A Tale of Two Despots

While the whole civilized world is reeling in shock at the barbaric murder of Washington Post writer and Saudi “moderate” Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), the spotlight moves away from another despot on the other side of the world whose temperament was once thought to be more volcanic: Kim Jong-un, communist dictator of North Korea.

Remember when President Trump first announced the Korean peace initiative? Boy oh boy, the Washington wonks went wild! Why, Kim is a monster! He’s killed millions! It’s a trick! Is Trump crazy? – because, they claimed, Kim certainly is! When the Singapore Summit finally occurred, and Trump actually met Kim, the event was declared a “failure” by the Western media before it had begun. The joint statement that came out of the meeting was deemed to be so vague as to be meaningless, and the whole thing was written off by the mandarins of the Beltway as one of the President’s whimsies.

Trump, for his part, insisted that Kim is a reformer. During their meeting, the President reportedly pointed out to the young North Korean descendant of leaders who had held off the West for 75 years that “condos would look nice on that wonderful beach I see over there. I hear you have some beautiful beaches in your country.” Kim’s eyes lit up, but there was no one around to see it who was interested in reporting its implications – the media could only mock the President, characterize Kim as Stalin-in-embryo, and declare the whole thing a farce.

Contrast this with the effusive welcome given to MbS when His Princely-ness stepped onto American shores. He was lionized as a bold “reformer,” and got to meet every celebrity known to man: Henry Kissinger, Michael Bloomberg, Tom Friedman, Bill Gates, Lloyd Blankfein, Madeline Albright, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, “The Rock,” Stephen Schwarzmann, Rupert Murdoch, Jeffrey Goldberg, Tim Cook, Elon Musk, Richard Branson. And that’s as far as I know: there’s probably more.

Yes, MbS was going to do all the cool PC things our political class was aching to see him do: “liberate” women, liberalize strictures on social behavior, throw all those bad old religious figures in jail, and, oh yes, annex Yemen so those awful barbaric Houthis can’t do Iran’s bidding. A young 38, he charmed the media, which fell all over him, and was entertained at the White House by a President in thrall to a son-in-law who is all but a formal Saudi agent. Trump downplays this by saying “They’re just two young guys,” yet it’s a bit more complicated than that. Kushner had been given the Saudi portfolio – we don’t even have an ambassador in Riyadh thanks to Democratic obstructionism – and he blew it, bigtime. To this day he’s urging the President to stand by MbS, but that will not suffice. Especially since the Saudis have been issuing open threats of higher oil prices, which is more than enough to push the President’s bombast button.

Remember, a few weeks before the Bonesaw Massacre, Trump told his audience at a Mississippi rally that the Saudi King would not last in power “for two weeks” without the backing of the United States military:

"We protect Saudi Arabia. Would you say they’re rich. And I love the King, King Salman. But I said ‘King – we’re protecting you – you might not be there for two weeks without us – you have to pay for your military,’"

Does anyone really think this threat to kick the king in the teeth and leave his decadent dynasty lying in the desert dust came out of nowhere? The Trump-hating media and their drooling (albeit shrinking) audience like to portray the President as a third-grader somehow sitting in a Harvard classroom, hopelessly out of his depth. Such people have no idea what they’re talking about and, more tellingly, no respect for the Office of the President, which certainly knows what is going on in the Kingdom down to the identity of MbS’s next victim.

As senile as the King may be, I’ve no doubt the message got across. The Saudis understand this, but have been allowed to dismiss it by a succession of kowtowing American chief executives and diplomatic hand-kissers. My guess is that the façade is lifting, and the Potemkin Village of US-Saudi relations is about to blown over by a very strong wind – the sheer force of the President’s anger. “There have been lies,” he said today [Sunday], there has been deception.”

Much has been made of the President’s reluctance to end arms sales to Riyadh, the favored demand of the virtue-signalers: that the Saudis can buy from the Chinese or the Russians or whomever doesn’t enter into their little morality tale. The idea is that we have to hurt ourselves, not necessarily the Saudis, because we’re bad, or just as bad, or something….

