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Senator Lindsey Graham wants to overthrow the Saudi crown prince MBS in order to have a more reliable ally against Iran and to suppress the Arab masses

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GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert, joining you from Baltimore.

Key U.S. senators said on Tuesday that they are more certain than ever that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. They made their statements after having received a CIA briefing on the matter. Here’s what Senator Lindsey Graham had to say.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: There’s not a smoking gun. There’s a smoking saw. You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MBS, and that he was integrally involved in the demise of Mr. Khashoggi; that during his tenure as crown prince he’s put the region in chaos, and has undercut the relationship. And I cannot support arms sales to Saudi Arabia as long as he’s gonna be in charge of this country.

GREG WILPERT: Joining me now to make sense of these latest developments is Paul Jay. Paul is the editor in chief of The Real News Network and has been following the story closely for a long time. Welcome, Paul.

As senators left the briefing–you heard the first clip that we have. He suddenly was very concerned about the murder of a Saudi citizen. Doesn’t that seem rather strange? I mean, they never seemed to care much about the tens of thousands of Saudi–tens of thousands that Saudi Arabia has killed in Yemen, and the countless dissidents that they have executed. So why is Senator Graham so willing to break with Trump, and blaming Mohammed bin Salman for the murder?

PAUL JAY: Well, first of all, every so often Donald Trump blurts out something that’s true in spite of himself. Just after the killing was revealed, and Trump–Trump was concerned about two things about the killing of Khashoggi. One, that it was the worst coverup ever. He wasn’t really worried about the killing. He was angry that the coverup was so badly executed. And two, he said, you Saudis–meaning the monarchy–wouldn’t last two weeks without the United States. He may have been exaggerating about two weeks. But I don’t think he was exaggerating that the Saudi monarchy wouldn’t last without U.S. military and financial support. In terms of financial, helping the Saudis amass trillions of dollars of oil wealth by keeping them in power.

So why do the Americans do this? And why all of a sudden is Graham and Senator Corker, why are they so upset? The fundamental alliance–and this is what Graham goes on to talk about–the strategic alliance with the Saudis, and you have to add to that the strategic alliance with Israel, to some extent Turkey, prior to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran you could include Iran. But right now the Saudi-Israeli-U.S. alliance is critical to U.S. control of the region. This is about American hegemony. This is about the United States trying to control the outcome of events. That doesn’t mean they do control the outcome of events. And the Iraq war is a good example of that. But they try very hard to control the outcome. And the strategic importance, obviously, is oil. And the Saudis are a critical player in this.

But there’s a key part of something Graham said in this clip and in another part of his clips–excuse me. He said even before the killing of Khashoggi that MBS, the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was already out of control. He was already crazy. He was already destabilizing the region. And one, the war in Yemen. They were losing, and the Saudis were looking terribly weak. But within Saudi Arabia he has caused chaos amongst the Saudi royals by trying to assert a one-man dictatorship in a place that was more like a feudal kingdom where you had different principalities, you had different powerful feudal lords. The king would balance the various powerful lords. Of course the king was very strong, but it wasn’t a one-person show. MBS has upset the Saudi ruling strata. And he’s also upsetting the region because he has crazy ambitions, personal ambitions.

And the underlying strategy for the United States in this whole period of Trumpianism, and the control of the Senate, and before that the House. But the foreign policy of the United States is to go after Iran. Everything is about the Iran strategy. Destabilize Iran, weaken Iran, overthrow the regime if they possibly can. And a crazy leader of Saudi Arabia is not a reliable ally. And Graham even uses those words, that MBS is not a reliable ally.

So they need to–they want to bring this guy down. And I think they wanted to bring this guy down before the Khashoggi murder. Now, the Saudis, and including MBS, the Crown Prince, believed they could proceed with impunity. They had to know that the NSA was listening to their phone calls. How could they not know that every word going back and forth between the palace, between the Crown Prince’s intermediaries and the Saudi embassy in Turkey where the killing took place, how could they not know that the Americans are listening to it: So they do know, because everybody knows the Americans are listening to everything. They just simply believed that the Americans couldn’t care less about this. And I think under normal circumstances the Americans wouldn’t care less, couldn’t care less. Since when do Lindsey Grahams and Corkers, as you were mentioning, care about human rights or any of this? You know, the fact that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and made refugees in Syria, they were cheering that on. They cheered on the Iraq war that killed a million people, and maybe made three or four million people refugees. They were cheering on the collapse and the destruction of Libya.

One guy getting killed is not upsetting to these people. But what is upsetting to these people is that MBS is weakening the effort to have what looks like a rational, reasonable alliance against Iran. Lindsey Graham is very connected to the deep state, the deep CIA. The deep Pentagon. These are the people that, you know, politicians come and go, but they have an agenda. And Lindsey Graham is very, very connected to the military-industrial complex. When he says we don’t want to sell anymore arms to Saudi Arabia until MBS is gone, that’s a very serious statement. Because while the Saudis do not buy anywhere near the amount of arms that Trump claims, they do buy a lot of arms. This is part of a quid quo pro of the Saudi-American relationship. The Americans allow the Saudis to amass fortunes as long as they give a big piece of that back to the United States in arms purchases.

