Friends of the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi hold posters with his picture in front of the Istanbul consulate in Saudi Arabia, October 2, 2020.
Ozan Kose / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images
The release of a secret report by the Biden government on Friday of the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is morally satisfactory. Whether it promotes US interests or even human rights in the long term is another question.
The report, which was released to Congress, puts Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman under an obligation to order Khashoggi’s kidnapping and killing. The report does not provide direct evidence of the order; It bases the judgment on the Crown Prince’s control over decision-making in the kingdom and the involvement of a key advisor and members of his personal security service.
News of the secret report was leaked at the time, in part out of embarrassment
Donald Trump. The former president viewed the crown prince known as MBS as an ally and did not want to endanger relations between Saudi-US. He accepted the rejection of MBS with no nuance or moral condemnation, which was his habit. President Biden is downgrading these ties, or what he calls a “recalibration” that will work well on Capitol Hill with progressives and isolationists trying to distance the US from the Saudis.
State Secretary Antony Blinken also announced on Friday a so-called “Khashoggi ban”, a new guideline to restrict visas for people who “are believed to have been directly involved in serious, extraterritorial activities against dissidents”. The US will apply the new ban to 76 Saudis, and it could serve as a warning to foreign officials that they and their families could be expelled from the US if they crack down on adversaries overseas. Don’t underestimate how many overseas leaders want to send their children to Stanford or Duke.
Note, however, that the US did not apply this sanction to MBS, who is the Saudi Secretary of Defense and likely the next king. Democrats and the media are already calling this insufficient and want MBS banned if not charged. The Biden administration seems to appreciate that this would lead to a more serious break in US-Saudi Arabia ties that would help adversaries in Tehran, Moscow and Beijing.
Mr Trump had a moral ear, but his support for the Saudis and Israel and his opposition to Iran’s nuclear ambitions paved the way for the historic Abrahamic Accords between Israel and the Arab states. The Biden administration should think twice about alienating the Saudis, who are rare US friends in a dangerous part of the world.
The murder of Khashoggi was a particularly brutal attack on a political opponent, but we can imagine others who could draw up the new prohibited list. If MBS qualifies, how about?
Wladimir PutinKremlin coterie and members of the Chinese State Council who are ultimately responsible for the arrest of Hong Kong Democrats? Or the terror sponsors in Tehran, which Mr Biden apparently wants to woo (see nearby)?
The Khashoggi report and sanctions send a message of US disgust over a terrible crime. But in an evil and brutal world, the US still needs partners like the Saudis.
Paul Gigot interviews former Trump security officer Matthew Pottinger. Photo: ZUMA Press
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Published in the print edition on February 27, 2021.