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The Khashoggi Files: As Case Builds Against Riyadh, What The Wikileaks Files Tell Us About History And Kingdom
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The Khashoggi Files: As Case Builds Against Riyadh, What The Wikileaks Files Tell Us About History And Kingdom

Emblem of Saudi Arabia

On October 11, nine days into the Khashoggi Affair, US Senator Bob Corker said “there is no question the Saudis did this,” according to a tweet by CNN’s Kaitlin Collins. The important US Republican joins a chorus of voices, particularly in the US, speaking out about Riyadh’s alleged role in the disappearance of the Saudi journalist in Istanbul. Congressmen have voiced concern and major administration officials, including Pompeo, Kushner and Bolton have called the crown prince.

Before The Disappearance: Kashoggi’s Own Words, The Arab Spring, The Brotherhood, And The Region

Details continue to emerge in media. Of particular, but largely overlooked, interest are the files at Wikileaks that paint a picture of the role of Khashoggi during the years before he became critical of crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman. I previously published a transcript of Khashoggi in his own words from an interview he gave earlier this year at the Oslo Freedom Forum. It explains his changing views on Riyadh’s policies during the Arab Spring.

These files, some of which are just copies of publications that were public but were then shared in various forums, now present a picture of him and his role and connections leading up to the Arab Spring.

October 13, 1988 Report on Osama Bin Laden

The report, written in all caps, was created in 1998 and labelled “secret.” What is interesting in this report is that it looks at Osama Bin Laden before 9/11. Khashoggi had interviewed and travelled with Bin Laden. He is quoted as an expert on the “Islamic movement.” It details how Bin Laden was turning against the US. This was after the August 1998 bombings of the United States Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and the embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. It describes what appears to be a network of finance for “jihad” and notes that Bin Laden was a romantic “Che Guevara” type figure in the region. The dispatch is signed “Fowler” which appears to be a reference to William Fowler, who was the Clinton administration’s United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1996 to 2001.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI, AN ISLAMIC MOVEMENT SPECIALIST FOR “AL-HAYAT” NEWSPAPER, TOLD US RECENTLY THAT USAMA’S SON ABDALLAH LIVES IN JEDDAH, BUT THERE IS NO EVIDENCE TO SUSPECT USAMA’S RELATIVES OF HAVING ANYTHING TO DO WITH TERRORISM.

ACCORDING TO JAMAL KHASHOGGI, AN ISLAMIC MOVEMENT SPECIALIST FOR “AL HAYAT” NEWSPAPER, FEW PEOPLE IN JEDDAH DISLIKE USAMA, AND SOME CONTINUE TO SUPPORT HIM BECAUSE THEY ARE FED UP WITH THE AMERICAN PRESENCE/POLICY IN THE REGION. KHASHOGGI SAID THAT MANY PEOPLE CONSIDER USAMA BIN LADIN AS THE “CHE GUEVARA” OF THE ARAB WORLD. HE SAID THAT SOME HOPE THAT USAMA WILL DIE IN BATTLE SO THAT PEOPLE WILL NOT HAVE TO SUFFER THE “HUMILIATION” OF SEEING HIM TRANSPORTED IN HANDCUFFS TO THE U.S.

FOR EXAMPLE, ACCORDING TO “AL-HAYAT” ISLAMIC MOVEMENT SPECIALIST JAMAL KHASHOGGI, JIHAD IS ONE OF THE LEGITIMATE USES FOR ZAKAT, THE MANDATORY ISLAMIC TAX. SAUDI GRAND MUFTI SHAYKH BIN BAZ HAS ISSUED A NUMBER OF FATWAS SAYING THAT ZAKAT CAN BE GIVEN IN FOR JIHAD IN A NUMBER OF COUNTRIES, MOST RECENTLY FOR EXAMPLE, TO SUPPORT THE “JIHAD” IN KASHMIR. BIN LADIN IS KNOWN TO HAVE LINKS WITH GROUPS IN KASHMIR.

December 1998: Jeddah the man who would be king

The report, signed by “Buck” is from Steve Buck, Consul General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (1996-1999). It sought to look at a variety of issues in the kingdom, especially the “jockeying for power” at the time. It quotes Khashoggi as a “political columnist” for Al-Hayat and described the Kingdom as facing challenges in the region. Riyadh is shown as seeking to “balance” the power of Israel. It was labelled “secret.”

