In the last few days, two national leaders who have long been darlings of the West (with “the West” including not only the US, but also the EU and its many allies) have been revealed to be heads of states, where government officials could have ordered the murders of their political opponents. The Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman suddenly remembered that the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was actually murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. And the former Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, who has been evading Georgian justice for six years thanks to his personal connections in Europe, has been accused by his country’s Chief Prosecutor’s office of having ordered the assassination of his Georgian billionaire enemy and owner of several TV channels, Badri Patarkatsishvili, in 2008. The Georgian prosecutors, who also want to question Mr. Saakashvili on numerous charges of corruption and abuse of power, substantiated their accusations with audio recordings and information provided by several suspects, who are now detained.
When Patarkatsishvili died in his British home for no apparent reason in February 2008, on the eve of a crucial election for Saakashvili, the British authorities did not raise hell and expel diplomats, as they had years before with Alexander Litvinenko and a decade later with Sergei Skripal, that man of miraculous resilience to the deadliest of chemical weapons. Instead, the British authorities just quietly accepted the idea that a sudden heart attack had struck down the Georgian billionaire at a very opportune moment for then-president Mikheil Saakashvili.
It was a bad week for both bin Salman and Mikheil Saakashvili. In fact, it should have been a bad week for the political leaders and journalists of the West, who have been calling Saakashvili “the beacon of liberty” in the former Soviet Union for both that region as well as the world and bin Salman — “the leader of Saudi Arabia’s own Arab spring” who is “on a mission” to make his country more democratic. The scandal is that this first tidbit of sickening flattery was authored by none other than the longtime president of the United States, George W. Bush. And the second — by the New York Times’ most prominent columnist, Thomas Friedman, in his article titled “Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring, At Last.”
As the Saudi authorities have now admitted that Jamal Khashoggi was actually murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the question is no longer who killed Mr. Khashoggi or why. The answer to that question is becoming increasingly clear. In the same way, there is progressively less and less reason to wonder why Mikheil Saakashvili’s biggest political competitor, Zurab Zhvania, the second-most powerful man in Georgia at the time, “suffocated himself” by mishandling an Iranian-made gas oven in 2005. The real question is a different one. How could George Bush and Thomas Friedman, along with dozens of other Western leaders and tens of thousands of journalists, have so completely misunderstood bin Salman and Saakashvili? How could they have bought bin Salman’s story about Syrian president Assad as an embodiment of evil and “Iran’s puppet,” who was threatening poor Saudi Arabia, with its lavishly equipped military — the beneficiary of a national defense budget that is second only to America’s? And how could they buy Saakashvili’s never-ending narrative about Russia as an “aggressive crocodile” who wants to swallow his native Georgia? In short, how could the West believe these killers for so long?
Was this just an example of naiveté, due to the fact that bin Salman and Saakashvili had not always being been what they are today, but had suddenly changed for the worse over the course of their careers? Nope. Even before welcoming George W. Bush to Tbilisi in his sickeningly flattering way in 2005, Saakashvili had already detained the people who had been connected to the previous regime and extorted money from them. He had launched military attacks against Georgia’s “disobedient” provinces, much in the same way that Prince bin Salman detained his own relatives and in 2015 attacked the “rebellious” country of Yemen, treating that nation as some sort of rebellious province of Saudi Arabia. And George W. Bush, along with his successor Obama, continued to lionize Saakashvili, not only during Bush’s visit to Tbilisi, during which a street was renamed in honor of the American president in the Georgian capital, but even after Saakashvili’s disastrous attack against South Ossetia in 2008 and his short and dismal tenure as the governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region in 2015-2016.
The parallels between bin Salman and Saakashvili, as well as the West’s blind support for them, are so obvious, you don’t need to investigate or search through archives — all that information has been willingly broadcast and even somewhat propagandized by the mainstream media in the US and the EU. Both men prided themselves on acting outside the law, and the Western media swallowed their stories hook, line, and sinker, as long as it all fit the Western media’s beloved narrative of “young reformers vs. corrupt conservatives in a country undergoing the process of transition.”
When Saakashvili arrested his predecessor’s son-in-law Gia Jokhtaberidze and said that Jokhtaberidze would not be set free until he coughed up money to the tune of millions of dollars for the Georgian treasury, the Western media accepted this as a legitimate “bending of the rules,” given the corruption that Georgia was facing at the time. Saakashvili’s somewhat peculiar attitude to justice was excused, as long as this former New York City lawyer promised to move Jokhtaberidze’s money into Georgia’s state coffers, and not into his own pocket. At the time, the BBC affectionately quoted Saakashvili’s warning: “Don’t take bribes and don’t give jobs to your relatives.” He claimed that this was his “first advice” to his team (later many of this team’s members were found guilty on corruption charges for having made off with the biggest sums in Georgia’s history, but the BBC ignored that story). When Prince bin Salman did the same thing as Saakashvili, keeping the rich magnates of the previous regime in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh until they coughed up money to the tune of billions of dollars, the NYT’s Thomas Friedman was only too happy to oblige bin Salman by not only justifying this action, but seeing in it the long-awaited reform that would change “the tone and tenor of Islam across the globe.”
Now that this new tone and tenor has revealed itself in the audio recordings of Mr. Khashoggi’s interrogation, which the media is still awaiting from the Saudi and Turkish authorities, the question about the roots of Thomas Friedman’s blind trust is taking on not just an urgent, but almost a sinister tinge. Mr. Friedman should explain to himself and to the world why bin Salman found it so easy to “wear him out with a fire hose of ideas about transforming his country.”
Could something more than just ideas have been inside that fire hose? And when will the Western media stop pushing the “reform agenda” on other sovereign countries, instead of looking at their own countries’ aggressions, oppressions, and (as in the case of bin Salman and Saakashvili) disastrous delusions? These are the questions that the public “needs to know,” as the NYT’s authors love to put it when writing about Russiagate — the paper that employs the same writers who have just recently been selling us Mr. Mohammed bin Salman and Mr. Saakashvili as squeaky-clean, “young reformers.”