• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Compounding Incompetence

October 2018


Like interest earned on an investment, so too does incompetence have a tendency to compound. In the case of the former, the happy, idle coin finds itself put to work in the whirlwind of the market. There, it will respond to the strange menagerie of the financial zoo—to humans, bulls, and bears. Such an adventurous little investment, bursting at its outset with honest cupidity and boundless hope, it will inject itself into the excited tide of stock and trade and bond and gain. The expectation is that its profits will accumulate to ever greater heights, if only given the time.


Yet the passage of time serves not only to increase financial boons and enticing returns, but to augment government follies as well. What can be said of the market, then, can be said of the state. As interest, with any luck, is compounded for an investor over the course of days and weeks, so too can be the incompetence of the administration of a state.


Saudi Arabia, much to the capitalist’s and the humanitarian’s shared concern, has revealed itself to be such an incompetent state—and the incompetence (and oddly, the investments) continue their increase by the day. It’s proven to be a government under whose unimaginably wealthy, albeit ineluctably bungling leadership not only investments, but incompetence compounds before our eyes. More than that, the two (affluence and ineptness) openly co-exist and perhaps even complement each other as well.


The latest, and most egregious evidence of this compounding incompetence and its painful effects came yesterday, a good three weeks after reports were first leaked about Jamal Khashoggi’s death.


A recent American resident and constant Saudi dissident, Khashoggi was an opinion columnist for the Washington Post. Rarely genial toward, often polemical against, and always critical of his native land, the sixty-year-old Khashoggi was one of few Arabian writers who dared shine a light on the dark and inveterate shortcomings of the Saudi regime.


To call them “shortcomings”, though, would be to put too lightly this government’s innumerable and inhumane flaws. In the past few years, it has proceeded, seldom with subtlety, to transgress liberty and modernity in the following ways: it has repressed the rights of female activists in its streets, imprisoned political adversaries in its cities, misallocated essential funds for the wretched people in its hamlets, and exacerbated a senseless war in Yemen. Indeed, in the mind of an American, its only redeeming quality is its hostility toward Iran (yet one must ask if truly Saudi Arabia is redeemed by the simple fact that it shares an enemy with us).


Khashoggi, unlike any other writer this side of Medina, has been a lone and intrepid voice in making known these blatant failures and crimes. Risking his name and eventually his life in the state in which he was born, Khashoggi sallied forth in an attempt to criticize his nation, his prince, his king. He spoke at length about their endless peculations, their brazen affronts, their ugly repressions, their specious progress, their ill-gotten gains, their ill-distributed wealth, their myopia, their kleptomania, and everything else they’ve done accomplished to do wrong. Only so many sins can be buried in a ground where petroleum swims, and Khashoggi realized that his home was drowning.


For his efforts or rather his effrontery, Khashoggi was killed by order of the Crown Prince Mohamad bin Salman. To do his royal bidding, the now playfully, now frighteningly named Notorious “MBS” sent to Istanbul a cadre of his Medieval hitmen and thugs. Once there, numbering fifteen, they posed as administrative officials, as if to receive Khashoggi and deliver to him the marriage license he sought.


By the time the day was through, neither a wedding bell nor a funeral dirge was to be heard. Silence, rather, and a cover-up was tuned to pitch. Once in their grasp, Khashoggi was gruesomely murdered by the dedicated troop. Probably, so that they might avoid detection, they proceeded to suffocate, murder, dismember, and perhaps even eviscerate their former countryman right there in the consulate room. Remarkably, it seems to be the case that they left nary a drop of blood that might’ve stained them with the imprint of their sanguinary crime.


The execution—of both plan and man—was successful (if not horrifyingly sinister) and, at least at first glance, was done competently so. The men and the Prince appeared ready to wash themselves of their crime and move on to the next. However, the sweet scent of a bloody and long-sought victory lasted only a brief while. Not long after his pre-mature death, when it was realized by the world that Khashoggi had been forcibly extinguished of life, the Saudis’ competence was exhausted as well.


