Sunday, August 12, 2018

Saudi Arabia Brutality and Trump's Love of Autocrats

Last week I wrote about the latest Saudi Arabia brutality and that autocratic theocracy's latest spat with Canada because of Canadian condemnation of Saudi human rights abuses.  In his weekly column, Andrew Sullivan expands on coverage and notes distressingly how Saudi brutality and human rights abuses has not disturbed the Trump/Pence regime and Trump has remained silent on Saudi misdeeds.  Indeed, Sullivan suggests - correctly in my view - that Trump admires autocratic regimes and, in my view, longs to rule America in a similar manner.  Frighteningly, I suspect such brutal authoritarian rule would be applauded by much of Trump's base so long as the brutality was targeted at blacks, Hispanics, gays and non-right wing Christians. Despite its ugly history - genocide of Native Americans, slavery, Jim Crow, the overthrow of the Hawaiian government, etc. - America had achieved moral authority in the world.  Now, that moral authority has been thrown away by Trump/Pence and that regime's evangelical Christian and white supremacist base.  Here are column highlights:
It wasn’t so long ago that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman o[“MBS”] of Saudi Arabia was doing the rounds of various American muckety-mucks in business, politics, and pop culture. On his world tour, the fawning was extraordinary. He met Oprah and the Rock, Bloomberg and the Clintons, Bush after Bush, Gates and Bezos, Hollywood moguls and Wall Street machers, as well as his plutocratic wing man, Jared Kushner. . . . . the general tenor of the public-relations campaign was that of a Saudi spring, especially for women, and a thawing of some of the most repressive theocratic tendencies of the regime.
So it must come as a surprise to all of MBS’s friends in the American elite that this youthful reformer returned from his Western tour and soon launched a new campaign against the very women who had most fervently resisted the theocracy’s misogyny. On May 19, “the Saudi Arabian authorities and government-aligned media launched a public smear campaign to try to discredit six prominent detained women’s rights defenders as ‘traitors’ following their arrest. 
This campaign was completed last week with the detention of the last two prominent women’s rights activists, Nassima al-Sada and Samar Badawi. Badawi is the sister of a Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who set up an open forum website and was therefore lashed a thousand times in public and is currently serving a prison term of ten years. Both women have been persecuted for years.  In response to the latest crackdown, the Canadian government tweeted its concern: “Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights advocates in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists.” Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, spoke out in part because Raif Badawi’s wife and three kids now live in Canada, and have been citizens since July.
In response, MBS has thrown a hissy fit of Trumpian proportions. The Canadian ambassador was given 24 hours to leave; 15,000 Saudi students in Canada were recalled home; trade with Canada was suspended; an order to sell all Saudi central bank and state pension fund shares in Canadian interests was proclaimed, according to the Financial Times. Saudi subjects receiving medical treatment in Canada are being transferred out of care, and about 800 Saudi medical residents and fellows in Canada have been ordered home.
As a kind of coda to the entire affair, the Saudis decided to, yes, crucify a criminal this week, a rare but gruesome spectacle, in which someone’s executed corpse is hung out in the open as a warning to others. You may remember such scenes from Game of Thrones. But this kind of barbarism still exists — and the regime that behaves this way has [Trump's] our president’s full support, and billions in arms sales.
Then, of course, there is the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The crown prince has been waging a brutal war on the Shi’a of Yemen, the Houthis, in coalition with the U.S. and the U.K. The relentless bombing campaigns — including indiscriminate attacks on civilians — have killed thousands, uprooted more, and generated famine and disease. This week in the horror show saw the Saudi coalition forces bomb a bus of schoolkids, many under the age of 10. A little under 30 children were killed, . . . And this record of regional mayhem doesn’t even count the time when MBS decided it would be a great idea to invade Qatar, another U.S. ally.
It’s at this point that you begin to absorb quite how indifferent the Trump administration is to any concept of human rights. Trump’s initial response to the Saudi attacks on Qatar was to endorse them enthusiastically (even as what was left of the State Department tried to keep the peace). And his administration’s response to the Saudi assault on Canada is to take no side in the dispute. Between a barbaric absolute monarchy that jails and tortures dissidents, obliterates women’s opportunity, and crucifies criminals in the streets … and Canada, for Pete’s sake, Trump cannot pick a side. 
Despite no official relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, MBS and Netanyahu are now joined at the hip with Trump because they all want a war against Iran (and are having considerable success laying the groundwork). The Saudis are also useful to the Israelis as a way to delegitimize any genuine form of Palestinian self-determination — because the Saudis have been prepared to throw their Arab neighbors under the bus in order to fight a regime in Tehran that MBS has said “makes Hitler look good.” Trump’s hatred of Iran and Kushner’s hopes for Israel’s expansion keep this unholy trinity together. The idea that either Trump or his mute dauphin give a hoot about human rights is preposterous. The more brutal a regime’s human rights abuses are, the more likely it is that Trump admires it.
Canada will survive, of course, despite the intense international bullying from the Saudis, and America’s and Britain’s abandonment of their ally. Canada will even survive Trump (though whether America does is another matter). But to watch the West disintegrate as a moral force, even on a purely rhetorical level, is beyond depressing. And yet it appears to be our future. It’s also a much darker one for every dissident in every political prison across the planet.
Be very afraid.

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