(S) THE CROWN PRINCE, ACCORDING TO JAMAL AL- KHASHOGGI, POLITICAL COLUMNIST FOR AL-HAYAT NEWSPAPER, FACES A DAUNTING FOREIGN POLICY CHALLENGE IN THE MIDDLE EAST. THE KINGDOM CANNOT DEPEND ON SYRIA, AND IRAQ IS NOT A FRIEND: IT IS HARD TO BUILD A COALITION IN THE ARAB WORLD TO BALANCE THE POWER OF THE ISRAELIS AND THE U.S. THE CROWN PRINCE IS NOT HAPPY WITH THE CURRENT SITUATION IN THE ARAB WORLD: HE NEEDS STRONG NEIGHBORS, BUT EGYPT AND SAUDI ARABIA CANNOT FLY ALONE.

July 2005 Saudi intellectual condemns suicide bombing

Signed by “Sison” it appears to have been created by Michele Sison, US Ambassador to the UAE from 2004 to 2008. It examines reactions to “suicide bombings” and mentions an article by “Saudi intellectual” Khashoggi.

Written in all caps, Khashoggi is quoted from Al-Ittihad as arguing that the bombings represent an “intellectual and ethical crises” in Islam. He argues that these bombings are not the “answer” to what he sees as differences between “Muslims and the West.” It then quotes his article.

1. SUMMARY: SAUDI INTELLECTUAL JAMAL KHASHOGGI WROTE IN THE SEMI- OFFICIAL ARABIC DAILY “AL-ITTIHAD” THAT THE SUICIDE BOMBINGS REPRESENT THE LARGEST INTELLECTUAL AND ETHICAL CRISIS ENCOUNTERING ISLAM. HE ASSERTS THAT DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MUSLIMS AND THE WEST ARE EXPECTED TO CONTINUE, BUT RESORTING TO SUICIDE OPERATIONS IS NOT THE ANSWER. THIS ISN’T BECAUSE OF WHAT THE WEST WANTS, OR BECAUSE ARAB GOVERNMENTS ARE GETTING THEIR DUE, BUT SIMPLY BECAUSE SUCH OPERATIONS CONFLICT WITH THE SPIRIT OF ISLAM AND MANY MUSLIM AUTHORITIES HAVE ISSUED FATWAS IN THIS REGARD. END SUMMARY. 2. UNDER THE HEADLINE “SUICIDE OPERATIONS: THE LARGEST MORAL AND INTELLECTUAL CRISIS ENCOUNTERING ISLAM”, SAUDI INTELLECTUAL JAMAL KHASHOGGI, WROTE IN ABU DHABI-BASED ARABIC DAILY “AL-ITTIHAD” 7/19:(CIRCULATION 65,000)

February 2007 report on anti-semitism condemnation

In a short note looking at regional media, Khashoggi is mentioned accompanying kingdom ambassador to the US Turki al-Faisal where anti-semitism was condemned and the Holocaust described as “horrible.”

The Jerusalem Post reported that on Wednesday, Saudi diplomatic official Jamal Khashoggi, who accompanied Ambassador to the US Turki Al-Faisal to a Capitol Hill reception condemning anti-Semitism, told the newspaper that the Holocaust was a “horrible” episode.

July 2, 2007 Report growing pains of media

Signed by “Fraker” it appears to refer to Ford Fraker, US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2007-2009. It focuses on developments in media under King Abdullah, which the dispatch describes as significant. It describes the firing of Khashoggi, who was editing Al-Watan. He was fired for critiquing Ibn Tamiyya by discussing a “fatwa” that allowed for killing Muslims. Khashoggi was reacting to the 2003 attacks on “Western compounds” in Riyadh in which 39 were killed. The document refers to Prince Khaled Al-Faisal and Prince Bandar bin Khaled Al-Faisal who had hired Khashoggi. It also mentioned “Prince Turki Al-Faisal, then Saudi Ambassador to the UK and later Saudi Ambassador to the U.S” who hired Khashoggi.

