The Bates Student

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Trump and the Squandering of US Soft Power

Superpowers come and go. They conceive their political hegemony through violence, assert their dominance with military braggadocio, and fight for survival until their last breath. But the United States, I have always thought, is a different kind of superpower –– gentle, persuasive, and more likely to endure the tide of history that unforgivingly washed away the Roman, British, and Soviet empires. Even with the rise of China and repeated muscle-flexing by Russia, the United States remains the world’s foremost economic and military actor. American nominal GDP of $19.39 trillion is greater than that of the bottom eight of the world’s ten largest economies combined. Constituting less than five percent of the global population, Americans generate and earn over 20 percent of the world’s total income. With an unrivaled annual defense budget of $716 billion, over 6000 nuclear warheads, and an extensive network of allies and strategic partners, the American military is consistently ranked as the most powerful and logistically prepared in the world. Though quantitative indicators are certainly worthy of consideration, we should also acknowledge that they are incomplete. American influence operates in much more subtle and sophisticated ways: captivating minds of people around the world in a way that cannot be quantified or fully documented on paper. Even in the most socially conservative of countries, teenagers are voracious consumers of Hollywood productions and pop music. Chinese and Russian elites tirelessly decry Uncle Sam’s actions but send their children to American schools and universities; for one, Xi Jinping’s only daughter is a Harvard graduate. Every time there is a major political or humanitarian crisis, the world eagerly awaits what American politicians and experts have to say. The US standing on the global arena is thus as reliant on values, culture, and the ingenuity of the American people as it is on our fiscal-military prowess. Unfortunately, President Trump has repeatedly made clear that he is willing to practice the latter but not the former component of American global leadership. He has repeatedly suggested that the US should leverage its economic and political dominance to craft more beneficial trade deals, cajole Mexico’s government into paying for the wall, and get our NATO allies to meet their spending commitments. In light of this Trumpian diplomacy, I cannot help but ask: why not use some of the most persuasive tools in our arsenal –– America’s historic commitment to human rights, freedom of the press, and representative democracy –– to encourage nations of the world to embrace better versions of themselves?

Yemen in Crisis

The conflict in Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, and it is being funded by the United States. In March 2015, an international coalition of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened against the Houthi rebels in accordance with the Yemeni President. In the years since the coalition began, air strikes, blockades, and funneled weapons from global superpowers has led to 22.2 million out of 29 million Yemenis in need of medical assistance. This crisis is not only leaving millions of civilians vulnerable to violence, but it is violating international humanitarian law. Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, and now it is a battleground for competing countries to exact military and global dominance. Naval operations blockades have been set up on all ports in the Houthi-controlled northern area, which is where 80% of Yemen’s imports are delivered. The Saudi-coalition’s defense for this blockade is that they are attempting to block the funneling of arms from Iran to the rebels and that this depreciation in resources will cause the rebels to retreat and order to be restored. The reality is much more complicated. From May to August of last year, commercial imports fell 30%, leading to depreciation in national currency and putting millions out of a job. Most Yemenis people have not worked for full pay in two years. Every 99 minutes, an air strike occurs, and every 10 minutes a child dies from war-related causes. These airstrikes have hit residential areas, marketplaces, civilian boats, as well as medical, educational, cultural, and religious sites. The dismembering of the country has left 2 million people internally displaced, 2 million children without education, and 16 million with a lack of access to basic health care. With so many fallouts of the blockades, one must question the legality of this blockade and how it is tolerated by the world powers. Until recently, many world powers supported the Saudi-coalition in Yemen. The rebels are members of a Shiite Muslim tribe, and with the support of Iran, they are creating political distress in the Middle East. With the presence of terrorist groups in Yemen, as well as the Houthi rebels, superpowers like the US and UK have sided with the perceived antagonists of the free world: Saudi Arabia. However, on December 18th, 2018 the US symbolically withdrew from the coalition in response to the killing of the dissident columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, in a Senate vote of 56 to 41. Their plan is to formally address the possibility of sanctions and the cutting off of arms sales in the new year. When international laws are violated, civilians suffer. In such a poor and geographically compromised area, Yemen’s civilians have faced their biggest enemy: starvation. With the naval blockades and the government of Yemen’s disregard for civilian life, millions are left to rely on international relief organizations. An estimated 8.4 million people are severely food insecure with 12-13 million at risk of starvation. According to the UN, “over 150 relief organizations, including eight UN agencies, are working around the clock to provide food, shelter, nutritional assistance, protection services and much more to millions of Yemenis whose lives have been uprooted by the conflict.” However, these organizations are faced with dozens of impediments, including collapsing health facilities, access to water, and sanitation services. They are even being prohibited from shipping medicine to the country by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The countries of the world cannot tolerate this violence any longer. To do so would not only break international humanitarian laws but would enable such egregious crimes to take place in the future. The Senate needs to make a formal decision about our nation’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi sparked something in the US government, and the spark must lead to a flame of change if there is any hope of ending the crisis in Yemen.

