The words that were to seal Jamal Khashoggi's fate are of no consequence. At the time, Khashoggi himself was unconscious of the danger he was putting himself in.
It was 15 November 2016. Trump had just been elected president and a Washington think-tank was trawling the opinions of journalists and analysts around the Middle East.
The future of the Saudi-US relationship was only one of a number of issues discussed. Speaking from Berlin over Skype to the Washington Institute, Khashoggi contradicted the official line in two parts of his modest five-minute intervention.
"Many of my [Saudi] colleagues and commentators ... see Mr Trump as just another Republican. Republicans are good for Saudi Arabia. I disagree with them. I don't think he is a Republican in that mould. Also my colleagues and many officials say that Trump the president is different from Trump the candidate. Again I tend to disagree with that. The ideas that Trump expressed are deep rooted in his philosophy ... I think Saudi Arabia should be ready for surprises," Khashoggi said.
An existential threat?
Nothing treasonable or seditious there. Nothing that Henry VIII or Ivan The Terrible could baulk at. The identification of Khashoggi as an existential threat to Mohammad bin Salman only makes sense - and even that is understating the madness in his mind - if you knew, which no one did at the time, that the Saudi crown prince and his Emirati tutor, Mohammed bin Zayed, were making extraordinary efforts to cosy up to the incoming president.
Trump was to be the lynchpin not only of the young prince's rise to power at home - he was still only 31 and deputy crown prince - but also of his ambitions to become the next hegemon of the Arab world. No other Saudi voice should be heard in Washington but those who fed out of his lap. If Mohammad bin Salman thought he could buy the president of the United States, Washington would be easy pickings. And it was, for so long.
If Mohammad bin Salman thought he could buy the president of the United States, Washington would be easy pickings
In a column he should never be allowed to forget, the New York Times' Thomas Friedman described Mohammad bin Salman’s plans for his country as "Saudi Arabia's Arab Spring". Within days, the crown prince's right-hand man, Saud al-Qahtani, called Khashoggi up to personally tell him he was off air.
No columns. No tweets, under further notice. Khashoggi was incensed. "What's a thug like him telling me what to do," he later recounted to me. But he complied. At least he was still free to travel, albeit silently. After about a year, Khashoggi had had enough.
Reporters Without Borders communications officer Noni Ghani speaks during a memorial service for Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on 2 November 2018 in Washington, DC (AFP)
He began writing columns under a pseudonym for the Middle East Eye. Within a few more months, he broke cover and had a column under his own name for the Washington Post. "Journalists have a duty to write, if only to provide a voice to all those who cannot speak openly back home. I am just asking for the minimum. Freedom of speech. I am not a revolutionary, and I hate being called a dissident," Khashoggi told me.
Had he chosen any other capital to go into voluntary exile, I am convinced he would still be alive today. It was Washington that the Saudi crown prince thought he could have all to himself. It was Washington where Khashoggi's plans to launch an NGO campaigning for press freedom in the Arab world was fouling things up.
How fitting then that it's in this same city that Mohammad bin Salman's image is in meltdown. How interesting that it's the CIA - not a Turkish president with a long record of muzzling the press - who is leading the charge.
Alive, the mild-mannered and thoughtful Khashoggi was at best a headache for the aspiring prince. Dead, Khashoggi has become as lethal to the prince's plans as an outbreak of Ebola
How fitting that after all the money, the manipulation, the lobbying, the backchannels, all the power breakfasts, lunches and dinners thrown by Youssef al Otaiba, the Emirati ambassador, that the New Year dawns with trading in Mohammed bin Salman's stock suspended.
Alive, the mild-mannered and thoughtful Khashoggi was at best a headache for the aspiring prince. Dead, Khashoggi has become as lethal to the prince's plans as an outbreak of Ebola. The heir to the Saudi throne is bleeding uncontrollably. No blood influsion - like a handshake with Benjamin Netanyahu - will save this political corpse.
And it's not by any means over. The resolutions of condemnation penned by the outgoing US Congress are largely ceremonial. Despite bipartisan support in the Senate, the GOP-led House of Representatives will let the resolution die by not taking a vote on it. The incoming House is a different matter, not only in its ability to subpoena witnesses but also to pursue legislation aimed at punishing Saudi Arabia.
