Trouble in the House of Saud

A conversation with Stephen Kinzer, Sarah Leah Whitson, Steve Simon, Chas Freeman, and Shireen Al-Adeimi.

Speaking of Saudi Arabia, in the ghastly light of Jamal Kashoggi’s dismemberment: what more do we care to know, about what Saudis do? Their war to starve the poor neighbor nation of Yemen, US bombs out of US planes doing most of the damage, since Obama time in our White House.

Did you know that the Kingdom of Oil and the House of Saud bankrolled Iraq’s invasion and a decade’s war with Iran in the 1980s, when the US smiled on Saddam Hussein? Saudis paid for the war to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan, when Osama bin Laden was their agent, and ours. Saudi business, meantime, is investing in the US Congress, Silicon Valley and the gig economy of Uber, in think tanks and American opinion to foment ‘confrontation’ (meaning war) with Iran.

You could think of the sadistic Khashoggi killing and its unresolved aftermath as a sort of experiment: it’s about what the House of Saud can get away with in rubbing out dissent, and what the House of Trump will allow from its dear friend. What they are trying out together looks like a version of non-transparent family rule in the Middle East and maybe elsewhere. Lurking in the near background is the intention in the extended family of Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israel’s Bibi Netanyahu to spring a military attack on Iran, on a convenient provocation. Yet the picture of Iran as the meddlesome ‘rogue state’ in the region is getting overshadowed by the spotlight on Saudi history and the reckless Crown Prince. Context and consequences of the Khashoggi case are what we’re after this hour – perhaps a realignment of populists vs. princes in the Middle East, even a ‘reset’ of American thinking.

Guest List
Stephen Kinzer
foreign correspondent, author, and former New York Times bureau chief in Istanbul  
Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch
Steve Simon
history professor at Amherst, former National Security Council senior director for the Middle East and North Africa
Chas Freeman
former U. S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia
Shireen Al-Adeimi
assistant professor of education at Michigan State University and advocate for an end to US involvement in the Saudi war on Yemen

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