A Thesis Critiquing… Thesis

As is a mandatory right-of-passage for all seniors, I completed my senior thesis for my Politics major last December. Since deliberating in February 2018, I had gone through several iterations of my thesis question, read at least several hundred pages of articles and books, and ended up with sixty-six pages of final draft material. Through endless hours of meticulous reading and dedicating (without exaggeration) every day and night of my Thanksgiving break to revisions, I bound my physical copy on December 6. Surrounded by my closest friends, I was trembling from breathing the deepest sigh of relief of my life; I had done it. My thesis journey was by no means exceptionally difficult, especially when compared to those students working on high honors and with original data. Nevertheless, from my first hour of initial research in Ladd to the very moment I printed the last page of my bibliography, I couldn’t help but wonder: was it all worth it? To write a thesis is, for us undergrads, a privilege in many ways. It is a perfect writing sample to send to future employers, allowing us to synthesize the courses of our majors, and forcing us to break apart what makes for a compelling argument. But as it is currently run, a thesis argument is catered to an academic audience. Thesis is by design meant to simulate an upper-level dissertation we might encounter in graduate school, be it for an MA or even a Ph.D. To be sure, academic writing is often insightful and very important to advancing our understanding on higher ideas, but it is anything but accessible. In this vein, senior thesis prioritizes neither a creative approach to writing nor one that is especially multifaceted. Our thesis question and the summary of our subsequent argument needs to be incredibly specific and constantly follow a precise academic writing style. You’re probably familiar with the common expression, “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” I don’t buy that. If my Politics major has taught me anything, it’s that good questions and arguments don’t have easy answers. More radically, one answer doesn’t need to be indisputable to be useful. Politics, the humanities at large, and even the hard sciences need to reconcile that the real world, the one outside of Bates, is full of the questions and puzzles that should be answered in ways that aren’t reduced to sixty pages. At the end of the day, these opinions are my experience and my experience alone. I knew long before senior year that I was not naturally adept at academic writing and was not much of a debater. I am still proud of the thesis I wrote. But as I said, I prefer my opinions to be general and constantly evolving, not fixed into a precise, packageable statement. In many ways, my critique of senior thesis is more a critique of academia itself, and the blame for that can’t possibly be put on any lone professor or university. However, I have come to the personal conclusion that thesis needs to be changed. That which would replace thesis, as it currently exists, is up for debate. The simplest solution would be to make it voluntary by removing it as a requirement for graduation. Perhaps capstone projects and interactive research within the local community or abroad could be given greater funding and institutional support. We could even remove the argumentative foundations of thesis and instead turn it into an exploratory exercise. I by no means have the answers to these questions. That’s the point. We don’t need to immediately and conclusively have an answer to solve and explore a problem. We are a tiny school and a close-knit community. We have the time, resources, and interpersonal rapport to come together and find new ways to foster intellectual rigor as we bid our seniors farewell.

