The Khashoggi Response Should Be Limited
Jamal Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist turned dissident. He fled Saudi Arabia in 2017 and took up residence in the United States. He began writing for The Washington Post. On Oct. 2, 2018, at the age of 59, Khashoggi went to the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul with his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.
Cengiz waited outside the consulate while Khashoggi went in to get paperwork showing he had properly divorced his previous wife. Khashoggi never returned. The Turkish government says the Saudi government murdered him. More precisely, the Turks claim that while he was still alive, Khashoggi was dragged on top of a table, held down and dismembered. Now there is speculation that the Saudis dissolved his body in acid afterward.
American media outlets have run breathless reports based on sources in Turkey who claim there is audio. Some have claimed that Khashoggi was transmitting audio via an Apple Watch. The Turks have provided very detailed descriptions of the audio. According to them, Saudi Consul Mohammed al-Otaibi objected to the dismemberment’s being done in his office and was threatened by the Saudi agents. The Turks also claim that a doctor brought in to perform the dismemberment advised the Saudi agents to listen to music during the process.
Though we have these very specific details, as of this writing the actual audio has not been released. If the Turks are to be believed, there was a level of premeditation in this murder. Fifteen men, including a doctor, arrived in Turkey for this purpose. Some say the reason for murdering Khashoggi was that he was so well-connected within the royal and political establishment in Saudi Arabia. He knew things. So, these people speculate, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had him killed.
There are a few things that should be noted in all of this, and these are things not really getting much coverage.
First, if Khashoggi had not been a writer for The Washington Post, it is doubtful the American media would be giving this as much coverage as they are. All Americans are, every year, subjected to wall-to-wall press coverage of rainstorms and snowstorms in New York and Washington because the media fixate on themselves. Though no one should downplay or excuse what has happened in this case, we should also be mindful that the coverage is as great as it is because of whom Khashoggi worked for.
Second, assuming the Saudis did kill Khashoggi, the United States should take action to deter this behavior in the future. If the United States were not to deal with this situation, it would set a dangerous precedent for other nations to treat members of our media and other American interests badly. We must respond.
Third, our response should be measured against our strategic alliance with the Saudi Arabian regime. We are in a period of increased global tensions, and both Russia and China would undoubtedly love for Saudi Arabia to shift its loyalty. The cold and cruel fact is that we all love to say the United States should not deal with bad actors. But the truth is that every nation does, and if Saudi Arabia is not our ally, it will be someone else’s ally. Any response must be measured along two lines — a line of deterrence from it happening again and a line of alliance that we wish to keep.
Lastly, it is undoubtedly true that there are many foreign and domestic people and institutions screaming loudly about this situation because they want to undermine the Saudi Arabian alliance with the United States. One must not forget that the prior administration gladly and willingly began disrupting the alliance via the Iranian nuclear deal. Many of the loudest voices against Saudi Arabia now are the voices most bitter about President Trump’s scrapping that deal.
What the Saudi regime did was awful. The United States must take action. But we should be mindful that the loudest voices against Saudi Arabia have ulterior motives and that we would be better off if Saudi Arabia remained our ally in the Middle East.
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