Some Initial Points on the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi…

Jamal Khashoggi

Editors’ note: The storm around Saudi Arabia’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a fast-developing situation. We thought that the following initial points would be helpful for our readers.

On October 2, Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on personal business. While there, he was attacked and murdered by high-ranking agents of the Saudi government. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi set off a major international crisis. In this article, we will sift through what we know about what happened; the setting for this and possible reasons; and where the interest of humanity lie in all this.

As a basic summary:

One: The horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey is a heinous crime in its own right, a violation of international norms of behavior, and represents a serious escalation of a worldwide assault on journalists. The fact that Trump in particular has hemmed and hawed and issued only half-hearted condemnations and, at the same time, went so far as to congratulate a Republican congressman for assaulting a reporter, adds to the outrage… and to the danger. The murder of 47 journalists and media workers already just in the first half of this year (according to Reporters Without Borders) is an intolerable assault in its own right and a dangerous attack on people’s ability to know and debate the truth.

Two: The murder of Khashoggi has shined a spotlight on the U.S. backing for Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia’s ruling prince, and for Saudi Arabia more generally. Saudi Arabia has been a pillar of U.S. domination of the region for decades. MBS has launched an unjust war against the neighboring country of Yemen, slaughtering thousands and bringing millions to the brink of starvation:; he has violated international norms in other ways, including kidnaping the prime minister of Lebanon at one point; and he has moved to crush internal dissent. But because MBS has cast himself as a modernizer of a country that is both a linchpin of U.S. domination in the Middle East and is itself extremely unstable, many major forces in the U.S. ruling class, Republican and Democrat alike, have backed him up to now and either supported, or turned a blind eye to, what they are now in some cases criticizing. While some people may be genuinely revulsed at what they have learned about the details of this crime, the differences that are now flaring within the U.S. ruling class over how to handle this crisis ultimately focus on how best to prop up U.S. imperialist interests in the Middle East and preserve the brutally oppressive rule of the Saudi Arabian royal family.

Three: The murder of Khashoggi takes place against a backdrop in which the U.S. is preparing a major move against Iran. The U.S. intends to impose draconian sanctions against the Iranian economy on November 4 which will, among other things, result in great suffering for the masses of Iranian people. This is a high-risk aggressive gamble and—again—totally unjust and dangerous to the people’s interests. The murder of Khashoggi complicates things for the rulers of the U.S. in pursuit of their reactionary course: some forces in the U.S. ruling class may think that MBS has proven to be too rash, too willing to violate international norms, and now too politically exposed to rely on, while other such forces may feel pressured to close ranks and back MBS up in order to move forward. This bears watching. In all this, though, the interests of humanity are clear: the U.S., which is the world’s number one oppressor and aggressor, has absolutely no right to dictate the behavior of Iran, and the attempt to do so is an aggressive move which must be opposed.


“A ‘Fistfight’ Gone Wrong”?

Jamal Khashoggi was a major Saudi public establishment figure who had worked for Saudi intelligence agencies and some leading diplomats, and had edited major newspapers. But recently, after falling out with the current ruling faction of Saudi society, especially Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), the ruling prince and de-facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi moved to the U.S. and became a Washington Post op-ed journalist, publishing critiques of the Saudi rulers for what he perceived as growing authoritarianism.

After weeks of denials and stonewalling on the part of the Saudi authorities, they have now admitted that Khashoggi was killed inside their consulate by high-ranking Saudi security personnel, claiming that this was a “fistfight” that got out of hand, with the 59-year-old Khashoggi proving too much for more than a dozen Saudi security personnel to handle short of death. This story followed two weeks of continual leaking of details of what the Turkish intelligence agencies allege happened inside the embassy. These leaks have been steadily published by Turkish media under what seems to be the aegis of its ruler, President Recep Erdoğan. The allegations leaked to Turkish media are grisly, with references to torture, cutting off fingers, and sawing his body with an autopsy bone saw.

Given the silence of the Saudi authorities in the face of these leaks, and given as well that Khashoggi was nowhere to be found, despite Saudi assertions that he had left the consulate in fine shape later that day, a wave of international pressure mounted. As we go to press, Saudi authorities have now presented an alternative explanation of what happened and who is responsible. The authorities claim that this was a brawl between Khashoggi and at least a dozen security officials that went awry. In their story, while fingering leading people in their national security establishment, they have steered clear of MBS’ role and involvement in this death.