Donald Trump’s Solo Endeavor Into Madness

Oops. He’s done it again. Donald Trump’s ever-resounding presence in front of our national televisions was at its finest last week. During his national address to the American people this past Tuesday, January 8th, President Trump tried to convince the country about the benefits of the creation of his border wall. As we all well know, Trump has been adamant about border security since the early beginning of his campaign back in 2015. Offensively describing Mexicans as “drug dealers,” “criminals,” and “rapists” has distinguished Trump as by far one of the most protectionist world leaders in recent memory. President Trump continued to live up to his less than sterling reputation by clumsily addressing to the United States about the importance of building a wall. While watching this speech, like most of Trump’s speeches, I was less than thrilled when hearing what he had to say. With all his smugness, insecurity, and aggressiveness, I find his rhetoric less than pleasing. However, it is with this speech where I discovered something rather unique: he was clear. Trump’s delivery was succinct and well-organized. It was almost as if Trump was confident in what he had to say and, for a change, believed that his policy was actually going to work. Maybe I’m wrong and I’m giving our President more credit than he deserves, but I feel as though Trump truly believes that the border wall might give him the notoriety and the respect that he has longed for. At any rate, it is interesting to see this new dynamic in Trump. It’s almost as if he knows something is going to happen and that we don’t. Or maybe, on the contrary, he is happy that he is finally creating some sort of legislation to be debated on. Now, more importantly, what Donald Trump actually wants out of this border wall is completely unreasonable. In his speech, President Trump claims that the wall is going to cost $5.7 billion to build. Trump said that building a wall would cost less than the 500 billion dollars worth of illegal drugs that he claims flow between Mexico and the U.S., and that it would protect American lives. While both of these goals are for sure admirable, I feel there are other, more plausible ways, to deal with the issue of border security. $5.7 billion can be used in many different ways rather than just a wall. Despite this, I almost forgot the most important part of Trump’s border security plan, the one in which he claims that Mexico is going to inevitably pay for the wall. As he has said this since the beginning of his campaign, Trump wants Mexico to pay for the border wall based on new trade deals and international relationships. Not only has this part of Trump’s border security plan produced major controversy, it has unsettled several members of U.S. Congress including Democratic leaders such as Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. Senate minority leader Schumer and current Speaker of the House Pelosi, in their national address rebuttal, kept the headlines concerning the ongoing debate about border security rolling. Not only for economic reasons but for moral reasons, both Schumer and Pelosi have criticized Trump for neglecting many more important ways of dealing with border security. But like Schumer and Pelosi, we can only wait and see in the coming weeks the fate of Donald Trump’s national agenda for border security.

R Kelly and a Reckoning with Men

In the age of #MeToo, we as a society are starting to reevaluate how we view rape by holding accountable the people who have committed or who continue to commit the criminal act. One person in particular that has recently been exposed is R&b singer R-Kelly and his numerous accusations of rape and pedophilia. Although R-Kelly has contributed immensely to the R&b genre and the music industry, in general, for over twenty years (known as the unofficial “king of R&b”), he has ruined the lives of numerous under-aged girls using his star power as a scapegoat. After releasing smash hits like “Bump N Grind” and “I Believe I Can Fly”, R-Kelly was at the peak of his career, and many families saw this. Many families believed that R-Kelly could help their children reach the fame that he was able to achieve. However, they were gravely mistaken. Although R-Kelly promised that he would produce people’s daughters and make them famous, they only thing he did was rob those children of their innocence. The television network Lifetime recently delved deep into the dark, twisted story of R-Kelly’s life in a six-part documentary series. It highlighted how R-Kelly both verbally and physically abused the under-aged women by starving them, attacking them, raping them, etc. The documentary series was made to give a voice to a group of women who were promised fame and fortune, but ended up getting years worth of abuse and people telling them that they’re lying or that their story doesn’t matter. Now you would think that this documentary series would change the public opinion on rape culture. But this documentary series did the exact opposite. There are still so many people who support R-Kelly. So, I guess the question is “why?” “Why do people still stand by a man who has destroyed the lives of dozens of women, and how can people blame the victims for a situation like this?” It is because so many of us grew up in a household that preached the rhetoric “boys will be boys,” which allows boys to make mistakes and be forgiven, despite the effects it has on others. Boys are taught that in order to know right, they must experience wrong, while, in comparison, girls are taught that they must be perfect at all cost. Boys grow up believing that if they make a mistake then it will be fine because people will forgive them and accept that they will learn eventually, while girls must learn to walk on eggshells at an early age in their lives. This idea evolves when these boys become men and they are allowed to, theoretically, do whatever they want because it’s a “learning experience.” Meanwhile, women are taught that their purpose is to support the man if he’s wrong because he has a lot of pressure on him. By teaching women that they are nothing more than a support system for men and teaching men that their job is to make mistakes in order to get better, we as a society allow men to not think about how their actions affect others. This was seen through R-Kelly and how he used under-age girls for his own personal pleasure. He saw nothing wrong because he thought he deserved those girls and society made it acceptable for him to go after anything he felt he deserved. People are defending him because they were taught that men should be able to seek out anything that they want. If we want people to see the error in their ways, we as a society have to teach men that their actions have consequences. If we as a society stopped excusing men’s irrational behaviors and actions, then they would respect other people’s lives more and think twice about their actions. If people realized that a woman’s life is just as important as a man’s life then more people could see how R-Kelly dehumanized these young ladies and took away their lives.