What the other arm is doing
If attempts to cover up the Saudi involvement in the September 11 attacks produced the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), we can expect Khashoggi's murder to produce legislation that will bite even harder.
Watch what the CIA does in the next few months. It is pursuing a policy on Saudi Arabia that is very different from the (retreating) line of either Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, or Trump himself.
CIA Director Gina Haspel leaves a briefing with US House leaders about the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, 12 December 2018 (AFP)
If you have a president who endorsed the Saudi blockade of Qatar, does not know that Doha hosts the US's biggest base in the region, a president who pulls his forces out of Syria against the advice of his last pair of steady hands in the White House, Jim Mattis, then it's no longer in the realms of fiction to suppose that one arm of the US executive may be taking matters into its hands, and say it is doing that to safeguard the US national interest.
If the president himself does not know what the US national interest is, then others might feel empowered to step up to that role.
Fall from grace
Mohammad bin Salman's fall from grace masks a bigger problem for both America and Europe.
Discard for a moment the West's misplaced notions of ideology in the Arab world, or who it considers to be the purveyors of moderate Islam (that turn out to be anything but moderates), or the people the West identifies as reformers, or secularism and Islamism, dictatorship or democracy. Forget values and think only about national interest, about stability of the region in purely utilitarian terms - its ability to stanch migration.
The three biggest economies in the Arab world are, according to GDP, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt. Each is suffering major problems.
Saudi Arabia has just posted the biggest budget deficit in its history. Its economy has just shrunk for the first time in nearly a decade. New quotas and fees have triggered an exodus of over 900,000 foreign workers, and foreign direct investment fell from $7.5bn in 2016 to $1.4bn in 2017.
The three biggest economies in the Arab world are, according to GDP, Saudi, the Emiratis and Egypt. Each is suffering major problems
Feuds with Germany and Canada and the lawless imprisonment and expropriation of the assets of Saudi's richest princes and businessmen in two Riyadh hotels have turned the trickle of money fleeing the kingdom into a flood - at the last count $80bn left last year.
In the UAE, Dubai is having real problems. There is a slump in property and construction, which account for over 13 per cent of Dubai's gross domestic product. Dubai's stock market has lost a quarter of its worth.
In Egypt, as a result of massive mismanagement, grand construction ventures, and the total dominance of the army in the country’s economy, the government's foreign debts are rising out of control, with foreign debts almost doubled since 2015. The interest payments on Egypt's debts now total around $30bn a year, 38 percent of the government's budget for 2018-19. Shortages are now becoming commonplace. In the last six months Egypt has had a potato shortage and water scarcity.
The time bomb
In the poorest Arab nations, Sudan, Jordan and Tunisia, there are major protests at rising prices and taxes. Protests are sweeping across Sudan over the rising cost of bread and fuel. Protesters set the offices of the ruling National Conference Party on fire in Atbara, north of the capital Khartoum.
In Jordan, people are on the streets again at planned increases in taxes after mass demonstrations forced the resignation of the prime minister in the spring.
A Jordanian protester chants slogans in the capital Amman, on 13 December 2018, during a demonstration against the government's decision to raise income tax (AFP)
The time bomb that is ticking away under all of these countries is youth unemployment. Official youth unemployment rates, let alone the real ones, are at 21 per cent in the Middle East and 25 per cent in North Africa. In Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco unemployment rates run close to 30 percent.
The traditional engines of the Arab economy - Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Algeria - are either spluttering with the fall of the price of oil or have broken down entirely. Corrupt autocrats, the army and their elites have no clue nor any real wish to serve their people.
The conditions which fomented the Arab uprisings in 2011 are even stronger eight years later
The conditions which fomented the Arab uprisings in 2011 are even stronger eight years later. The difference eight years on is that the region is incomparably weaker to absorb the shock of social conflict. Three Arab countries - Syria, Yemen and Libya - are failed states.
With the demise of all international structures, in particular the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Arab League, there is no Arab consensus that can bind the region together.
But there is much else that can inflame the Arab street. 2018 was the year when the right wing in Israel felt unleashed by the removal of the convention of having to get America's okay for each new expansion of the State of Israel. The US ambassador said as much himself. In an interview published in the daily Israel Hayom, David Friedman said Israel "shouldn't have to ask permission from the US" to build settlements in the occupied West Bank.
