It seems that both dead and alive, Khashoggi was first an agent and then a martyr-pawn of Qatar and Turkey in their struggle against Saudi influence in the Middle East. With Iran allied, of course, in a sort of axis with Erdogan’s Turkey. And with Putin’s Russia clearly forging links with Turkey and Iran, although Syria will make that a balancing act that the Kremlin will be sorely tested by.
This is a tale of two very different ways of dealing with conflicting spheres of influence in perhaps the world’s most volatile region:
- One a blundering, medieval act of brutality,
- The other is a ruthless and efficient information campaign reaching into the heart of America and, therefore, the world’s media.
The narrative focusing on the death of Jamal Khashoggi was to be put into the service of both Qatar and Turkey’s main interest, undermining the stability of its rival, Saudi Arabia. When complete, the successful information operation would depict Khashoggi as a heroic martyr to independent journalism and freedom, while Saudi Arabia would be the embodiment of evil and callousness. It is clear now that not only was Khashoggi transmogrified in death into a major front in Qatar’s war with its Gulf neighbors, but in life, he was Qatar’s asset in that war, as well.
The effort to transform Khashoggi from the political operative he was into a journalist and martyr for freedom was an information operation waged mainly in the United States. It targeted a diverse audience spanning from “echo chamber” commentators and media figures to politicians, who would then be moved to act based on the new attitude and information the campaign had inserted into the discussion. This operational aspect is of primary importance, as information operations always work to advance policy interests. In order to succeed, these perceptions must affect policymakers and cause them to alter policy.
Reaboi goes on to defend his outfit in the face of the attacks by the Obama administration's former officials who helped forge the Iran Deal and their many sympathizers in the media. This is understandable, but one should remember that his outfit is also promoting a view of the Middle East where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an ally and one that can even work with Israel in helping to contain Iranian influence in the region. A view closer to historical ties of America, but a view nonetheless just like Khashoggi’s pieces in the Washington Post.
So it comes down to the following: who is a greater threat to America (and to Israel): Iran and its allies who openly advocate for the destruction of the Jewish State in a violent, frenzied jihad of a holocaust? Or the Kingdom from where most of the 9/11 attackers came from and which financed (indirectly) their horrifying endeavors?
Qatar is key in this impossible equation in which it would seem that the stability and the deeds of the Saudi’s make them the lesser of evils compared with Iran. Qatar itself is tiny, enormously wealthy, and very powerful. The Doha (Qatar’s principal city) round of the WTO trade talks has been going on since 2001. The FIFA World Cup will be ridiculously played there in 2022, likely in November because of the extreme heat of its endless summers.
Al-Jazeera is based there, and Qatari funds flow into the D.C. beltway as freely as any, according to the rumors at least. It is also at loggerheads with its neighboring Gulf States as well as with Saudi Arabia, in part because of conflicting positions during the uprisings of the Arab Spring as well as the war in Yemen. And it is Qatari influence and money that propelled Jamal Khashoggi into a position of power and influence far beyond that of your average Washington Post columnist.
So, we now have American foreign policy dividing along partisan lines that mirror the Iran-Saudi fault lines in the Middle East. Obama’s Iran Deal on this side. Trump’s renewed approach to Saudi Arabia with its clownishly brutal Mohammed Bin Salman on the other side. This is hardly optimal.
These sorts of alliances often end up in large regional conflicts that spin out of control. Imagine World War III starting not in Ukraine’s eastern flank. Nor in the Korean peninsula. But in Syria.
No, that’s not a plea to keep the troops there. It’s exactly the opposite. Here’s David Reaboi wrapping his article:
Led by Sen. Chris Murphy and Elizabeth Warren, voices from the political left seemed to outdo each other in berating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom President Trump and members of his administration have warm relations. They are trying to use outrage over Khashoggi’s death to force a Saudi surrender in the war in Yemen, an end to arms sales, a break in US-Saudi relations, or even to depose Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman from his position in the Kingdom’s order of succession. This, of course, was the Qatari policy aim and the conclusion of a successful information operation.
I would suggest that deposing MSB is not as dangerous a move as Reboi thinks if an agreement can be worked out with the aging sheiks of the Kingdom. Containing Iran, however, is key. And Syria is not the best place to do that. Riyadh is.
Information warfare in the 21st century is often more successful than bloody violence. Just ask Qatar and the ghost of Jamal Khashoggi.