Roses Need to Start Sprouting

This past Midterm cycle, Democrats made massive gains all across the country. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Sharice Davids; all Democrats, all women of color, with Omar being Muslim and Davids being queer, all notably further to the left than Democrats of years past. Even the unsuccessful senatorial race of Beto O’Rourke v. Ted Cruz in Texas was historic since O’Rourke managed to win 48.3% of the vote compared to Cruz’s 50.9%. For a Democrat to come that close in the staunchly red state of Texas was nothing short of historic.

And indeed, O’Rourke has not stopped getting press since his noble defeat. Tons of buzz has been going all around Democratic circles in recent weeks encouraging him to run for president in 2020. O’Rourke and Democrats like him are certainly reliably liberals and against the tide of Trumpism. Indeed, I can say for sure that O’Rourke has the kind of charisma that could catapult him into becoming the Democratic nominee. Although I am more want to see a Kamala Harris candidacy, he’d have my vote if that’s where we end up in 2020.

But I fear we are not going to end up there. I fear we might wind up with another Hillary Clinton candidacy, with a centrist like Joe Biden, or if hell freezes over, with a billionaire like Michael Bloomberg. The antidote to far-right nationalism is not centrism. It is not regressive compromise for the sake of “bipartisanship”, and it is not neoliberalism. To put our country on the right path, we need to combat Trumpism with actual leftists and progressives. We need candidates, presidential and congressional, who will abolish and prosecute I.C.E. We need candidates who will push towards expanding Medicare to the point of creating a single-payer system. We need candidates who will stop fanning the flames of war abroad and roll back drone strikes in Yemen. We need candidates who will understand that a New Green Deal is our only hope for even mitigating the impending climate disaster.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe a presidential candidate like that could realistically happen in my lifetime. The window of acceptable dialogue for the Right has only become more extreme while it has stayed static for the Left since Bill Clinton. It would take a total overhaul for a presidential candidate to speak like Ocasio-Cortez or Andrew Gillum. While our president and the Republicans step closer to white nationalism and crony capitalism every day, Democrats remain too afraid to tap into the politics of identity and real economic anxiety that affect our country.

That’s why our fight needs to be fought on multiple fronts. At the state level, we need to pay attention to our local elections and demand that our state senators and city council people listen to our voices. At the congressional level, we need far, far more Ilhan Omars and Sharice Davids than we have. With these in our arsenal, we can at least put pressure on a candidate like O’Rourke or Harris to be more bold in their campaign promises.

Ultimately, though, the federal government at any level won’t be enough. Voting will never be enough. Big institutions like government matter, but for better or worse they will always be too mired in bureaucracy and international issues to focus on day-to-day matters. The killings of POC by police, hate crimes, declining health standards, the collapse of local economies: all of these are real issues we must help one another with. We can’t depend on big government and national politics to fully amend these ills.