So for Graham to say that, someone who virtually represents the arms industry in Congress, it means they want this guy gone. As I say, I think they wanted him gone before Khashoggi was killed. And Khashoggi presented the perfect excuse for it. Because you know, the CIA and NSA, they’re always so concerned at what they call sources and methods. And now they’re revealing to the world that they’re tapping the phones of a leader of a country. You know, you don’t do that lightly. So they want this guy gone, but they want him gone not because he’s a violator of human rights. They want him gone because “they want a reliable ally” in order to go after Iran. In other words, to create more war.

GREG WILPERT: So let’s take a look at what Senator Bob Corker had to say, another leading Republican.

BOB CORKER: I have zero question in my mind that the Crown Prince MBS ordered the killing, monitored the killing, knew exactly what was happening, planned it in advance. If he was in front of a jury he would be convicted in 30 minutes, guilty. So the question is, what do we do about that? So far, it’s unfortunate, but I think they feel like this is something that’s come and passed because the administration has not spoken to this in a way that–has spoken to it in a manner that really gives them immunity.

GREG WILPERT: So clearly Trump is losing support among Republicans, here. He is apparently engaged in a delicate balancing act not only–not exactly something that he’s known for. So on the one hand, he’s trying to pursue regime change for Iran, and on the other hand is trying to maintain support for Mohammed bin Salman. After all, Jared Kushner, according to Bob Woodward, engineered MBS’s ascension to power. So what’s going on here? Is Trump’s strategy falling apart?

PAUL JAY: Well, listen. I’m no insider, and so the specifics on the back and forth and all that one can kind of just speculate about. But clearly large sections of the top tier of the royal family want MBS gone, themselves. He’s asserted his power in a way that no individual king has. And the rest of the–most of the princes want the guy gone. And Graham and Corker and the people they represent, which is deep state/industrial-military complex, most of them want MBS gone. And Graham’s being very overt about it.

Trump has his personal connections to the Crown Prince, and may be playing maybe a somewhat more sophisticated game than we think. Meaning, how do they get rid of MBS? Only by the other princes rising up and overthrowing them. I mean, somebody has to either kill the guy, or has to win over the Saudi intelligence services and the Saudi military and arrest the guy. He’s not going to step down, it seems, by any means. He’s–you know, I guess that’s not impossible. But it seems unlikely from what we know of the situation.

So the deep state a la Lindsey Graham are calling on the Saudi princes to overthrow MBS, because there’s no way else out. Trump is either playing a game where, well, what if those other princes lose? You know, what if MBS wins this fight in spite of what Graham Corker and the rest of the American state wants? Maybe they’re afraid of MBS. Maybe the, you know, the intelligence, Saudi intelligence, the Saudi military, maybe they’re too loyal to MBS. So far he’s lasted longer, I think, than a lot of people would have expected.

So like I said earlier on, you know, the Americans can want lots of things, but they don’t control everything as much as they sometimes think they do, and some other people think they do. So they are, they could be playing a bit of a parallel game here. If if the positions of Graham and such can get MBS overthrown, it doesn’t make Trump look all that bad. Remember, to Trump’s electors, none of this matters. Electorally, people are that vote for Trump are barely paying attention to this. And one way or the other, they buy his argument that arms sales are good for jobs, and so on, and so on. Excuse me.

So I mean, he doesn’t have to really worry about the electoral consequences of this. Trump never worries about broad public opinion much about anything. So so he may be playing a game here that if MBS wins, OK, he’s in the Trump camp. If MBS loses, fine, the next guy is going to be in the American camp anyway, because that’s the underlying base of the Saudi royal family, and has been since Roosevelt met with the prince Ibn Saud in 1945. The Saudi royal family came into being as a royal family, as the power in Saudi Arabia, under American tutelage. They’ve been an extension of U.S. power in the region since 1945. And there’s no such thing as the Saudi royal family, as Trump said, without the Americans.

So you know, one way or the other, the Americans are going to end up with a Saudi royal crown prince, king, whatever it is. I mean, I guess what they have to do is get the current king, if he’s conscious of it–you know, there’s a lot of evidence the King suffers from dementia and is not really able to make many decisions here. So you know, if they can get him to fire MBS, I suppose. But it seems to me maybe a more violent resolution is more likely.

Anyway, so that–but there may be real differences between Trump and Graham on these things, too. But I think they’re very secondary. Because the primary mission of going after Iran is Trump’s primary foreign policy objective. From the time he appointed Flynn and Mattis, all the teams, all his appointments in foreign policy, Bolton most of all, are ultra, super hawks on the issue of Iran. And so the differences on MBS are are really quite tactical, and one way or the other will resolve themselves.

GREG WILPERT: Finally, I want to turn to the role that the Democrats are playing in all of this. On the one hand, we’re seeing a greater willingness to break with Saudi Arabia. After all, even under a Democratic president such as Obama they were a key ally. And now key senators are voting in favor of passing Senator Bernie Sanders’ resolution that would invoke the War Powers Act and withdraw support for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen. But on the other hand, Democrats seem to be interested in, at least some of them, interested in regime change in Iran as well, for which are Saudi Arabia is, like you say, an essential ally. So what’s the game here with the Democrats?