Perhaps the most famous incident of the firing of a prominent editor for going over the red line, was the dismissal of Jamal Khashoggi, then editor-in-chief of Al-Watan, on May 27, 2003. Allegedly, the SAG had Khashoggi fired because Khashoggi had criticized thirteenth and fourteenth century Hanbali jurist and favorite of Wahhabis, Ibn Tamiyya. Khashoggi had blamed Ibn Tamiyya’s fatwa, that said it was permissible to kill Muslims if they stood in the way of killing infidels, for encouraging extremism and terrorism. At that time, Khashoggi was reacting to the 2003 bombings of three Western compounds in Riyadh. By the time of his firing Khashoggi had made many powerful enemies through his comments, notably the CPVPV, religious leaders, and conservatives. However, in April 2007, Al-Watan, owned by then Asir Provinicial Governor Prince Khaled Al-Faisal and operated by Prince Bandar bin Khaled Al-Faisal, re-hired Khashoggi. Upon his return, Khashoggi said that he felt encouraged by the changes in Saudi media, but that he knows his limits. Khashoggi said that Saudi media is more open compared to 2003, that the environment is healthy now, and that most things that were once controversial are now being debated by every Saudi paper. (NOTE: No sooner had one branch of the Al-Faisal family fired Khashoggi than another branch, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, then Saudi Ambassador to the UK and later Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., hired Khashoggi as an advisor. END NOTE).

July 12, 2009 Khashoogi speaks to US officials

A file marked “Saudi editor laments Muslim insensitivity to violence’ describes a meeting with the journalist. He is labelled as “strictly protect” and the article notes that Khashoggi was once a “Muslim Brother in his youth.” It notes he was chosen to interview US President Barack Obama. It noted that Khashoggi was fired in 2003 for being too critical of the religious establishment. He wasn’t back at his post until 2007. It also noted that Prince Nayef had critiqued Al-Watan. Nayef died in 2012.

The article notes Khashoggi’s views on why Al Qaeda was once more popular and how the Muslim Brotherhood became more influential in the kingdom. He discusses the need to have a closed door conference to confront violence in the Islamic world. He is also described as having keen awareness of limits on freedom of the press and his own stances.

(C) Khashoggi (strictly protect) talked at length about the relationship between the conservatives and religious factions in Saudi Arabia. (Note: Khashoggi, now known as a reformer, was a Muslim Brother in his youth. Today he is a leading voice for reform. Khashoggi was among the Arab journalists chosen to interview President Obama following his June 4 speech in Cairo. End note.) He noted that his paper Al-Watan criticizes the religious establishment but held that the extent to which they do so is often exaggerated while their intent is often misunderstood. “We might run an article about secularism but that shouldn’t be confused with our promoting it, however; it is usually interpreted that way,” he said.

Al-Watan has had a tendentious relationship with the country’s religious establishment. Khashoggi was fired by Minister of Interior Prince Nayif Bin Abdul-Aziz in 2003 for printing articles that were critical of the religious authorities; however, he was reinstated as Editor-in-Chief in 2007. Since then, he has been called in by the authorities from time to time for having pushed the envelope too far, and Prince Nayif recently attacked Al-Watan for not being objective or accurate. Khashoggi said Nayif’s comments were “unnecessary and have caused damage to the paper.” On the other hand, the caliber of Al-Watan’s journalistic staff was a mixed bag, which meant they sometimes left him very exposed and without a good defense when highly inaccurate stories were published without well-sourced, confirmed information.

10 Questions About The Disappearance Of Khashoggi, The Case Deepens

4. (C) Khashoggi pointed out that Saudi society had not always been so conservative. Political leaders, he said, used religion and fear to manipulate the population and gain power. The arrival of members of the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt and the subsequent emergence of the Sahwa (awakening) movement caused many in Saudi Arabia to begin to see God as a “punisher” rather than “God the merciful and compassionate,” despite the fact that Muslim prayer begins with these words. Over time, this changed concept of God resulted in a shift in both behavior and attitudes. “Books about the hereafter flooded Saudi Arabia and many girls who had not veiled before began to do so because they were afraid of God,s wrath,” he said. 5. (C) Today, however, Khashoggi opined that the power of the religious establishment was often exaggerated and that, in reality, it had become a burden on Saudi Arabia that drained government resources without providing “any fresh ideas that can help solve the problems the country faces.” In Khashoggi’s view, it was the young Western-educated professionals who have been instrumental in finding solutions to the country’s problems, not the Ulema. Significantly, the middle class professional elements of society were rising as the religious establishment was declining.