For the change we want, we need to rebuild solidarity within our communities. But although the Presidency and Congress are never going to fully end police brutality, opioid deaths, or turn our economy green, they are a good place to start the conversation.

 

Wildfires and Marginalized Groups

Wildfires have been devastating California for years. But the Camp Fire that is currently spreading in northern California has marked the largest death tally from a single fire in the state’s history with 86 people dead. These monstrous calamities have left thousands of people displaced from their homes and countless others missing in the rubble. Over 18,000 structures have been destroyed, 400 square miles burned to nothing, and smoke advisories have been issued for all affected regions. California’s response in these situations are Shelter-in-Place (SIP) practices. These include designating shelters, recommending safety strategies for homes, and other methods to address protecting land, evacuation, rebuilding, and safety. However, there is a toll that comes with the practices of SIP that targets marginalized groups and impoverished communities. Private sectors are prioritized for economic and availability reasons. The allocation of resources has become tainted with prejudice and, as a result, has left thousands at the mercy of the fires.

In the article, “The Façade of Safety in California’s Shelter-In-Place Homes: History, Wildfire, and Social Consequence,” author Albert S. Fu argues that “in so-called rational policies concerning firefighting, the inequality between the powerful and the marginalized is clearly visible in the allocation of attention as well as resources.” This article written in 2012 clearly outlines the inherent issues in the response to natural disasters. The reality is that class, race, and income are all reasons for who is brought to safety and who is left behind. Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic communities are 50% more vulnerable to wildfires due to their lack of resources. These disasters have become less “natural” and more of an example of the consequences of social differences between people.

Prevention and the cleanup of fires is directly linked to money. Discussing the current Camp Fire, an article on az.central says, “Communities in the fire zone included those populated by lower-income residents seeking affordable housing.” These people’s priorities are not on a good firefighting department or brush removal, but basic necessities like housing. Stocking up on water and food becomes much harder for certain families, leaving thousands of communities underprepared for turmoil. In the current fire and even those past, people of color have been shown to be much more vulnerable to harm than primarily white communities.

Aside from prevention, the government’s methods of distributing emergency services are flawed. Those who cannot provide identity documents can be barred from shelters and services, which endangers undocumented immigrants and Indigenous people. There is also a lack of financial support for local fire safety, meaning people must take matters into their own hands. However, the wealthy have the opportunity to have secure homes in secure locations, while marginalized groups are left with structures that are less than ideal for disasters. This private implementation of safety has created dangerous differences between all people affected by fires. It takes thousands of dollars to secure a house and keep it up to date in terms of structural integrity and fire safety––dollars that many do not have.

Natural disasters affect everyone, yet some can come out less charred in the long run than others. The factors that create the divide are due to marginalized groups’ inability to receive the same resources and safety implications than others. They are trapped in a burning state where their class, race, and income determine their likelihood of survival.

 

Brexit Busts Britain!!!

God Save the Queen! Yes, it is a symbolic phrase, no doubt. But I think the phrase should be this instead: God save the United Kingdom! As the country prepares to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom is faced with perpetual turmoil as it is on the cusp of major internal implosion. When I think of the UK, I am reminded of a nation emboldened by tradition, formality, and, of course, some delicious tea and biscuits. Even more so, the United Kingdom for generations has exuded a spirit of professionalism, enlightened thought, and iconic leadership. However, with the current precarious Brexit crisis, all of these exemplary characteristics may disappear.

From a United States standpoint, many might believe that we should be indifferent about what happens in the United Kingdom and that we should categorize Brexit as just another foreign dispute. Personally, I vehemently, but respectfully, protest that belief as the current Brexit crisis will have catastrophic consequences for us in the future. The United States and the United Kingdom are two of the greatest superpowers in the world since their economies are overwhelmingly comprised of capital. However, just because these two countries are superpowers doesn’t mean their economies are free from economic collapse and stagnation. Brexit, or more properly deemed “British exit from the European Union,” will be the action of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. For those who do not remember, the Brexit crisis actually began two years when there was a national referendum vote held on June 23rd, 2016. During that referendum, the majority of Britain voted to leave the European Union by a slight margin of 51.9% to 48.1%. It was this monumental vote that has caused a decline in not only the British economy, but the functionality of the United Kingdom itself.

