That changed with the strategic interest in Afghanistan’s Cold War fight against the then-Soviet Union, prompting former National Security Council counterterrorism advisor Richard Clarke to observe, “If we had just left Afghanistan alone, in 20/20 hindsight, I think things might have been better in the long run.”
All that background is useful in understanding Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who had interviewed Osama bin Laden when he was battling the Soviet invasion and who earnestly yearned for reforms and greater freedom in the region.
Director Rick Rowley gives voice to Khashoggi’s writings by having an actor read them, and documents the way that the US business community embraced Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a reformer while “drooling” over his billions, instilling a “sense of impunity” that allowed Khashoggi’s death to happen.
“Kingdom of Silence” also includes former diplomat David Rundell, a former US diplomat and expert on Saudi Arabia who maintains that the grisly killing of the Washington Post contributor by operatives dispatched to Turkey isn’t reason enough to imperil US interests there. It’s the perfect encapsulation of decades of American policy, where support for democratic impulses has frequently run afoul of financial incentives and pragmatism.
“I do my best to just be a journalist, and not become a revolutionary,” Khashoggi said, providing the documentary’s title by saying of advocacy for change in Saudi Arabia, “We are the kingdom of silence no longer.”
As “Kingdom of Silence” makes clear, the aftermath of Khashoggi’s death reflects that in dealings with Saudi Arabia, the golden rule still appears to apply, as in he who has the gold, and the oil, gets to make the rules.