PAUL JAY: Well, there is a convergence of interests here, temporarily. You know, I just interviewed Bernie Sanders. And in the interview he said, end all arms sales to Saudi Arabia, not just end all arms sales while MBS is there. I raised the question as a reflection of the strategic relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Although Sanders’ focus is on ending U.S. support for the war in Yemen–and the war in Yemen should not be underestimated. What a catastrophe that is. It’s a virtual genocide. The war crimes of the Saudis in Yemen are beyond telling the hundreds of thousands of people that are dying, and children dying of famine, and so on. So to be focused on anything that can be done in a practical way to weaken or end the Saudi war on Yemen, it’s very important. And it’s not just some ideological point that Sanders is making with this legislation. I should say, it’s Sanders’ legislation with Republican Representative Lee.

That being said, I think the Sanders faction now sees the importance of a complete change in the relationship with Saudi Arabia. It’s not just about Yemen. But for most of the Democratic Party leadership, corporate leadership, it’s a combination of a way to take a shot at Trump. They join in with Lindsey Graham’s concern about MBS. They’d like a more effective Saudi Arabia. The Chuck Schumers of this world do not want to end the strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia, but they don’t like the embarrassment of making it look so outrageous to be tied up with such a fascist dictatorship. They want it out of the headlines, they want it off the front pages. They want to go back to the way it was, where Saudi Arabia can try to look like it’s modernizing. You know, there was a time there when they were trying to make MBS look good. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig. And of course, one should be careful about using pigs, I suppose, in this situation. But I think with MBS it’s appropriate.

So the leadership of the Democratic Party is fully on board with the U.S.-Saudi-Israeli alliance to control the Middle East. Now, what does it mean, control the Middle East? Let’s be clear about that. It doesn’t mean keep it away from the Russians. It doesn’t mean keep it away from the Chinese. It means keep the wealth, the oil wealth, away from the masses of Arab working people. That’s who controlling the Middle East is. It’s millions and millions of people in the Middle East living in poverty and working for–you know, not even living, you can’t even talk about living wages. And an oligarchy in all of these Middle Eastern countries that’s fabulously wealthy. It’s–that is the control of the Middle East they’re talking about. Keep down the masses. That what we saw a taste of in Arab Spring, whatever you make of Arab Spring–and you know, in the end it certainly didn’t achieve its stated objectives, but it was a sign of what could happen, these uprisings in the streets. Millions of working people in the streets demanding real equality demanding a proper share of the wealth.

I mean, when, when Trump says you wouldn’t last weeks without us–but that’s what he’s talking about. He’s talking about the Saudi masses rising up and overthrowing this oppressive monarchy. So control of the Middle East, the U.S.-Saudi-Israeli alliance. Again, Turkey, to some extent, too. It’s about suppressing the masses of people of the region. And they need a more reliable ally to do that. So it’s not just about going after Iran. The more and more discredited MBS gets and the royal family gets, the harder it is for the Americans to prop the Saudis up as the defenders of Mecca, the defenders of Islam.

We know that Senator Bob Graham, who ran the Joint Congressional 9/11 Commission investigation, co-chaired it, has straightforwardly said in many places, including on interviews on The Real News, that the Saudi royal family, the King, was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks on the United States. He’s also said that he thinks Bush-Cheney knew it was coming, to some extent, and were involved in this. But the culpability of the Saudis–there is some evidence of the Israelis, but I don’t think it’s nearly as strong as it is of the Saudis, but who knows. And they still see this regime as a strategic ally. The dark deeds the Saudis do on behalf of the Americans–like you know, the CIA that invited bin Laden to Afghanistan. It’s the Saudi intelligence working with Pakistani intelligence that helped create the Taliban, that helped nurture and create Al Qaeda. It’s no accident they find bin Laden living down the street from a Pakistani defense establishment. But look who helps fund Pakistan. It’s the Saudis. Who builds all these madrasas in Pakistan that train these fanatics? The Saudis. And this is the reliable ally, until MBS showed up.

So they want this whole fascistic, dark structure. They being Graham, Corker, Trump, and the leading Democrats, Schumer and others. But they don’t want it to look nutty and crazy, and so MBS is getting in their way.

GREG WILPERT: OK. Well, we’re going to have to leave it there. Thanks so much, Paul, for having joined us today.

PAUL JAY: Thank you.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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Paul Jay was the founder, CEO and senior editor of The Real News Network, where he oversaw the production of over 7,000 news stories. Previously, he was executive producer of CBC Newsworld's independent flagship debate show CounterSpin for its 10 years on air. He is an award-winning documentary filmmaker with over 20 films under his belt, including Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows; Return to Kandahar; and Never-Endum-Referendum. He was the founding chair of Hot Docs!, the Canadian International Documentary Film Festival and now the largest such festival in North America.