The successful vote of Britain leaving the United Kingdom has resulted in several detrimental effects that have left the country vulnerable and destabilized. One of the main effects of Brexit has been the decline of the UK’s currency, the pound. Specifically, the British pound declined 15% after the Brexit vote and suffered another major 2% percent decline just recently on November 15th. The pound is now under threat for continued decline for next year as the United Kingdom officially leaves the European Union. Another effect of Brexit has been the presence of internal political conflicts within the British government. With Prime Minister Theresa May at the helm of supporting Brexit, one of the many controversies of the deal is the harsh reality that British citizens will lose the right to free movement within the European Union. Despite Mrs. May’s claims that she has worked unanimously with the British government to create an effective Brexit deal, news shows that a third of her senior cabinet did not agree with her. Now, not only does a significant portion of Mrs. May’s cabinet not agree with her Brexit policies, but there has also been major support for a second national referendum for the United Kingdom. Labour Party representatives and members, both within the British government and regular citizens, have protested against May and her vision for the United Kingdom.

What is most shocking about Brexit is its deviation from interdependence and multilateral cooperation. The United Kingdom has for many years been a prominent international member of the European Union and has been recognized as a reliable ally. However, Brexit has caused a chasm for British politics and for the future of the United Kingdom’s economic independence. From a United States perspective, Brexit will cause a decline of several alliances as well as a decline to global markets around the world, including in our country. While Theresa May is now trying to garner voter support with public speeches and radio conferences, the chances for a second referendum in Britain might be inevitable. I think it is going to be crucial over the next couple of weeks to see how the situation unfolds in the United Kingdom. But all we can ask now is this: can God save the United Kingdom?

 

Your Black Isn’t My Black

Although the U.S. is recognized as a melting pot country, the Black community, specifically, is associated with a narrative that everyone who identifies as Black shares the same culture. In the context of the U.S., we tend to look at Blackness as a single story instead of multiple stories with each one having a unique perspective. Due to this illusion that all Black people are the same, we use the terms “Black people” and “African-Americans” interchangeably. But “Black people” is a broad term used to acknowledge all people with a dark skin pigmentation and ancestry that comes from Africa, while “African-American” is only supposed to refer to people with a dark skin pigmentation who have lived in the U.S. for generations.

One of the major problems with associating all Black People with the term “African-American” is that it erases the experiences that Black people from other regions of the world have. When it comes to Afro-Latinx and Afro-Caribbean people, they were colonized by different European peoples than African-Americans, which played a pivotal role in the development of their language and culture. When it comes to people from countries in Africa, they are still more connected to their original culture and language, unlike African-Americans. Due to slavery, African-Americans lost all ties to their original culture and language, but sprouted a new culture in the process. Consequently, with that culture comes systematic oppression that Black people from other regions cannot fully understand, which is not to take away their Blackness, but instead to highlight the difference. For example, when it comes to the word “nigga,” African-Americans were dehumanized with this word, so naturally they would hold some hostility towards it. People from African countries, on the other hand, did not face this type of hatred and therefore are not as affected by the word.

Again, this is not to take away the experience of Black people from other regions in the world, considering they also faced colonization and imperialism, but it is rather to show that Blackness comes with a multitude of experiences. Please also note that the reason I said “people from countries in Africa” instead of “Africans” is because we tend to group them all together as if Africa is a country. Hardly. Africa is composed of dozens of countries with hundreds of different languages and cultures. And since the purpose of this article is to represent the different forms of Blackness, it would be wrong to introduce a continent with such diversity as homogenous.

