Foreign Policy Digital

How to Get Away With Murder (Saudi Edition)

A primer on Riyadh’s denials, excuses, rationalizations, spin, and other acts of sophistry about the death of Jamal Khashoggi.

Governments sometimes do bad things. Sometimes they do really bad things. When those bad things get exposed, they invariably try to minimize the negative consequences by offering up a cloud of denials, excuses, rationalizations, spin, and other acts of sophistry. I’ve written about this phenomenon before, in my “Defending the Indefensible: A How-To Guide” and “How to Justify Any Policy, No Matter How Bad It Might Be.” The first is a list of 21 steps that can make a bad act seem acceptable; the second boils the list down to a mere 10.

Recent events suggest that now is an opportune time to revisit the list. Specifically, to what extent does Saudi Arabia’s (and to a somewhat lesser extent, the Trump administration’s) response to the killing of the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi fit the blueprint I sketched out in these earlier pieces? I doubt anybody in either government read either article; most politicians (and especially a congenital liar such as President Donald Trump) need no lessons from me on how to whitewash bad behavior. Nonetheless, it’s striking how closely their behavior conforms to the techniques I described a few years ago.

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