President Donald Trump announced that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is retiring this coming February and he will announce his replacement soon, 20 December, 2018 (AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set free by Trump to take East Jerusalem, the right of return and even the nine-tenths of Palestinian refugees themselves "off the table". 2019 will be the year when they start expelling non-Jewish Israeli citizens to the West Bank. A billexpelling the families of Palestinian assailants to the West Bank has just passed its first reading in the Knesset.
Much depends on the fate of Trump himself. He and his circle of Middle East despots are now tethered together. Loosen the bonds and it is every despot for himself. If Khashoggi’s murder sent shock waves through Sisi's Egypt - and it did - Trump's decline will leave each and every despot vulnerable to a palace coup back home.
Much depends on the fate of Trump himself. He and his circle of Middle East despots are now tethered together. Loosen the bonds and it is every despot for himself
I would like to think that Mattis' departure is the beginning of the end of Trump, and that Khashoggi's brutal murder will spell the end of Mohammad bin Salman, but I'm not here to indulge in wishful thinking.
The failure of the Arab state
What really needs to change is the policy itself. It has become more of a default position. When push comes to shove, all the Arab world's former colonial masters and Israel will back the despot. The worse the despot behaves the more Western governments will try to save his back, as the UK is currently doing with the Saudi crown prince.
The more chaos the despot causes, the stronger the fear of instability from an alternative.
We cannot keep shrugging our shoulders and turn the other way, as Barack Obama did after the massacre of Rabaa Square in Cairo. Human Rights Watch called it the worst massacre of unarmed civilians since Tiananmen Square. Obama returned to his game of golf.
Europe has to understand that Egypt's President Sisi, Mohammad bin Salman, and Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria are eminently capable of sending millions of impoverished and desperate Arabs northwards. Is it ready for that? The Islamic State is just a symptom of the disease of the failure of the Arab state. The cause is all around us.
Until the West learns that this disease can be cured only by political reform, by transparency and democracy, it is doomed to await the next explosion. And this time, it could be a big one. Khashoggi's life’s work is not done yet.
In killing Khashoggi, and it should have been obvious before that with his war in Yemen, Mohammad bin Salman revealed his true place in the Arab world. He and his like are not sources of stability. His are not a safe pair of hands. If you cannot trust him with a bone saw, what would he do with nuclear fuel? If you cannot trust him as crown prince, what would he be like as king?
- David Hearst is editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He was chief foreign leader writer of The Guardian, former associate foreign editor, European editor, Moscow bureau chief, European correspondent, and Ireland correspondent. He joined The Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent.
THE TRIBUTES TO former President George H.W. Bush, who died on Friday aged 94, have been pouring in from all sides of the political spectrum. He was a man “of the highest character,” said his eldest son and fellow former president, George W. Bush. “He loved America and served with character, class, and integrity,” tweeted former U.S. Attorney and #Resistance icon Preet Bharara. According to another former president, Barack Obama, Bush’s life was “a testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joyous calling. And he did tremendous good along the journey.” Apple boss Tim Cook said: “We have lost a great American.”
In the age of Donald Trump, it isn’t difficult for hagiographers of the late Bush Sr. to paint a picture of him as a great patriot and pragmatist; a president who governed with “class” and “integrity.” It is true that the former president refused to vote for Trump in 2016, calling him a “blowhard,” and that he eschewed the white nationalist, “alt-right,” conspiratorial politics that has come to define the modern Republican Party. He helped end the Cold War without, as Obama said, “firing a shot.” He spent his life serving his country — from the military to Congress to the United Nations to the CIA to the White House. And, by all accounts, he was also a beloved grandfather and great-grandfather to his 17 grandkids and eight great-grandkids.
Nevertheless, he was a public, not a private, figure — one of only 44 men to have ever served as president of the United States. We cannot, therefore, allow his actual record in office to be beautified in such a brazen way. “When a political leader dies, it is irresponsible in the extreme to demand that only praise be permitted but not criticisms,” as my colleague Glenn Greenwald has argued, because it leads to “false history and a propagandistic whitewashing of bad acts.” The inconvenient truth is that the presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush had far more in common with the recognizably belligerent, corrupt, and right-wing Republican figures who came after him — his son George W. and the current orange-faced incumbent — than much of the political and media classes might have you believe.