Some might argue that it doesn’t matter because we are all Black and we all experience oppression, but it does matter when we oppress each other. Too often do we see African-Americans try and determine if a person is “Black enough” because they are mixed race or Afro-Latinx, or if they are coming from other countries and “stealing our jobs,” as many African-Americans accuse people from African countries of doing. We have to show where we differ because only then we can acknowledge the unique oppressions that Black people from other regions face, which recently includes immigration policies as the Trump administration has more than doubled the deportation of people from African countries last year alone. We could also talk about how Black people from other regions may come to the U.S. for a better education, asylum seeking, etc., but are not only pushed down by white people but also African-Americans. We have put our oppression on a pedestal and refuse to see any other form of oppression as our equal. If we were truly all the same, then we would give every Black experience a platform and not just the African-American rhetoric that is constantly shown throughout media.

In order to understand each other, we need representation from Black people from other regions of the world through politics, media, music, etc. We need to understand, respect, and accept that every experience is valid and there shouldn’t be one that reigns supreme over the others. Blackness encompasses many stories, and it’s our job to recognize each story and make sure it is appreciated.

 

The Murder That Shook the World

Does the “lesser of two evils” principle apply when the most fundamental of American values — freedom of the press—comes under assault? Are Middle Eastern geopolitics worth overlooking a heinous crime? Do the end results of cooperating with our so-called ally justify the means? Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, which the CIA and Turkish intelligence agencies have traced directly to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, leaves American policymakers with no easy answers.

Khashoggi, a US-based Saudi journalist and a Washington Post Global Opinions contributing columnist, was reportedly targeted due to his anti-government rhetoric. In self-imposed exile since 2017, Khashoggi made a living lambasting Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy maneuvers and calling for the freedom of expression and gender equality in the hermetic kingdom. Utilizing the global bully pulpit that is Western media, Khashoggi even went so far as to repeatedly attack the crown prince by name, blaming him for suppressing dissent, arresting reform-seeking female activists, and “advancing a new form of radicalism.”

In light of Khashoggi’s assassination, many have proposed directing a full arsenal of America’s socio-political and economic weapons towards disciplining Saudi Arabia. National security expert Max Boot argued the US does not need to live with Mohammed bin Salman, cautioning the foreign policy establishment against the “he may be an S.O.B., but he’s our S.O.B.” ideology. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has since softened his tone, suggested we should “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia.”

In a recent interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” President Trump observed that it would be “foolish” to punish Saudi Arabia by cancelling arms deals with the kingdom. Hailed as a critical counterbalance to the Iranian influence and a significant expansion of US-Saudi relations, the said deal entails $350 billion in tanks, combat ships, radar, and cyber technology purchases over 10 years. Abandoning the agreement augurs to be a boon to Russian and Chinese defense manufacturers.

Just as other actors are all but guaranteed to fill the arms supply void left behind by the US, a rupture of ties with Saudi Arabia would embolden a ménage of hostile forces to replace American influence in the Middle East. The US-Saudi alliance is, after all, one of the critical sustaining pillars of that influence. Putin’s Russia, leveraging its newfound success in Syria and strong ties with Iran, already rivals American standing in the region. Sacrificing ties with Saudi Arabia only stands to complicate matters further.

Then there is Yemen’s devastating civil war between Saudi-backed President Hadi and Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Continued US partnership with Saudi Arabia is critical to ensuring that Yemen does not become another Lebanon, which Iran is known to have used as a base for training terrorists, projecting influence into Palestine, and funding Hezbollah and related groups.

Unfortunately, the geopolitical chessboard rewards pragmatism over idealism. Allying with Joseph Stalin during WWII might have been an affront to America’s self-proclaimed commitment to freedom and human dignity… and yet, Uncle Sam’s pact with the devil was likely the only way of rolling back an even greater threat posed by Nazi Germany.

There can be little doubt that Saudi Arabia is ruled by a ruthless, power-hungry regime that values nothing and no one above its survival. Crown Prince bin Salman and his cronies should be called out for what they are by independent human rights organizations, activists, and reformers. However, as far as strategic relationship is concerned, realpolitik dictates that US-Saudi partnership remains the most favorable option.

 

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