(C) In response to Charge’s inquiries about Saudi textbooks Khashoggi acknowledged that major deficiencies exist. The problem, however, was not simply with books, but teachers as well. He recalled a question that was printed in a textbook: “How can you identify a woman who can breed more children?” Hoping to demonstrate the absurdity of the question, Khashoggi printed it in Al-Watan and solicited answers from educational and medical professionals. Of course no one could provide a reasonable answer. 7. (C) Khashoggi said he would continue to use his paper to highlight flaws in Saudi schools, which promoted the uncritical view that Islam was under siege and the subject of

(C) Khashoggi described Saudi perceptions of Al-Qaeda as “complicated”, noting that Saudis become upset if a terrorist group attacks the Kingdom but seem not to mind if there is an attack on the U.S. He appeared troubled as he discussed his sense that the majority of Saudis are not bothered by violence in the Muslim world. “The brutality in Iraq and Pakistan is not moving us,” he lamented, “but if a cartoonist at the Baltimore Sun depicted the Prophet in one of his cartoons, it would cause an uproar.” Asked by Charge to describe why he thought this was the case, Khashoggi answered that “the circle of violence has grown and Saudis indulge in it.” 9. (C) Khashoggi went on to discuss the advent of suicide bombings, arguing that such attacks, which he characterized as “undoubtedly haram (forbidden) in Islam,” were not used in Afghanistan, Algeria and not even in Palestine until the 1990,s. He recalled telling a Saudi religious scholar that it was necessary for them to issue a strong fatwa against suicide bombing. “The scholar,” he said, “listened but was not very interested. It didn’t move him. I guess we are waiting for someone to go inside of the Grand Mosque and blow himself up.” Khashoggi concluded that the Saudis should call for a closed-door conference to handle this problem. Doing so, he said, “would serve the U.S. interest in stopping terrorism and would serve Saudi interests by saving Islam.” COMMENT ——- 10. (C) As a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood in his youth, Khashoggi is well-placed to evaluate the extent of the religious establishment’s influence. These days Khashoggi finds himself the target of occasional royal ire over articles published in Al-Watan, considered by many as the most pro-reform daily in Saudi Arabia. Rumors recently circulated that he had again run afoul of Prince Nayif’s red lines. The rumors proved untrue, with Khashoggi returning from vacation to arrange a photo op with Nayif to put the rumors to rest. That he felt the need to do so, however, demonstrates his keen awareness of the limits within which he must operate.

October 28, 2009 Saudi succession

Signed by James Smith, ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2009-2013, it mentions Khashoggi as editor in chief of Al-Watan and places the word “protect” next to his name. This is an unclear designation, although it might mean “protect his identity” as a source. Khashoggi was discussing new leadership and lack of clarity as to who would come to power. “It is not clear, even to Saudis themselves, how the jump to the next generation will be managed,” the dispatch notes. It describes the next leader as likely pro-Western. “Nearly all shared a common experience of having studied in, and therefore being favorably disposed towards, the United States.” Khashoggi also noted the economic challenges ahead and the need for “stability in Saudi Arabia.”

C) Al-Watan Editor-in-chief Jamal Khashoggi (protect) recently characterized Saudi Arabia as “a country in transition,” facing many questions regarding its future. It was clear, he posited, that in ten years, there would be a new leader from the “new generation” of princes. What was so unsettling, he explained, was that “no one knows who this will be.” Certainly the issue of succession in Saudi Arabia has given rise to an industry of royal-watchers and prognosticators. And certainly too, the appointment of Interior Minister Prince Nayif as Second Deputy Prime Minister in March 2009 and which positions him as a possible Crown Prince-in-waiting has not settled questions about the future. The King is 86, 84-year-old Crown Prince Sultan has been incapacitated by colon cancer, Nayif is 75 and has had his own health problems, and the youngest of the sons of Abdulaziz, Prince Muqrin, is 64. It is not clear, even to Saudis themselves, how the jump to the next generation will be managed, except that the King decreed procedures to decide succession with the 2006 promulgation of the Allegiance Commission Law. This message explains Embassy Riyadh’ss understanding of the mechanism intended to ensure a smooth transfer of power from one generation of the ruling family to the next.

