“Most of us have scruples about mingling with crooks,” says Max Hastings in Bloomberg. But “nations are different” – and with good reason. If our political leaders refused to deal with every dodgy prime minister or president around, global trade would “lurch to a halt”. That’s why the US hasn’t held Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to account over Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, and why western leaders turn a blind eye to Chinese atrocities in Xinjiang. It’s the same with arms sales in the Middle East. As one senior staffer at the Ministry of Defence put it: “We are creating out there the greatest junkyard of high technology the world has ever seen. It does no harm to anybody… it is the most efficient means yet identified of recycling petrodollars. What’s your beef?”
Many people view all this as an abhorrent abdication of responsibility – particularly in the US, where President Biden has backed off his pre-election promises to hold MBS to account. But where do you draw the line? The country that has carried out the most extrajudicial murders of its enemies abroad isn’t Saudi Arabia, or Russia, or any of the other usual suspects. It’s America’s big ally Israel. Remember, too, “all the Isis and Taliban leaders eliminated by US drones”. Geopolitics is a mess of “compromises” and “devil’s bargains”. Pretending it’s not does no one any favours.
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