The Corner


A Meaningful 20 Seconds

Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi at an event hosted by Middle East Monitor in London, September 29, 2018 ( Middle East Monitor via Reuters )

Day by day, it gets harder to cover up, or obfuscate, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi state. There is too much evidence (to say nothing of common sense). The administration may have to switch to a straightforward line: “They’re murderous bastards — sadists, tyrants — but the alliance is key to our interests.”

This view was expressed straightforwardly by Pat Robertson on his television show. “These people are key allies,” he said. “We’ve got an arms deal that everybody wanted a piece of. It’ll be a lot of jobs, a lot of money come to our coffers. It’s not something you want to blow up willy-nilly.”

With equal bluntness, he said, “You don’t blow up an international alliance over one person — I mean, I’m sorry.”

(To read about Robertson and this issue, go here.)

Last night, the Washington Post published Khashoggi’s final column: “What the Arab world needs most is free expression.”

I have been thinking about a remarkable pause — a pause of 20 seconds. I wrote about it last year. “It was one of the most amazing things I have seen in public life,” I said.

A State Department official was asked a question — a simple question, but one he was loath to answer. He paused for nearly 20 seconds, thinking — before delivering a non-answer.

Twenty seconds is an eternity of a pause.

The official was Stuart E. Jones, the acting assistant secretary for the Middle East. The question was essentially this: How can you criticize Iran for a lack of democracy when you’re standing right next to Saudi officials while doing so? Does the United States hold that democracy is a barrier against extremism?

Now, Jones is a smart and experienced man. But he couldn’t — or felt he couldn’t — tell the truth. I find the 20-second pause remarkably honest, in its way.

To read a news story about this episode, go here. To see it, on video, go here.

One part of me says this: If you’re going to be hypocritical in your foreign policy — democracy for Iran, good and necessary; democracy for Saudi Arabia, a different story — be unblushing about it, without hems, haws, obfuscations, excuses, and pauses.

In other words, Saudi Arabia without illusions. And the same with this horrifying world at large.


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