He ran a racist election campaign. The name of Willie Horton should forever be associated with Bush’s 1988 presidential bid. Horton, who was serving a life sentence for murder in Massachusetts — where Bush’s Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, was governor — had fled a weekend furlough program and raped a Maryland woman. A notorious television ad called “Weekend Passes,” released by a political action committee with ties to the Bush campaign, made clear to viewers that Horton was black and his victim was white.
As Bush campaign director Lee Atwater bragged, “By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’s running mate.” Bush himself was quick to dismiss accusations of racism as “absolutely ridiculous,” yet it was clear at the time — even to right-wing Republican operatives such as Roger Stone, now a close ally of Trump — that the ad had crossed a line. “You and George Bush will wear that to your grave,” Stone complained to Atwater. “It’s a racist ad. … You’re going to regret it.”
Stone was right about Atwater, who on his deathbed apologized for using Horton against Dukakis. But Bush never did.
He made a dishonest case for war. Thirteen years before George W. Bush liedabout weapons of mass destruction to justify his invasion and occupation of Iraq, his father made his own set of false claims to justify the aerial bombardment of that same country. The first Gulf War, as an investigation by journalist Joshua Keating concluded, “was sold on a mountain of war propaganda.”
For a start, Bush told the American public that Iraq had invaded Kuwait “without provocation or warning.” What he omitted to mention was that the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, had given an effective green light to Saddam Hussein, telling him in July 1990, a week before his invasion, “[W]e have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.”
Then there is the fabrication of intelligence. Bush deployed U.S. troops to the Gulf in August 1990 and claimed that he was doing so in order “to assist the Saudi Arabian Government in the defense of its homeland.” As Scott Peterson wrote in the Christian Science Monitor in 2002, “Citing top-secret satellite images, Pentagon officials estimated … that up to 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks stood on the border, threatening the key U.S. oil supplier.”
Yet when reporter Jean Heller of the St. Petersburg Times acquired her own commercial satellite images of the Saudi border, she found no signs of Iraqi forces; only an empty desert. “It was a pretty serious fib,” Heller told Peterson, adding: “That [Iraqi buildup] was the whole justification for Bush sending troops in there, and it just didn’t exist.”
President George H. W. Bush talks with Secretary of State James Baker III and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney during a meeting of the cabinet in the White House on Jan. 17, 1991 to discuss the Persian Gulf War.
Photo: Ron Edmonds/AP
He committed war crimes. Under Bush Sr., the U.S. dropped a whopping 88,500 tons of bombs on Iraq and Iraqi-occupied Kuwait, many of which resulted in horrific civilian casualties. In February 1991, for example, a U.S. airstrike on an air-raid shelter in the Amiriyah neighborhood of Baghdad killed at least 408 Iraqi civilians. According to Human Rights Watch, the Pentagon knew the Amiriyah facility had been used as a civil defense shelter during the Iran-Iraq war and yet had attacked without warning. It was, concluded HRW, “a serious violation of the laws of war.”
U.S. bombs also destroyed essential Iraqi civilian infrastructure — from electricity-generating and water-treatment facilities to food-processing plants and flour mills. This was no accident. As Barton Gellman of the Washington Post reported in June 1991: “Some targets, especially late in the war, were bombed primarily to create postwar leverage over Iraq, not to influence the course of the conflict itself. Planners now say their intent was to destroy or damage valuable facilities that Baghdad could not repair without foreign assistance. … Because of these goals, damage to civilian structures and interests, invariably described by briefers during the war as ‘collateral’ and unintended, was sometimes neither.”
Got that? The Bush administration deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure for “leverage” over Saddam Hussein. How is this not terrorism? As a Harvard public health team concluded in June 1991, less than four months after the end of the war, the destruction of Iraqi infrastructure had resulted in acute malnutrition and “epidemic” levels of cholera and typhoid.
By January 1992, Beth Osborne Daponte, a demographer with the U.S. Census Bureau, was estimating that Bush’s Gulf War had caused the deaths of 158,000 Iraqis, including 13,000 immediate civilian deaths and 70,000 deaths from the damage done to electricity and sewage treatment plants. Daponte’s numbers contradicted the Bush administration’s, and she was threatened by her superiors with dismissal for releasing “false information.” (Sound familiar?)