Al Saud’s unique, opaque, and tribal rules for consensus building. The process has been historically impervious to outside interference. If history is any guide, the candidate who emerges will be able to count on the support of his brethren, and his first priority will be consolidating his position to ensure continuation of Al Saud rule. Beyond that, like all of his predecessors, he will seek to protect Saudi interests through his Kingdom’s critical partnership with the United States. In fact, the “new” generation of princes may be more inclined to do so than the current one. Speculating on candidates for future King among the grandsons of Abdulaziz,

Jamal Khashoggi remarked that whatever the differences among them, nearly all shared a common experience of having studied in, and therefore being favorably disposed towards, the United States. Given U.S. equities in Saudi Arabia, our primary concern in the short term will be supporting a process that ensures stability and broad engagement rather than focusing on individual leaders. Over the longer term, stability in Saudi Arabia will depend on the Al Saud’s ability to meet and surmount social and economic challenges presented by a growing population and a dangerous neighborhood.

October 7, 2009 Saudi fires cleric

Signed by Ambassador Smith, the document describes Khashoggi as editor of Al-Watan and an article he wrote on King Abdullah firing a cleric. The cleric’s comments apparently gave an opening to Al Qaeda. Khashoggi noted “even he had qualms about coed education.” It also mentions activist Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani who would subsequently be charged over his human rights activism in 2012.

Most prominent among them was Al-Watan Editor-in-chief Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote that Al-Shithri owed his position to King Abdullah and therefore should not publicly speak against the King’s university. Khashoggi fulminated that such statements were “what Al-Qaida awaits as a pretext and justification for its actions.” Other articles took issue with Al-Shithri’s view of gender mixing.

Jamal Khashoggi (protect) told a group of Mission officers that Al-Watan would play the controversy down, acknowledging that even he had qualms about coed education. One female reader wrote on Al-Watan’s website that the country was “plagued by two groups of extremists. The first are those who seek to deny the country knowledge, advancement and openness. The second wish to bring in corruption and excessive openness. They both represent a danger to religion, science as advancement.” Popular blogspot “Saudi Jeans” commented that decision makers and the media “will tow the king’s line” to “gain political capital” and “to retain their positions as confidantes and power brokers.” The blogspot pointed out that both the religious establishment and the media used the king’s official backing against each other: liberals by claiming to have the King’s support and pointing to conservatives as being in the way of reform and development; conservatives by claiming to have the support of the King and accusing reformers of destroying the fundamental religious principles of their country. Human Rights Activist Mohammad Al-Qahtani (protect) opined that the firing punished Sheikh Al-Shithri for doing his job as a religious scholar (i.e., giving his opinion), which only served to further limit freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia.

(C) Khashoggi (protect) remarked that the visceral opposition to gender-mixing was rooted in ancient concepts of tribal honor. The conservative clerics feared that secularization would result in a loss of identity and influence. “It’s a logical fear,” he concluded, “in this they are right.” It is a debate that has been waged across centuries, and it is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. SMITH

A 2011 short bio for a talk Khashoggi gave

In 2011 he was described as close to Prince Turki al-Faisal. Faisal as head of general intelligence had described the detention of four Saudi princes in Europe in October 2017.

“JAMAL KHASHOGGI (SAUDI ARABIA): Representing Saudi Arabia, Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist and author. He is general manager and editor-in-chief of AlArab News Channel. Mr. Khashoggi has kindly traveled to Istanbul last minute to serve as a replacement for Nawaf Obeid, an advisor to Saudi Prince Turki al Faisal.“

A 2011 article.

‘Democracy Is the Only Solution’

The document quotes a 2011 article in Der Spiegel. It is interesting because it discusses Prince Waleed Bin Talal. Talal was one of those detained by Mohammed Bin Salman in November 2017. It mentions Khashoggi’s views towards Bin Laden in 1990s.