The Washington Post officially called this a “cover-up,” not an explanation, echoing other reactions from around the world. This account has been met with much skepticism because of what is known about how the Saudi state operates. MBS is acknowledged as “supreme ruler” after a several-year campaign of crushing internal opposition, including jailing other figures in the ruling class as he ascended to power. Khashoggi, with his platform in the Washington Post, may well have been seen as a threat to both MBS’ interests in building up his image among the U.S. elite and/or as someone who could be a potential rallying figure for those forces inside Saudi Arabia unhappy with MBS. In any event, clearly someone high up in Saudi ruling circles felt it both necessary—and possible—to risk a great deal in what seems to have been at minimum an attempt to kidnap Khashoggi and what may well have been an outright plot to kill him on the spot.

The U.S., as Saudi’s main backers on the international stage, has thus far stood by the Saudi regime, with the Trump regime playing a significant role in attempting to manage what they objectively see more as a “public relations” issue than as an atrocity. Trump sent his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to Saudi Arabia. In photo-ops with Pompeo, MBS and his father, MBS said to Pompeo, “Saudi Arabia, we are really strong and old allies, we face our challenges together, the past, the day of, tomorrow.” Pompeo answered, “Absolutely.”

As we go to press—and this is a fast-developing situation with twists and turns—Trump is quoted in the Washington Post as saying “obviously there’s been deception, and there’s been lies,” while at the same time saying Saudi Arabia is an “incredible ally” and claiming the role of MBS has not been ascertained, stating, “Nobody has told me he’s responsible. Nobody has told me he’s not responsible. We have not reached that point … I would love if he wasn’t responsible.” While Trump and the administration clearly want to tamp this down, just exactly what will happen next is fraught with uncertainty.

“An Incredible Ally”

Trump’s quote on Saudi Arabia as an “incredible ally” captures a historical and present relationship based on the real and perceived necessity of the U.S. ruling class, including of this section in the Trump/Pence “America First” regime. So let’s pull the lens back on some of the key dimensions of this.

The Middle East represents a concentration of boiling contradictions in one of the most strategically important parts of the world. Geographically at the crossroads of Asia, Africa, and Europe, it also holds some of the world’s largest oil reserves, and Saudi Arabia itself is the world’s largest exporter of oil currently. In this system of capitalism-imperialism, with blocs of capital and nation-states compelled to compete with each other for control of natural resources, energy supplies, and markets for their goods and services, the Middle East has emerged as the site for major inter-imperialist rivalry.

Since World War 2, the U.S. has sought to dominate and exert control over this part of the world, displacing Britain as the major imperialist power in the region, with President Roosevelt in 1943 declaring that “the defense of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defense of the United States.” This has been a strategic alliance that has lasted through this day, through Republican and Democratic presidents.1

At the same time, this has not been without contradiction, including continued Saudi support for Islamic fundamentalism worldwide, flowing from their historical legacy and what they perceive as necessary for social stability and legitimacy. Nevertheless, continued domination and control of one of the major oil spigots of the world has been seen to be a major necessity for imperialist powers. In the current context, this affords the U.S. greater leverage over rising rival capitalist powers like China, which is heavily dependent on oil imports from the Middle East to sustain and fuel its economic growth. In this context, domination of that part of the world remains a vital imperative.

This has led to multiple coups and imperialist wars of aggression in this post-World War 2 period—and tremendous and horrific suffering for the masses of people across that region, from Palestine to the millions of migrants forced to flee in recent years from Syria and Iraq.

It is way past time that this system be swept off the face of this planet through communist revolution—here and around the world.