He refused to cooperate with a special counsel. The Iran-Contra affair, in which the United States traded missiles for Americans hostages in Iran, and used the proceeds of those arms sales to fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua, did much to undermine the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Yet his vice president’s involvement in that controversial affair has garnered far less attention. “The criminal investigation of Bush was regrettably incomplete,” wrote Special Counsel Lawrence Walsh, a former deputy attorney general in the Eisenhower administration, in his final report on the Iran-Contra affair in August 1993.
Why? Because Bush, who was “fully aware of the Iran arms sale,” according to the special counsel, failed to hand over a diary “containing contemporaneous notes relevant to Iran/contra” and refused to be interviewed in the later stages of the investigation. In the final days of his presidency, Bush even issued pardons to six defendants in the Iran-Contra affair, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger — on the eve of Weinberger’s trial for perjury and obstruction of justice. “The Weinberger pardon,” Walsh pointedly noted, “marked the first time a president ever pardoned someone in whose trial he might have been called as a witness, because the president was knowledgeable of factual events underlying the case.” An angry Walsh accused Bush of “misconduct” and helping to complete “the Iran-contra cover-up.”
Sounds like a Trumpian case of obstruction of justice, doesn’t it?
A U.S. marshal, left, looking for a suspect, shows a mug shot to a man found allegedly using drugs in a crackhouse, according to police, in Washington, D.C., on July 18, 1989. The police raid was part of President George H.W. Bush’s war on drugs.
Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP
He escalated the racist war on drugs. In September 1989, in a televised addressto the nation from the Oval Office, Bush held up a bag of crack cocaine, which he said had been “seized a few days ago in a park across the street from the White House . … It could easily have been heroin or PCP.”
Yet a Washington Post investigation later that month revealed that federal agents had “lured” the drug dealer to Lafayette Park so that they could make an “undercover crack buy in a park better known for its location across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House than for illegal drug activity” (the dealer didn’t know where the White House was and even asked the agents for directions). Bush cynically used this prop — the bag of crack — to call for a $1.5 billion increase in spending on the drug war, declaiming: “We need more prisons, more jails, more courts, more prosecutors.”
The result? “Millions of Americans were incarcerated, hundreds of billions of dollars wasted, and hundreds of thousands of human beings allowed to die of AIDS — all in the name of a ‘war on drugs’ that did nothing to reduce drug abuse,” pointed out Ethan Nadelmann, founder of the Drug Policy Alliance, in 2014. Bush, he argued, “put ideology and politics above science and health.” Today, even leading Republicans, such as Chris Christie and Rand Paul, agree that the war on drugs, ramped up by Bush during his four years in the White House, has been a dismal and racist failure.
He groped women. Since the start of the #MeToo movement, in late 2017, at least eight different women have come forward with claims that the former president groped them, in most cases while they were posing for photos with him. One of them, Roslyn Corrigan, told Time magazine that Bush had touched her inappropriately in 2003, when she was just 16. “I was a child,” she said. The former president was 79. Bush’s spokesperson offered this defense of his boss in October 2017: “At age 93, President Bush has been confined to a wheelchair for roughly five years, so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures.” Yet, as Time noted, “Bush was standing upright in 2003 when he met Corrigan.”
Facts matter. The 41st president of the United States was not the last Republican moderate or a throwback to an imagined age of conservative decency and civility; he engaged in race baiting, obstruction of justice, and war crimes. He had much more in common with the two Republican presidents who came after him than his current crop of fans would like us to believe.
