Mike Pompeo is running for President. This is probably the quickest that I’ve made it to the everything continues to be horrible tag line, but there you go. Pompeo, as befits his recent gig as the most undiplomatic diplomat of recent memory, (and I remind you, this is a competition where John Bolton is a strong favorite!) has decided to launch his campaign by coming out strongly in favor of dismembering journalists. I am not making this up.
Pompeo bemoans “faux outrage … fueled by the media”. Reporters, he says, “hammered the story extra hard because Khashoggi was a ‘journalist’.
“To be clear, Khashoggi was a journalist to the extent that I and many other public figures are journalists. We sometimes get our writing published, but we also do other things. The media made Khashoggi out to be a Saudi Arabian Bob Woodward who was martyred for bravely criticising the Saudi royal family through his opinion articles in the Washington Post.
“In truth, Khashoggi was an activist who had supported the losing team in a recent fight for the throne … unhappy with being exiled.”
In case you forgot, we’re talking about a columnist who was lured into an embassy in Turkey and hacked to death with a bone saw. On bin Salman’s direct orders. I just feel this should be pointed out.
When multiple people, including Khashoggi’s widow, pointed out that Pompeo’s account was not only morally void but factually incorrect (which, to be fair, describes almost every action taken by the Trump administration), Pompeo of course immediately apologized. Or, you know, not.
Pompeo: if you condemn bin Salman’s killing of reporters, you don’t support our troops. I was unaware our troops were killing reporters with bone saws, but Pompeo clearly knows something we don’t here.
But in case that wasn’t enough, Pompeo’s book goes into further detail: not only was Khashoggi’s death not that big a deal, it distracts from, you know, how awesome bin Salman is!
“The progressive Left hates MBS,” he wrote, using a common moniker for Mohammed, “in spite of the fact that he is leading the greatest cultural reform in the kingdom’s history. He will prove to be one of the most important leaders of his time, a truly historic figure on the world stage.”
So, let’s make something perfectly clear. bin Salman is not a great leader. And he is only “truly historic” in his embrace of cruelty matched with gross ineptitude - which might remind you of another world leader Pompeo is quite fond of. (Hint: he cheats at golf.) It befits a quick review of, in a part of the world not known for enlightened governance, bin Salman really, really is one of the worst.
Operation: Beat Them Till Money Falls Out
One of bin Salman’s first actions upon taking over the reins of state from his father was to arrest 400 of the wealthiest businessmen in Saudi Arabia, lock them in a nearby Ritz-Carlton, and not let them out unless they gave bin Salman a lot of money. Those who did not cooperate were beaten, within earshot of the others.
bin Salman said this was necessary because some of them were corrupt and what can you do? Well, apparently, this.
“On the first night, everyone was blindfolded and nearly everyone was subjected to what Egyptian intelligence calls the ‘night of the beating’”, said a source with intimate knowledge of what took place. “People were asked if they knew why they were there. No one did. Most were beaten, some of them badly. There were people tied to the walls, in stress positions. It went on for hours, and all of those doing the torturing were Saudis.
“It was designed to soften them up. And then the next day, the interrogators arrived.”
Coincidentally, among those detained were pretty much any member of the royal family that might have posed a threat to bin Salman’s rule. Took care of that!
Operation: Desert Warcriming
Even before bin Salman’s coup/money grab/gratuitous demolishing of the Saudi government/business compact, as Minister of Defense bin Salman led the Saudi armed forces into a
liberation! intervention! invasion of its tiny southern neighbor, the impoverished land of Yemen.
For some reason, possibly because of the wild corruption deeply embedded in the Saudi military, and possibly because no one could really work out a reason for invading Yemen in the first place, the intervention went spectacularly badly, with Saudi troops somehow completely unexpectedly finding themselves enmeshed in a years-long insurgency (which is still going on) against a bunch of hill tribesmen called the Houthis, using Iranian arms and taking great joy in blowing up Saudi bases regularly. The Saudi Air Force (flush with US-provided aircraft) responded with pinpoint accuracy and surgical precision, bombing refugee camps, civilian housing, and an entire province. When the Houthis then responded with sending Iranian drones into Saudi airports, bin Salman imposed a complete blockade of the country, which is still ongoing and the cause of massive starvation throughout the country.
Did I mention this was still going on, after 8 years? Cracking good job, guys.
Operation: Shut Up Shut Up SHUT UP!
