OPINION: After Jamal Khashoggi’s death, justice is unclear

Graphic by Katie Erickson

The cozied relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States will lapse after the murder of Saudi Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. But, business will continue despite the Middle Eastern country’s soured reputation.

President Donald Trump’s administration is at a loss. This was evident in Trump’s initial approach — old habits persisted. He has an affinity for authoritarian leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin or China’s Xi Jinping, where he’s quick to believe their denials and offer refute.

This pattern of interrogation-turned-conspiracy repeated following the journalist’s murder.

After Khashoggi’s execution in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Trump offered an alternative scenario where “rogue killers” were responsible. He was reluctant to trace the murder to the royal family.

Overwhelming evidence suggests Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, ordered the hit. The White House’s dilemma is how to save face while ensuring justice.

The benefit of cultivating Saudi Arabia’s camaraderie is bandaging their blatant disregard for human rights. If the statement released by the Saudi public prosecutor, who claimed the incident was the result of a fight gone awry, was true, there would be no need for a bone saw or a Khashoggi double.

Washington once adored the Saudi Crown Prince. Now, the commander-in-chief, left to rummage through bad options, has shifted his position on the butchery, calling the incident “the worst cover-up ever.”

Regardless, Saudi Arabia is the number one purchaser of U.S. arms. Silicon Valley is awash in Saudi money. This partly explains the White House’s unclear stance on how to exact its promise of “severe punishment.”

The affair is convoluted. Yet, President Trump, while hesitant to reprimand, needs to delineate between Saudi Arabia, a regional ally, and the personalities of its rulers.

Bin Salman disgraced his crown, Khashoggi’s family, and the Oval Office. The brutal crime broke the royal’s refined facade at a time when the oil-rich country needs to reform to remain relevant amidst fossil fuels’ waning sway.

Here, the answer to the question of why the prince would jeopardize his image is simple: Dictators are obtuse. In their authoritarian bubbles, they have the fortune of impunity. The Crown Prince suffered from the same disconnect of perceived consequences to which his ilk is accustomed.     

Before, the prince was hailed in the West as a beacon of change. Preceded by his warm welcome here, the irony is that we’ve grudgingly realized that enemies are hardly requisite with friends like the Saudi royal family.

In no uncertain terms, our history with Saudi Arabia offers a distasteful reminder that foreign relations are at odds with moral conscience.

To that end, the current administration shifted their Middle Eastern focus from President Obama’s acquiescence to Iran to Saudi Arabia. Not surprisingly, Saudi leadership welcomed President Trump after eight years of Obama’s fixation on their regional competitor.

Obama’s reluctance to intervene in the Syrian Civil War or send considerable forces to Iraq to confront the Islamic State frustrated the Saudi monarchs. They eagerly anticipated Trump’s aversion to all things Obama.  

Wooing Jared Kushner and his father-in-law was a near effortless victory for bin Salman, given the Saudi regime’s proclivity to domineer and President Trump’s desire to distance himself from the Obama worldview.

Washington looked to secure the region through Saudi Arabia. However, the Crown Prince’s blunders include Qatar, Yemen, and Lebanon. Khashoggi’s murder merely revealed what the White House overlooked: King Salman’s impulsive heir.

If the foreign policy flounders failed to demonstrate the 33-year-old’s ineptitude, the impetuous bloodshed has.

By American standards, Khashoggi’s dissention offered tame critiques. It was enough to forfeit his life. The ensuing global outcry forced King Salman to take the reign.

Typically, this hasn’t been the response. In numerous cases, outrage became apathy due, in part, to absent accountability.

Authoritarian regimes brush off conventional defense of journalists and protesters as Western governments recede from policing. Publicly debasing human rights transgressors is no longer effective, and the efforts are negatively compounded by the dizzying 24-hour news cycle.

Journalists live and die by their capacity to dissent. The United States can hardly pretend to safeguard human rights if this atrocity is swept under the rug. While trade and regional interests supersede ethics, the point of our discontent is to demand and protect what’s right.   

Christopher Salazar PZ ’20 is a philosophy major from La Verne, CA. He’s not one to proselytize, but he believes whiskey on the rocks is sacrilege.

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