خلال قمة العشرين التي اختتمت أمس السبت في الأرجنتين، علت ضحكات ولي العهدالسعودي، محمد بن سلمان، مع بعض الرؤساء والزعماء الحاضرين، وخطفت لقطة المصافحة الغريبة مع الرئيس الروسي، فلاديمير بوتين، الأضواء، وروّجتها وسائل الإعلام السعودية باعتبارها نصراً لولي العهد، وكسراً لحصاره وعزلته الدولية التي ترافقت مع جريمة قتل الصحافي السعودي، جمال خاشقجي. وبعد المشاركة في قمة العشرين، بات بن سلمان، والذين يدورون في فلكه، يعتقدون أن الجريمة صارت وراء ظهورهم، وأن الملف في طور الطي والدخول في المتاهات الروتينية القضائية الصورية التي أطلقتها النيابة العامة السعودية. غير أن هذا الظن إثم، وخصوصاً إذا كان في إطار السياسات الدولية، وتحديداً مع العربية السعودية، والتي تنظر إليها الدول الغربية بقرة حلوبا يمكن أن تجني منها أموالاً مقابل صفقات قد لا تكون بحاجة إليها، وبأثمان مضاعفة عما يمكن أن تباع لأي دولة أخرى. كان هذا الأمر قبل جريمة قتل خاشقجي، وقبل أن تحوم الشبهات حول ولي العهد السعودي، وقبل أن توجّه له، بشكل شبه رسمي، أصابع الاتهام في إصداره أمر الجريمة، وقبل أن يُظهر بن سلمان استعداده للقيام بأي شيء في مقابل إبعاده عن ساحة الجريمة، وإخراجه من دائرة الشبهات، وهو ما باتت تدركه الدول الغربية، وخصوصاً الكبرى منها، على غرار الولايات المتحدة وروسيا. ستُبقي هذه الدول الغربية قضية خاشقجي معلقة، لتكون إطاراً مناسباً لابتزاز السعودية وولي عهدها في أي لحظة. وفي حال قدّر لبن سلمان أن يتولى عرش المملكة، فإن الجريمة وتداعياتها ستكونان قيداً يرافق فترة حكمه، إذ سيعود التذكير بها إلى الظهور في أي مناسبة ترى فيها الدول الغربية، والولايات المتحدة تحديداً، أن سلوك السعودية يتعارض مع مصالحها. وربما ما نشرته صحيفة وول ستريت جورنال، أمس، حول تفاصيل تقدير "سي آي إيه" في أن بن سلمان وراء الجريمة، واستناده إلى مراسلات بين ولي العهد السعودي ومستشاره في الديوان الملكي، سعود القحطاني، يأتي في إطار هذا التذكير بعد مشهد المصافحة الشهيرة بين ولي العهد والرئيس الروسي، والتي، لا شك، لم تعجب الرئيس الأميركي دونالد ترامب الذي كان يراقبها عن كثب. قد يكون بن سلمان الآن قد تلقف الرسالة، وسيتّجه إلى ترامب لاسترضائه، ربما بصفقاتٍ جديدة أو زيادة جديدة في إنتاج النفط لخفض الأسعار.
سيكون مثل هذا التوجه السعودي بقيادة ولي العهدـ في "رشوة" ترامب وغيره، سلوكاً عاماًللمملكة خلال السنوات الطويلة المقبلة، ما دامت ورقة الابتزاز لا تزال موجودة، وسيف العقوبات سيكون مسلطاً على رقبة السعودية في أي لحظة. يحاول بن سلمان اليوم تجنب مصير الزعيم الليبي الراحل، معمر القذافي، الذي قبع سنواتٍ تحت العقوبات، بعد اتهامه بتفجير طائرة لوكيربي، حتى لو كلفه ذلك إفراغ خزائن المملكة من الدولارات، وتجفيف آخر بئر نفط فيها. ربما على السعوديين أن يكونوا مستعدين لمرحلة جديدة من الضرائب والرسوم التي باتت تفرض عليهم، إذ سيكون ولي العهد بحاجة عما قريب إلى مداخيل إضافية تسد العجز الذي تسببه رشاويه المستمرة للولايات المتحدة، هذا قبل أن ينتقل إلى روسيا، فمن المؤكّد أن بوتين، وخلال زيارته المرتقبة إلى السعودية،سيطالب بثمن سكوته ودفاعه عن ولي العهد، وهو ما سيتعامل معه الأخير بسخاء. وكما حال ترامب وبوتين، سيتقدم زعماء آخرون أيضاً للحصول على حصتهم من المغانم، وسيكون التعامل معهم بالطريقة السخية ذاتها. لا شك في أنه سيكون ابتزازاً طويل العمر يا "طويل العمر".
s the world says goodbye to George HW Bush, I am tempted to add my own personal memories to the mix, and illuminate perhaps his legacy by recounting the two intense nights that my wife and I spent in close proximity to the former president at the end of October 2001.