U.S. Prepares Aggressive Moves Against Iran

Right now, these contradictions in the Middle East are centered on and sharpening around Iran—with Trump having canceled the Obama-era nuclear deal, thereby snapping back horrific and punitive sanctions against Iran scheduled to begin November 4. These sanctions could lead to a major and destabilizing rise in oil prices—as a result of a sharp reduction in Iran’s exports. So in carrying out this confrontational move against Iran, Trump is counting on Saudi Arabia to increase its oil production to maintain global oil supplies and current price levels. This section of the U.S. ruling class sees Iranian influence to have significantly grown in the Middle East since the Iraq war and the early 2000s. Iran gained great influence in Iraq, ironically enough as a result of the U.S. war against and overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, which cleared a rival of Iran’s and enabled it to exert influence in the new Shiite-dominated state in Iraq. Iran has tremendous influence over the powerful Hezbollah in Lebanon and, with Hezbollah, emerged as the “winning” side in the Syrian civil war with Bashar al-Assad and with Russia. Iran also has influence with the Shiite Houthi in Yemen engaged in defending themselves against a genocidal war being waged by Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and supported by the U.S. The forces around Trump see this as an unacceptable challenge in opposition to U.S. domination, and are significantly ramping up threats of aggression beginning with these sanctions. As part of a general offensive in the Middle East, and with Iran as a particular focus right now, the Trump forces have greatly tightened the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia and Israel, its two strategic and historic allies in the region, who also both independently feel threatened by rising Iranian influence.

All sections of the U.S. ruling class are united that Iran cannot be allowed to possess nuclear weapons. As Bob Avakian wrote in a far-reaching and prescient work in 2006, Bringing Forward Another Way,2 “It would cause problems for the U.S. imperialists if Iran were to get one or two nuclear weapons. It would not be the case that Iran would thereby be able to somehow bomb New York City or Chicago or whatever. But it would change some of the equation in the Middle East—or it could—in a way that would work against the interests of U.S. imperialism … a significant change in the ‘power equation’ in the region, in a way that would be unacceptable not only to Israel but also to the imperialist power behind Israel, the U.S.” This is unacceptable to the U.S. ruling class as a whole.

But Trump and forces around him—along with Israel and Saudi Arabia—perceive the necessity of the U.S. worsened with the Obama nuclear deal, with growing Iranian economic strength, legitimacy, and influence in the region. They are attempting to go about this in another, far more aggressive, way, with sanctions that will choke the Iranian economy, cutting off its ability to export oil, and this may even lead to upheaval with worsening suffering for the masses of people in Iranian society, and could prompt regime change. Trip wires in this process could lead to all-out war, with devastating consequences.

Israel’s leader, Bibi Netanyahu, made a direct appeal to the Republican Congress, during Obama’s administration and in a big “fuck you” to Obama, to cancel this nuclear deal, joining a chorus of forces in the U.S. ruling class. Obama could not get the deal passed through Congress. The Saudis, especially led by MBS, have also been champions of this approach, including with their genocidal war against Yemen, and along with Israel, were seen as the bulwark against growing Iranian influence in the region.

It is in this context, and on the eve of the snapping back of sanctions against Iran, that the Saudis have murdered Khashoggi, causing international outcry against this atrocity and sharpened contradictions with the Turkish and U.S. regimes, changing how different forces in the region and the world—including Iran—see their necessity and freedom. It is hard to say—and predict—where this will all end up, and how this will affect the U.S.-led aggressive moves against Iran.

Again: The U.S.-led sanctions are completely illegitimate and unjust, a blatant violation of international sovereignty, and will lead to tremendous suffering for the masses of Iranian peopleand have to be opposed and resisted.

What the U.S. Spreads Around the World…

At one level, the major ruling-class players in this drama, Trump, MBS, Erdoğan, et al., are like gangsters, with cooperation and contention based on what they see as their necessity, challenges, and interests overall, and in any particular situation and context. In rhetoric and in some cases their acts, these particular figures have an affinity in not caring too much for respecting or adhering to the post-World War 2 liberal bourgeois democratic norms of “human rights,” “democracy,” etc.

For the liberal pundits bemoaning that the Saudis are not a democratic regime, or that Trump does not care about this, it is worth noting this salient and scientific reality from Bob Avakian (BA):

“The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism. What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism.”

BAsics 1:3

Off this, BA goes on to describe in Bringing Forward Another Way,

“This, again, is the essence of what they spread around the world. The structures to enforce that imperialism may be the Saudi Arabian royalty—or it may be sweeping aside the Saudi Arabian royalty and instituting a more bourgeois-democratic form of government there. But what’s the essence? What are the driving forces? It is imperialism—the capitalist system in the stage of imperialism—a worldwide system of exploitation under the overall rule of capital and driven by the laws of capitalist accumulation, as conditioned by the dominance of monopolies, international investment/export of capital, the division of the world among the imperialists as well as the great division between a few imperialist countries and a vast number of colonized and oppressed nations.”

