The Washington Post decries what it calls a “whispering campaign” to “smear” Jamal Khashoggi that is “designed to protect President Trump”. The “whisperers” are “hard-line Republicans and conservative commentators.” The latter are writing articles critical of Khashoggi (which means they are not whispering). The former are “privately sharing” the articles (which, I had thought, is how articles typically are shared).
The Post’s Robert Costa and Karoun Demirjian provide no evidence that the criticism of Khashoggi it denounces is designed to protect Trump. More likely, the criticism is intended (1) to present a more balanced assessment of the man than that being peddled by biased outlets, especially the Post (see below) and (2) to discourage policymakers from doing a complete about-face in Middle East policy based on the murder of one man.
The killing of Khashoggi is horrific and worthy of a response. It should not be the defining element of U.S. policy in the region.
The Post also errs in claiming that resistance to the lionizing of Khashoggi comes exclusively from “the hard right.” My criticism (directed primarily at the Post for hiring Khashoggi) relied on reporting by the New York Times. Here is what that hard-line, Trump-protecting paper said about the Post’s man in an article called “For Khashoggi, a Tangled Mix of Royal Service and Islamist Sympathies”:.
His attraction to political Islam helped him forge a personal bond with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. . . .
Several of his friends say that early on Mr. Khashoggi also joined the Muslim Brotherhood. Although he later stopped attending meetings of the Brotherhood, he remained conversant in its conservative, Islamist and often anti-Western rhetoric, which he could deploy or hide depending on whom he was seeking to befriend. . . .
Khashoggi probably did a decent job of hiding his anti-Western rhetoric when he sought to befriend the Washington Post. How hard he had to work at this is another question.
The Times also reports that “several Muslim Brothers said this week that they always felt he was with them” but “many of his secular friends would not have believed it.” That’s a benefit of hiding one’s Islamist and anti-Western rhetoric.
The Times characterizes Khashoggi’s espousal of democratic values as a “reinvention” of himself. I think that’s a polite way of questioning Khashoggi’s sincerity.
I’m not suggesting that Khashoggi didn’t want democratization in Saudi Arabia at this time. The ruling family opposed Khashoggi’s anti-western, anti-Israel positions, and he was very much on the outs, politically. Democratization in this context could only have served his interests.
But this didn’t make Khashoggi a genuine democrat, any more than his pal Erdogen is. I doubt an Islamist can be a genuine democrat.
Finally, let’s emphasize that if anyone’s motives regarding Khashoggi should be questioned, it’s the Washington Post’s. He wrote columns for that paper and, apparently, was a friend of some of its important players. This presents obvious difficulties when it comes to writing objectively about Khashoggi, his death, and what the U.S. should do about it.
The Post is also firmly anti-Trump. It attacks the president relentlessly.
Combine these two factors and it’s easy to see why Costa and Demirjian wrote a piece that simultaneously demonizes those who criticize Khashoggi and blames the whole thing on a desire to protect Trump.
UPDATE: Ben Weingarten, writing for The Federalist, asks: Why Is Khashoggi Being Made The Defining Issue Of U.S. Foreign Policy? He answers the question persuasively, I think.