Not content with blockading Yemen, bin Salman in 2017 imposed a land blockade of Qatar because they host a TV network he doesn’t like. Unlike Yemen, Qatar hosts some very large US military bases, so the blockade mostly just forced Qatar to import everything via the sea from still-friendly Turkey instead. bin Salman finally gave up in 2020, which the Trump administration completely took credit for.
Operation: Resign Immediately Or Else
In case you thought that was enough mischief for bin Salman to get into in the few years he’s run the place, in one particularly strange episode, bin Salman held the leader of a friendly nation hostage and forced him to resign.
Lebanese officials described the long hours between [Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s] arrival and the resignation as a “black box.” They said they were reluctant to press Mr. Hariri for details. When asked, one of them said, Mr. Hariri just looked down at the table and said it was worse than they knew.
Apparently, Hariri’s crime was in making a friendly overture to an Iranian diplomat, and bin Salman decided to respond by, you know, totally fucking up Lebanon, a country which, if you haven’t been following lately, is already really pretty fucked up. However, it helps in, when fucking up a neighboring country, you know what the fuck you’re doing.
What is clear, they say, is that Saudi Arabia sought to instigate a broad realignment of Lebanese politics to reduce Hezbollah’s power by forcing the collapse of Mr. Hariri’s coalition government, which includes Hezbollah and its allies.
But crafting the nimble and activist foreign policy that Prince Mohammed wants requires “a depth of understanding of political dynamics in other countries and an investment in diplomatic ties that can’t be created overnight,” said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington.
“The competition for power and influence in today’s Middle East has changed significantly,“ he said, “and the Saudis are playing catch-up, with very mixed results.”
So bin Salman summoned Hariri to Saudi Arabia, forced him to resign (apparently at gunpoint, although blackmail may have been involved), forced him to appear on Lebanese TV from Saudi Arabia swearing he’s totally not a hostage and really did mean to just fly to another country and resign his job, and then finally let him return home, upon which the second he arrived on Lebanese soil he un-resigned. So if you’re keeping track, bin Salman basically tried to meddle in the most unstable country in the Middle East and did the foreign policy equivalent of this:
…and failed completely for some reason. Great job, MBS. Cheese fries all around.
Operation: Spend All My Country’s Money On This Weird Project Because It Seems Cool
You may think bin Salman is just a murderous thug who likes to shake people down for money or commit random warcrimes, but he has a softer, sensitive side. He just wants people to like him, guys.
And he’s going to make that happen by spending all the money (and I do mean ALL the money) on a city of the FUTURE.
Neom. It’s beyond parody. It’s beyond understanding. It’s beyond financing. And it’s apparently beyond bin Salman’s attention, because he shifted gears from NEOM, a tech city the size of Belgium on Saudi Arabia’s coast to, um, er. Yeah. Let’s go to the video.
Bin Salman himself, doing his best Steve Jobs, introducing THE LINE. THE LINE, which also, like NEOM, or possibly instead of NEOM, or possibly coexisting and not-coexisting in some sort of Schroedinger’s-cat space, will cost 500 billion dollars, is totally real, is totally going to happen, and is totally your girlfriend who lives in Canada and is real and likes you.
In case you didn’t watch the video, or couldn’t believe the video, THE LINE is a city that is one big line (thus the name) through the northern Saudi desert that is a wonderful magical place where there are no cars and robots do all the work and life is great, you guys, totally nothing wrong could happen here ever, don’t ask about the people who used to live where THE LINE was, it’s a bad idea. Don’t anger or taunt THE LINE. THE LINE knows where your children sleep.
If any other world leader proposed this, they would definitely be removed, and possibly escorted to the nearest “recovery facility”. But bin Salman does what he wants and what he wants is a city so cool he reportedly had his developers research science fiction dystopias because he thinks they’re also cool.
THE LINE will of course never exist, but it will waste an ungodly amount of Saudi money (which was, remember, extracted in part via beatings) to make bin Salman feel better about himself or something. I don’t know why THE LINE exists. No one does. No one can.
Anyway, bin Salman is obviously an idiot who also happens to be a psychopath who also happens to be the undisputed ruler of one of the Middle East’s great powers. Which explains why Trump and his henchmen love him so much - he’s one of them. (And like them, he’s also not that fond of Islam, at least the variety Saudi Arabia’s championed its entire existence.) And he’s prospered in our benighted age, because everything continues to be horrible.