Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, for documents related to his marriage on Oct. 2nd. He never came back out.
Khashoggi was a columnist for The Washington Post who had been critical of Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, so many were concerned that something terrible had happened.
At first, the Saudis denied anything had happened, and that Khashoggi had left. However, reports suggest that he had been killed inside and dismembered so that the body could be smuggled out, according to a Turkish government newspaper.
After a few days, the Saudis backtracked, admitting that Khashoggi had died, but they maintained that he died in a fist fight, according to a report by Saudi state run news. In the face of all of the evidence and reports that are publicly available at this time, such an explanation rings hollow.
The Washington Post later reported that the Saudi government, “is preparing to say Jamal Khashoggi died during an interrogation that went wrong.”
This has set off an international crisis, especially around the United States alliance with Saudi Arabia. It does beg the question of if we should be aligning ourselves with regimes with such horrible human rights records. Even if we were to assume that somehow the Saudi explanation for Khashoggi’s death was accurate and no foul play was at hand, it’s not an invalid question.
In Saudi Arabia, crimes such as witchcraft, apostasy and adultery are all punishable by death. In their absolute theocratic monarchy, crucification is still used as a punishment, according to BBC News and the Jerusalem Post.
Handmaid’s Tale comparisons are a dreadfully overused cliché in the current domestic political environment, but in the case of the Saudis it could legitimately be warranted. Even ignoring the domestic abuses, the proxy war against Iran that the Saudis are fighting in Yemen is having a terrible human cost.
And despite all that, there are compelling reasons not to throw out the alliance altogether.
Firstly, as horrible as the current regime is, it is still likely better than whatever might overthrow it. We’ve seen that pattern everywhere from Iraq to Libya, and there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t hold true here.
Secondly, the Saudis are a key U.S. ally and they dislike the Iranians as much as we do. To completely end the relationship over this would be to cut off our nose to spite our face.
Thirdly, what other alternatives are there?
Not to discount the awful reality of what happened to Khashoggi, but I believe it is not as though such an action would have been below what most other countries in the Middle East would have done, and in fact have done.
Egypt’s government is a military dictatorship that overthrew a democratically elected party. Turkey has more imprisoned journalists than any other country in the world. Syria is in a horrific civil war that has seen the government use chemical weapons against its own people. The Iranian ayatollahs are quite open about their desire to see America destroyed, according to a USA Today article.
In other words, we cannot view Saudi Arabia in a vacuum. If we are to have any allies at all in the region, we’re going to have to overlook some pretty bad behavior.
This is not to say that we should do nothing about Khashoggi’s murder. In fact, we should do the opposite.
What is most inexplicable about this whole affair is not that the Saudis would murder someone, but that they thought they could do it in plain sight and get away with it. I would expect that kind of behavior from our enemies, such as North Korea. But Saudi Arabia is a U.S. ally, and the fact that they would kill an American lawful permanent resident in such a way shows a major lack of respect. At the end of the day, this alliance is and should be led by America.
So, we can and should punish this action in some way. We can impose economic sanctions, including slowing or halting the sale of arms, until the Saudis enact some political reforms.
We can make it so none of the people alleged to have been involved with the killing can set foot in a western country without being arrested. All of that can and should be done. But we shouldn’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.
Alliances take time to build, and we should be careful about nullifying them if not absolutely necessary.