It was at the Park Hyatt hotel in Sydney, where I had been invited to deliver the Centennial Lecture celebrating the Federation of Australia. The day after our arrival, the hotel manager - a corpulent, affable man of Spanish extraction – asked us if we wouldn’t mind exchanging our suite, only for the next two days, he said, for another one, just as nice, he promised, elsewhere on the premises.
Having already unpacked, and enjoying the most spectacular view of the bay and the Opera House, it wasn’t hard to respond that we had no intention of moving. Was there any reason for such an unexpected request?
The manager could not elaborate further, “due to reasons of security”. Though he would honor our wishes, he regretted that our dinner reservation for that evening had been cancelled, as the dining room would be closed for a restricted event.
It was only that evening, when our centennial hosts had rescued us for a meal at another location, that their head of protocol mentioned, in passing, that we were sharing the Hyatt with none other than Bush the elder, who was in Sydney, with a large entourage, to attend a meeting of the Carlyle Group, the gigantic global asset management firm that he had been advising for the last three years (months later we realized that this was the summit where the Bin Laden family was “disinvested” from the firm.)
On our way back to the hotel, Angélica and I could not contain our insane glee at depriving Bush of our room. For once, we chortled, we had bested one of the big fish who are used to seeing their every wish granted. Our antipathy towards this particular big fish ran deep: those deplorable years as Reagan’s vice-president, his racist campaign against Dukakis, his invasion of Panama, his appointment of Clarence Thomas to the supreme court, his sabotage of global initiatives to reverse catastrophic climate change, the disastrous Nafta treaty, the vetoing of civil rights legislation, the presidential pardon of the neo-con Elliot Abrams, and, of course, Bush’s mawkish “thousand points of light”.
But our aversion had more personal roots: Bush had operated as head of the CIA from 30 January 1976 until 20 January 1977. As such, he was undoubtedly privy to exhaustive information about the devastation being inflicted by the US-supported Pinochet regime in Chile, at a time when opponents were being disappeared, concentration camps were still open and torture was rampant. During his tenure, the American government facilitated the infamous Operation Condor, run by the intelligence services of six Latin American dictatorships to coordinate their repression of dissidents. Perhaps most inexcusable was that Bush remained unrepentant of his country’s involvement in so much suffering. Had he not stated – when an American missile had blown up an Iranian aircraft with 290 innocent civilians aboard – that he would “never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.”
Well, here was a fact that the man who had helped to steal our country from us could not ignore: no way was he stealing our room!
We entered our quarters – after passing two brawny security guards in the corridor outside the room next to ours – and gleefully imagined him stewing on his mattress, foiled, frustrated, sleeplessly stymied by a couple of Chilean revolutionaries whose existence he could not even divine. Our mirth soon subsided, replaced by an ominous thought from my wife: “What if something happens to him tonight or tomorrow?”
The 9/11 attacks had occurred barely six weeks earlier, and what juicier target for terrorists than the father of the current US president, that other George Bush? We looked at each other in consternation: if, by some demented coincidence, there was an assault right now on Bush senior, who would be the first suspects, which guests had both motive and opportunity?
The two Chileans next door, that’s who.
Had the security team used our absence that evening to check our room and bug it? If so, they had heard us laughing and referring to Bush in decidedly uncomplimentary terms. It didn’t take long for us to dispel our absurd paranoia, and yet, as I fell asleep, I couldn’t help but note that the post 9/11 world was strangely reminiscent, with its pervasive fear and burgeoning surveillance society, to the Chile we had left for exile many decades ago. We could banish Bush from the accommodation of his choice, but the world still belonged to him, to his son, to their acolytes and accomplices.
Early the next morning, I had a chance to recognize, first hand, how irrefutable this dominion was.
I was on our private terrace, overlooking Sydney Bay, doing some warm-up yoga exercises, so close to the water I could almost touch it, when who should pop into view, two or three yards away, just below me on the esplanade separating the hotel from the sea, but Poppy himself, walking briskly towards the city skyline. He was casually dressed, as if about to play golf, and surrounded by a sizeable entourage – some muscled security heavies, some suited confederates, perhaps a secretary or two, all of them quietly obsequious, all of them situated at a prudent distance, respectful of an invisible protective boundary that isolated the politician who had once been the most powerful person on earth. Closest to Bush, half a step behind him, was a bulky crew-cut military man, with so many medals on his uniform that it was a miracle he wasn’t sagging from the burden. A general, at least, I thought.
