Security and Foreign Policy

The Khashoggi Murder and Repercussions for Saudi Arabia, Or Lack Thereof

Jamal Khashoggi's brutal murder has shed light on another nefarious aspect of Saudi Arabia's policies. Amir Dehghan looks at the repercussions that Saudi Arabia might face.


On October 2, 2018, journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi visited the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to obtain marriage documents, while his fiancé was waiting outside. After he failed to reappear from the consulate, his fiancé got worried and notified the authorities. Khashoggi previously served as an adviser to Saudi officials. He had become critical of Saudi Arabia’s new Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) and decided to move to the United States in 2017 in a self-imposed exile. While living in the United States, Khashoggi became a contributor to the Washington Post and a loud critic of MBS. In his columns, he urged MBS to tolerate dissent and criticism.

A few days after his disappearance, Turkish authorities announced that Khashoggi was most likely killed in the consulate. Now, days have passed and the world is starting to learn gruesome details about what happened to Khashoggi. Details have emerged that a 15-man hit squad, with few of them in MBS’ inner circle, traveled from Riyadh to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi. He is believed to have been tortured and dismembered with a bone saw. The Turkish government claims to have an audio of the murder being carried out, but has not released it to the public yet. According to American intelligence intercepts, the Saudis were eager to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and detain him.

So how has the Trump administration responded to the disappearance and likely murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident?

President Trump has responded by saying that Khashoggi was not an American citizen and that it would be foolish to halt the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, which he views as strong for the American economy. As the outrage started to grow, Trump sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to get the facts of what happened to Khashoggi. Shamefully, Pompeo was photographed smiling and grinning with MBS, as if nothing had happened. Before he departed Riyadh, Pompeo was asked about Khashoggi’s fate. Pompeo responded, “I don’t want to talk about any of the facts. They didn’t want to either; in that they want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way.”

Unfortunately, it seems as if the Trump administration views the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia as transactional. But it is not too late for the Trump administration to reverse course. At the same time, Congress and the global community should step in and make clear to the Saudis that their treatment of Khashoggi will not go unanswered.

In light of all of this, investors and business executives have already begun boycotting Saudi Arabia. Since Khashoggi’s disappearance, several companies and business leaders have pulled out of the Future Investment Initiative (FII), also known as “Davos in the Desert”, which is scheduled to take place in Riyadh later this month. Some of the big names that have pulled out of the conference include IMF Director Christine Lagarde, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish, AOL co-founder Steve Case, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, HSBC CEO John Flint, and MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga. In addition, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Economist, CNN, CNBC, the Financial Times, and Bloomberg News have announced that they have pulled out as media sponsors. As of this writing, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also announced that he would not attend the investment conference. Furthermore, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson announced that he is canceling his investment projects in Saudi Arabia. The corporate and financial world is reacting strongly to the latest in Saudi Arabia’s string of misdeeds.

Even though the Trump administration will not halt the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, Congress has the will and the means to do so. The Saudis continue to use American-made weapons in their indiscriminate strikes against the Houthis in Yemen, making the United States complicit in the war crimes taking place in Yemen.

All of this calls attention to an even more alarming issue, the Trump family’s ties to Saudi Arabia. President Donald Trump previously sold his yacht to a Saudi prince, and in 2001 the Saudis bought the whole 45th floor of the Trump World Tower in New York for $4.5 million. During his presidential campaign, Trump stated in a rally, “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I suppose to dislike them? I like them very much.” In fact, the very first foreign trip Trump took as president was to Saudi Arabia, where he received an extravagant welcome. Moreover, MBS has developed a close relationship with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in law and senior advisor going so far as bragging that he has Jared Kushner in his pocket.

Bearing all the facts in mind, it seems as if the Saudi government thought they could get away with killing Khashoggi. After all, the Trump administration has not emphasized the importance of human rights in its foreign policy, which may be the reason why the Saudis think they can get away with murder- literally. The Saudis have been ramping up their PR campaign in the West to portray MBS as someone pro-modernization and women’s rights in the country. But someone, who commits war crimes in Yemen, imposes a detrimental blockade on Qatar, places his own mother under house arrest, holds the prime minister of Lebanon hostage, arrests human rights activists, and cannot take criticism about his country’s abysmal human rights record cannot be classified as a reformer.

Amir Dehghan recently received his Master’s of Science degree in Global Affairs from New York University. He can be followed on Twitter @amirdehghan30.

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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