Tarrying to acknowledge his disappearance, the regime dragged its feet before claiming that Khashoggi had in fact left the consulate unharmed. No video evidence could corroborate this unimaginative claim, so the regime had to try another. It attempted next to say that Khashoggi, upon entering the consulate, provoked a fight with those who were present. Not sensing the disproportion of his odds (being one man against fifteen), Khashoggi wasn’t likely to prevail. Nor did he—that much is that which we can all agree on. Lamentably, it claimed, in the brawl that ensued, Khashoggi had been inadvertently killed. Alas, in a tussle of self-defense, the nettling journalist had been accidentally, fortuitously killed.


Credulity was, at this point, beginning to be stretched rather far, but still it had a way to go. A few days after this remark, a video emerged of a “Khashoggi-clad” body double exiting the consulate and traipsing about the Turkish streets. This slightly disheveled, lightly bearded, audaciously morbid middle-aged man (since identified by Turkish officials as Mustafa al-Madani) wore the same blazer and slacks that Khashoggi donned but a few hours ago. He, not the original but the subsequent Khashoggi, made certain upon leaving the consulate to have himself captured on the street cameras above in full view. To add to the conspicuity, he engaged various passers-by in conversation and did a bit of shopping as well. The only problem was that he didn’t outfit himself in Khashoggi’s garb from head to heel: inconsistent with the dead man’s dress, al-Madani kept on his own pair of shoes—white on their bottoms, rather than the dead man’s darkened leather soles. Is this waddling henchman really to blame for such a small, sartorial blunder? I think not. A cover-up, after all, can only bear so much weight before it begins straining the arches of the feet upon which it rests.


Discovered to have flimsy doppelgangers and empty alibis and pressured by the onslaught of the truth, the regime was made to admit that indeed, Khashoggi was dead. Worse still, his was not a natural end. His murder was pre-mediated from the start. Yet even after having admitted so much, the regime refused to take that final and obvious next step; it maintained with an obstinacy that only a monarchy can enjoy that the planning and the execution didn’t come from on high. It was, the Saudi regime claimed, the lurid work of a rogue and murderous group unaffiliated with the crown. This was MBS’s (and his publicists’) last attempt to exculpate themselves from a world of disrepute. (The American president, no enemy of conspiracy himself, saw in this explanation a potential, if not fully credible glimmer of truth).


This, however, has also been debunked. The fiasco was a combination of ghoulish pre-mediation and monarchical decree—a marriage of malice aforethought and palace intrigue.

But the incompetence didn’t stop there. Sensing the ripened moment for a coerced photo-op, the Saudi Crown Prince MBS invited to his home the now fatherless son of Jamal Khashoggi. Under visible duress, the adult-aged Salah Khashoggi was captured on camera hesitantly shaking the dear leader’s hand. Clearly this was no voluntary act; Salah has been on Saudi Arabian “house arrest” for the better part of a year. Fettered by his father’s sins, the younger Khashoggi was considered by the government to be a potential threat, if not an outright enemy of the state. As a consequence, Salah was barred from taking his leave from the country and seeking shelter somewhere, anywhere far afield. After another round of international backlash to this disgusting sight, he was given permission at last to depart from that repressive state and seek pastures and, in them, protection abroad. He’s since arrived, physically unscathed but surely emotionally bruised in the America where his late father once lived.


And this leads us back to the confluence of investment and incompetence, as the two can’t help but be intertwined. Saudi Arabia is the epitome of both; its investments are delicious and enticing, its incompetence nauseating and gross. Its sovereign wealth fund is prodigious—its scruples, exiguous. Even as it has bungled every step in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s death, the Saudis expect to push forward with their many and valuable business contracts (which reach, quite literally, from one edge of the globe to the next). In the final tally, on the yearly prospectus, their incompetence and their murders continue to compound, but so too does their and our money. Sure, the morals and the man may die, but the coin will forever live. So goes the investment, so follows the incompetence.

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