Real punishment would involve a number of actions that are actually punitive rather than merely symbolic: US withdrawal of support for the invasion of Yemen, for one, but that’s just a start – and should’ve happened long ago, anyway. Expulsion of their diplomatic corps and the closing of their embassy come to mind. After all, who knows what atrocities are about to be – or have already been – committed there? What’s really needed, however, is the nullification of the US-Saudi defense pact: “You might not be there for two weeks without us.” I’d give it maybe three weeks, but let’s see….

And why not extend the so-called “Muslim ban” to the homeland of Muslim terrorism – none other than Saudi Arabia? After all, if we condemn Khashoggi’s barbaric murder and impose sanctions does anyone think the only retaliation will come in the form of higher oil prices?

Lies, backpedaling, threats – that’s been the response of that great “reformer,” the Crown Prince, in the wake of a series of aggressive and downright crazy actions that culminated in the disgusting decapitation of a world-famous journalist. Now let’s look at the actions of that other despot on the other side of the world who aspires to reform his isolated Hermit Kingdom and join the modern world.

Despite the jeers of the “experts” – most of whom are ex-Obama appointees  – the North Koreans have responded with alacrity to the President’s appeals for peace. And it hasn’t been peace at any price: Pyongyang has taken a number of concrete steps, changing its behavior dramatically since the start of negotiations:

  • No new nuke tests have taken place, much to Japan’s relief.

  • No new ballistic tests have been launched, much to the relief of the people of Guam.

  • The destruction of an important nuke testing facility took place before the eyes of the whole world.

  • Both North and South have announced the end of provocative military exercises and the dismantling of heavy arms at the demilitarized zone – with Trump’s full approval.

  • North-South economic, cultural, and transport links have been established way ahead of schedule as the two halves of a nation seek the natural unity they crave.

The “experts” said Kim is a replica of his father and grandfather: intransigent, evil, scheming, untrustworthy, impossible to deal with. These same “experts” said the Bold New Crown Prince with the Oily Smile and the Piles of Money is a “reformer” who is bringing modernity to the Kingdom. We can trust him, they told us – and then the blood started seeping out from under the door to the Istanbul embassy.

So much for the “experts”!

How do we explain such a major misperception – aside, that is, from the massive bribery engaged in by the Saudis, who apparently subsidize all the major Washington thinktanks. Is there anyone who isn’t on the Saudi payroll in the Imperial City?

A leftist would attribute this geographic astigmatism to “racism” – the inability of white policymakers to attribute anything of importance to Asians, and imbue them with “Oriental” slipperiness, so as to render them basically untrustworthy in Western eyes. And there may be something to the importance of this chauvinist mythology: history surely buttresses this view. But more recently, and taking into consideration how our political class thinks ­­ or, rather, fails to think – I would say the problem today is slowness in realizing that an old paradigm is rapidly shifting, and a new one is being born.

Since the days of the Roman (and Athenian) empires, the Western world has naturally been focused on what it considers the center of the world: the Mediterranean “lake” and the countries along its shoreline. This ancient concept persisted long after the world-spanning expeditions of the Spanish, and the Portuguese. Control of the Mediterranean was still seen as the key to creating, preserving, and expanding the European empires, and this crucial area of control soon extended to the “Near East,” as it was then called – near, that is, to Europe.

The “Far East” was relegated to the margins, a place for easy colonial pickings but considered of no real importance. That’s part of the reason the Americans and their British allies were taken by surprise when the Japanese struck their Pacific possessions: as usual, the Anglo-American gaze had been focused on Europe and the “Near East,” where it is still fixated to this day.

That is changing, what with the rise of China and the emergence of the “Asian tigers” as economic powerhouses. If Trump and Kim Jong-un have their way, modernizing Eastasia will soon be joined by North Korea, or perhaps a new united Korea, as that Evil Despot Kim Jong-un pulls a Gorbachev and hauls his sinking Hermit Kingdom into modernity. Thanks, in large part, to President Trump’s vision.

Yes, the foreign policy “experts” were wrong about the Saudis, and wrong about Kim Jong-un, just as they’ve been wrong about practically everything since the fall of the Soviet Union (which they failed to see coming). They were wrong – and Trump was right.

No wonder they hate his guts.

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NOTES IN THE MARGIN

You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

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You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].