Slate. Thank past muted reactions—and America's own record.
 
"[I]f we're going to fault Trump's rhetoric for contributing to the sense of impunity felt by authoritarian governments, we should also acknowledge Barack Obama's covert drone campaign in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. This isn't to draw any moral equivalence between the targeting of members of groups like al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS and the murders and abductions of dissidents and journalists by dictatorships. But the targeted killing of a country's enemies outside a declared battlefield was once considered exceptional, and the US has helped make it routine," Keating writes.
 

The Future of Populism Is Gray

Rising populism in the West likely isn't going anywhere, suggests Edoardo Campanella for Project Syndicate. Thank aging populations.
 
"It turns out that older voters are rather sympathetic to nationalist movements. Older Britons voted disproportionately in favor of leaving the European Union, and older Americans delivered the US presidency to Donald Trump. Neither the Law and Justice (PiS) party in Poland nor Fidesz in Hungary would be in power without the enthusiastic support of the elderly," Campanella writes.
 
"By backing right-wing populists, older voters hope to return to a time when domestic affairs were insulated from global forces and national borders were less porous. At the heart of today's nationalist politics is a promise to preserve the status quo – or even to restore a mythical past."
 
"At any rate, to the extent that today's populist wave is driven by demographics, it is not likely to crest anytime soon. In graying societies, the political clout of the elderly will steadily grow; and in rapidly changing economies, their ability to adapt will decline." 
 

The Next Nikki Haley
Will Be No Nikki Haley

President Trump said this week he is deciding between five candidates to replace Nikki Haley as US ambassador to the United Nations. Don't expect any of them to have the same impact, suggests Robbie Gramer for Foreign Policy.
 
"None, experts agree, can enjoy the clout of Haley no matter how diplomatically skilled or politically savvy they are now that internal strife in the Trump White House has (somewhat) calmed down. Trump is back in the driver's seat on nuclear negotiations with North Korea as Pompeo lays the groundwork for a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Bolton, meanwhile, is laser-focused on driving forward a conservative agenda on the United Nations and other international institutions, including curtailing support and funding for the world body," Gramer writes.

 

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