Since October 2018, United States international security policy has been held hostage and deprived of intellectual nourishment. An orchestrated propaganda campaign took hold of the nation’s capital in response to the assassination in Istanbul of Jamal Khashoggi, a member of Saudi Arabia’s wealthy and politically powerful oligarchy.
In death, Khashoggi became known to millions of consumers of Western mainstream media who had never before heard of the man nor thought on an informed basis about the complex issues of Middle Eastern politics and security. He was described as a courageous journalist. He was mourned as a martyred advocate of radical reform in Saudi Arabia. He was hailed as a champion of democracy and human rights as they are proclaimed in the West.
Day after day and week after week, the same reports of his gruesome killing led the coverage of CNN, the Washington Post, and other influential outlets. It was as though Bill Murray’s clock radio on Groundhog Day had been programmed to broadcast Saturday Night Live’s old running gag about Generalissimo Franco still being deceased – except it wasn’t funny. A human being had been murdered, and the foul deed was metastasizing into an “international incident” challenging the very underpinnings of some of the world’s most vital security relationships.
At the beginning of the wall-to-wall coverage, before it was even confirmed that Khashoggi had been killed and not merely abducted alive, a coordinated message burst forth from the voices of the media and many American politicians, both Republicans and Democrats. Before it was clear exactly what crime had been committed, the villains in the case were named. Two major world political figures were placed in the dock of public opinion, prosecuted in a multimedia show trial, and recommended for career-ending penalties: Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and U.S. president Donald Trump.
A formerly unknown Saudi oligarch was suddenly elevated to the altars of secular liberalism as a sort of Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela rolled into one. The Saudi prince was proclaimed the savage who ordered the killing, and Trump was told to make a major break in U.S.-Saudi relations or else be indicted by “world opinion” as an accomplice in the crime of the century.