Dumb dictatorships and the assassinations of Orlando Letelier and Jamal Khashoggi

Likewise for the recent likely murder of Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who Turkey says was tortured and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a large Saudi security team. As with Letelier and assassinated Russian dissidents, Khashoggi’s demise almost certainly was countenanced if not ordered from the top.

Khashoggi’s occasional Washington Post columns posed no real threat to the Saudi monarchy’s over 70 year relationship with America. His apparent murder was a typical paranoid overreaction by an authoritarian regime that’s both all powerful and insecure. Saudi-USA strategic partnership will continue as mutual interests require. But the Khashoggi horror will remain as a permanent stain on democratic America’s perceptions of Saudi authoritarian repression.

Constitutional democracy is exasperating but it politically applies Christian understanding about human sin and frailty. All persons, if powerful and unaccountable, can become monstrous. And monstrous potentates in their egotism and isolation are often very dumb. Democracy, in its reliance on laws instead of persons, offers safeguards against monstrosity and stupidity.