Suddenly, the former president lifted his right arm into the air, his fingers extended backward, snapping them without, however, deigning to look at the man behind him. The officer reacted with celerity, producing, seemingly out of nowhere, a tube that he deposited in his master’s hand. It turned out to be a sun tan lotion, as George Senior, without losing his stride and definitely without thanking the aide, began to lavishly apply it to his exposed forearms and neck.
That night, pondering the experience, I was the one who tossed and turned, slumberless, a few feet from the man who once held the fate of humanity in his hands. I was disturbed by the unintentional message he had sent me. Without the slightest notion that I was witnessing his cavalcade from my smug and far too self-satisfied position on a beautiful balcony, he had given me the finger, offered a lesson about what matters in the grand scheme of history. Our puny possession of his favored room and view, our sweet vicarious victory, was insignificant when weighed against that gesture of his. Nothing we did to him could alter its meaning or implications, change his patrician certainty that he had been born to rule and could do no wrong. A certainty transmitted to his son, who ended up being the living incarnation of his father’s finger-snapping imperium, who believed he owned the world as if it were a tube of sun lotion to be squeezed dry.
Paradoxically, it was that swaggering son who has helped me, over time, to soften my appraisal of Bush father’s place in history. It’s enough to remember the younger Bush’s demolition of Iraq and Afghanistan and, for good measure, his wrecking of the US economy, to look upon the elder’s presidency as almost respectable, to feel an almost doleful nostalgia for the Republican party of those years that was not entirely poisoned with hatred and blind greed – and I haven’t even started on Donald Trump.
Bush Senior might have been complicit for the thousands of corpses rotting on the Highway of Death in Iraq in 1990, but he did not forge ahead to Baghdad; indeed, that mayhem in the desert apparently made this veteran of world war two, where he had served honorably, decide to stop the advance. And then there’s the American Disabilities Act, his relatively benign policies on immigration, his split with the National Rifle Association, the meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev that ended the cold war. And the considerable humanitarian works he did since leaving office. Not to mention his stark opinions about Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, that dynamic duo of destruction, and his stubborn and principled refusal to endorse Trump, calling him, at one point, “a blowhard”.
And yet, now that death has come for George HW Bush and he holds no sway in this world, now that the snap of his fingers cannot protect him from the fate suffered by every mortal or from the black sun of infinity, it is those fingers in that remote Australian morning that I cannot shake from my mind.
Partly this is because I ruefully understand that, for all the elder Bush’s shortcomings, I would rather have a finger like his on the nuclear trigger than that of an ignorant bully and self-aggrandizing, insecure liar who can extinguish all of humanity with a simple command (and who also ominously brays that “we are not going to apologize for America … No more apologies.”) But time has also given me a different perspective on that incident in Sydney.
Today that arrogant wave of the elder Bush’s hand appears more forlorn, almost delusional in its certainty that his blue-blooded dynasty would endure and prevail. Jeb’s ignominious defeat – the favorite son who was supposed to be the anointed winner of the primaries and the election itself – forewarned of a pseudo-populist rebellion against privilege and prerogative; an anti-elite, anti-corporatist surge from vast swaths of the country that rode the boorish and unenlightened Trump into a White House where his presence would have seemed, to the Bushes as to most of humanity, as inconceivable as it was offensive. The world did not belong to George Herbert Walker Bush and his children after all, at least not in the way he dreamed it.
Even less does it belong to me or my children or the children of most of those living on this planet today, so many of us farther than ever from affecting our own destiny.
Because what cannot be denied is how that imperial gesture of his that morning in Australia continues to exemplify all that is wrong with the patriarchal world the elder Bush reigned over, and that was complicit in creating the America that ultimately led, despite his own wishes, to Trump taking power, the unfortunate America we are doomed to share.
George Herbert Walker Bush does not rest in peace.
Nor do we.
• Ariel Dorfman is the author of Darwin’s Ghosts, and the collection of essays Homeland Security Ate My Speech