Jamal Khashoggi sits in his office in the Kingdom Tower, 300 meters (about
1,000 feet) above a city that stretches to a hazy horizon. “The absolute
monarchy is obsolete,” says Khashoggi. “Democracy is the only solution.”
Others in Saudi Arabia would be interrogated and locked up for such words.

Khashoggi, one of the country’s most outspoken intellectuals, is wearing a
snow-white shirt that reaches to the floor, known as the thaub, and a
black cord keeps his head scarf in place. It’s the standard work attire of
Saudi Arabian businessmen.

The former reporter was a good friend of former Al-Qaida leader Osama bin
Laden, whom he knew as a young man in the 1980s, during the war in
Afghanistan. He often visited him in the caves of Tora Bora and most
recently met him in Sudan in 1995.

At the same time, Khashoggi is seen as one of the most progressive
thinkers in the country. He is building a television network modeled after
Al-Jazeera for Prince Waleed Bin Talal, a billionaire and a reformer
within the royal family.

Saudi Arabia is a land of contradictions. Some of the things that are
thought and expressed there would sound absurd, even outrageous, if voiced
in the West. To this day, many in Saudi Arabia believe that bin Laden did
not attack the Twin Towers in New York. “Of course it was him,” says
Khashoggi.

He confesses that he had long shared bin Laden’s view that there are only
two ways to liberate the Arab world of its corrupt regimes: by
infiltrating the political system through its institutions, or by
violently overthrowing the depraved ruling cliques. Democracy “was not an
option at the time,” says Khashoggi.

David Ignatius wrote in January 2011 at the Washington Post, when Khashoggi attended Davos.

This article looks at Khashoggi’s embrace of the Arab spring and his feeling the US was losing its influence in the region.

“I think it’s overdue,” says Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who
runs the Alwaleed 24-hour news channel, speaking about the street
protests in Egypt. “There were reasons for people to get angry 10 years
ago, 20 years ago, and now it is here.” Indeed, he says, “the Arab world
has been seeking renaissance for the last hundred years” but has stalled
the last several generations, caught between fear of authoritarian
regimes and anger at their corruption.

It’s an easy revolution to like, and U.S. officials have wisely endorsed
the protesters’ goals of openness and reform. But in truth, there’s
little America could do to bolster the octogenarian Egyptian President
Hosni Mubarak, even if it wanted to. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
may endorse reform, as she did Wednesday, but this is a post-American
revolution, encouraged in part by a recognition of the limits of U.S.
power.

August 2012 a report at Reuters

The article is interesting for stressing the kingsom’s “pragmatism” in foreign policy. Khashoogi would go on to argue that the kingdom drifted from that after 2015.

The king “had sought to avoid this dramatic moment of change in the Arab world, even pleading with their American friends to save the Egyptian despot’s regime,” Reuters notes.

Driven by its customary pragmatism – and the need to keep Egypt on its side in the multiple crises facing the region – Saudi Arabia appears to be coming to terms with the new realities. “Whoever is the Egyptian president, [the Saudis] know they have to deal with Egypt and have good relations with Egypt,” says Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi commentator. “Saudi Arabia is totally pragmatic.”

Conclusion

The diplomatic dispatches show the development of Khashoggi’s thinking and his relationship with western diplomats, Saudi royals, the Muslim Brotherhood, Bin Laden and the West. They paint the picture of a man who believed the kingdom should be pragmatic but also seek to lead the region during the Arab Spring. He was an early supporter and expressed sympathy for protests in Egypt in January 2011. He also was concerned about Al Qaeda’s violence and the support it received in the kingdom. His embrace of “reform” was unclear because he was still very conservative.

It shows how he was both an advisor to the state’s leaders and also a pioneer in media at home. He is depicted as a keen observer of what freedoms media might receive in the kingdom. The articles are important for showing how he developed relationships with the US through each ambassador. He was a go-to voice for understanding Saudi Arabia.

Given his subsequent leaving of the kingdom as he was ordered to stop his critique in 2017, it is unclear why he decided not to just be pragmatic again.

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