Jamal Khashoggi and the midterm elections

Published 12.11.2018 00:00

U.S. President Donald Trump has suffered a significant bruising, if not a battering, as a result of the midterm elections. This damaging of Trump's brand holds considerable promise, even if not as much as many liberals had hoped for. Indubitably, his stature has been meaningfully diminished, especially with the Democrats controlling the House of Representatives. Of course, all of this is obvious, but for our purposes, the main question is how should the Democrats utilize their newfound powers?

Strategically, they should constrain President Trump to modify his agenda on a variety of domestic and foreign policy fronts. To start, he should be compelled to alter his reckless Middle East policy by partnering with Turkey, more thoughtfully criticize Iran, and, most importantly, distance himself from Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who has been described widely as a "loose cannon," "wrecking ball" and "unreliable partner." More specifically, Democrats should use these election results to affect the ongoing investigation into the cruel, macabre and unspeakable murder of Jamal Khashoggi. By taking a Turkish cue, and slowly utilizing the "death by a thousand cuts" strategy, they should unravel Trump's America. In other words, start throwing jabs, even upper-cuts, while being aware there will be no knock-out punch. In this, there is a moment of truth.

Formation of a House Committee

To begin, the Democrats should ask for the formation of a House committee, specifically to investigate the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. By doing so, a wide range of actions could be taken that would put tremendous pressure on President Trump to do more – as he is so accustomed to tell everyone else. In this regard it would be important to mention that President Trump has already acknowledged his frustration at the "worst cover-up ever" and the changed circumstances that he finds himself in and has responded accordingly. He has stated that a "stronger response" will be forthcoming in the coming days in regards to the Khashoggi murder. Still, that may be his attempt to circumvent the formation of a House committee. He should not be allowed to do that.

Calling CIA Director Gina Haspel

Among the various pressures that can be applied through the House, it has the authority to call for testimony. Kindly recall that CIA Director Gina Haspel, it has now been unequivocally acknowledged, was privy to all the evidence that the Turks have. This includes every gory and gruesome detail of the purported dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi. In all likelihood, that includes both audio and video of what transpired inside. At the very least, as Bruce Riedel – a former CIA official who now works at the Brookings Institution – Gina Haspel listened to and watched the audio and video which "puts the ball firmly in Washington's court."

Moreover, Riedel also mentioned that this could compel U.S. Congress to ask her to testify.

"Not only will there be more pressure now from the media but Congress will say, 'Gina, we would love to have you come visit and you can tell us exactly what you heard.'"

This, potentially, is earth-shattering and has not done before. Understandably so, since the Republicans previously controlled the House and as such could prevent the formation of any such committee. Now, they can't. And, once a committee is formed or Gina Haspel is asked to testify, under oath, to the exact nature of the evidence she heard and saw, then it all becomes official. That, thereby, compels President Trump to act and is the ultimate the masterstroke.

What should happen?

This is a sobering time, and while certainly not a tsunami, it speaks volumes for the push-back against President Trump's divisive identity-politics, right-wing populism, anti-women, anti-immigration and Islamophobic agendas of Trump and his hard-core Republican base. All of that is tearing the U.S. apart, along with several institutional check and balances. Even now, considering the Republicans retain control of the upper chamber, there is still no guarantee that they will not challenge Trump's approach to the Middle East, especially when it comes to Saudi Arabia. Senators Rubio, Graham and Paul have all been demanding more from Trump Administration, especially in the aftermath of Jamal Khashoggi's murder. They have called for harsh measures to be taken against Saudi Arabia, which Trump hitherto has been reluctant to do. Now, his options are limited, and there have even been promptings that Republicans, even in Congress, could "break" with the White House on this issue. The sheer grotesqueness of Jamal Khashoggi's murder demands that an example be made. No one, not even MBS, if conclusively proven to be involved, should be absolved of responsibility. Our collective conscience, the very moral fabric of the international community, is at stake.

* Associate professor of political science and Gulf studies, Qatar University

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