Trump, representing a fascist “America First” section of the U.S. ruling class, sitting atop this imperialist system but compelled by the challenges faced by the U.S., has doubled down on his support for MBS, a brash prince with a far-reaching U.S.-backed program for much more aggressive Saudi influence in the region, manifesting and unfolding right now with genocidal massacres and suffering of people in the war with Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world. This is occurring in the context of sharpening contradictions in the Middle East as a whole.

This murder also potentially intensifies a real contradiction within Saudi Arabia—a society whose social stability is a strategic vulnerability for U.S. imperialism. In Saudi Arabia, as BA describes in Bringing Forward Another Way, “[T]he situation is very unstable and potentially very volatile: there are serious tremors beneath the throne, so to speak—there is the growing danger of ‘social earthquakes’ that could threaten to topple, or actually topple, those regimes.” Writing this in 2006, the other country Avakian puts in this category is Egypt, which five years later experienced a tumultuous Arab Spring which did topple the regime in power at the time, led by Hosni Mubarak, with U.S.-friendly military rule only restored after savage repression of the people and other ruling forces like the Muslim Brotherhood. Avakian contrasts this with Israel, which is different in this aspect, and thereby a more reliable strategic ally of U.S. imperialism: Israel “acts not only in its own interests but as an armed garrison and instrument of enforcement for U.S. imperialism.”

All of this—as BA described in another context post 9/11—is a cauldron of contradictions, and part of the necessity sharpened by the Khashoggi murder which may have been a rash and impulsive act, or one with far more strategic thinking on the part of those who did commit—and more importantly, order—it. Regardless, it occurred in a culture of escalated attacks on the press globally, and here led by Trump.

The War on Journalists

This act of murder of a journalist is chilling—and meant to cause fear and terror.

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a newspaper op-ed commentator at the time of his death, is occurring in the context of escalated attacks on journalists worldwide, with the Washington Post reporting that “Last year was the most dangerous year ever for journalists. Eighteen journalists were killed around the world in 2017, a record number were imprisoned and threats against the press seemingly have become common, even in the West.” (Jason Rezaian, “2017 was the most dangerous year ever for journalists. 2018 may be even worse,” Washington Post, February 1, 2018.) And as mentioned earlier, already in the first half of 2018, 47 journalists and media workers have been killed.

Trump, in a recent rally in Montana, praised the local congressman, Greg Gianforte, for body-slamming a Guardian reporter for asking a question. He has escalated the attacks on the press and rallied fascist crowds around “fake news” calling the press “the enemy of the people.” These attacks, in broad ideological affinity on this front with the likes of MBS and Erdoğan, create and foster a culture of complicity—and it truly is the case that if the real murderers of Jamal Khashoggi are not brought to justice, it will set a new and very dangerous precedent. Erdoğan’s machinations, stemming from his perceived freedom in this situation, are speculated to be aiming for a “deal” with the Saudi regime involving debt relief, in return for helping with backing a Saudi cover-up story, and this will set a new—and horrific—standard in international barter over dead bodies! (Erdoğan himself has a whole history of jailing journalists whose reporting displeases the regime.)

In sum, all those seeking a better world must condemn this murder for the crime it is. The foul nature of the Saudi regime, in all its manifestations, and the even fouler nature of the American patron that stands behind it, must be brought forward. The attempts of the various imperialist powers to maneuver within this cauldron and further enforce their dictates onto the people and nations of the region, including the threat of armed aggression and the danger of outright war, must also be opposed. And the whole situation bears continued attention from all who hunger for a better world.

  1. Under Obama, the U.S. made some hypocritical statements about promoting humanitarianism in Yemen while helping Saudi Arabia in its assaults in Yemen with military intelligence, speeded-up arms shipments, deployment of U.S. warships, and denunciations of Iranian influence. For more on the U.S. role in Saudi Arabia, see “In the Name of Protecting Civilians, U.S. Certifies Escalating War Crimes in Yemen.”
  2. Bringing Forward Another Way is a talk given by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, to a group of Party supporters in 2006 and published in early 2007. This groundbreaking analysis, made during the George W. Bush years, continues to be very relevant, especially in the context of sharpening contradictions centered in the Middle East and aggressive U.S.-led moves against Iran.

Revolution newspaper/, the voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, provides the foundation, guideline, and organizational scaffolding for the whole process of carrying out our strategy for revolution. Through publishing works of Bob Avakian, and through many different articles, interviews, letters, graphics, and other features, Revolution enables people to really understand, and act to radically change, the world.


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