Saudi Arabia needs to pay for what happened to Jamal Khashoggi
Saudi authorities released the statement after the journalist had been missing for more than two weeks after entering the Saudi Arabia consulate in Turkey.
Stop helping the Saudi military; levy sanctions against any Saudi responsible for killing the journalist, up to and including the crown prince: Our view
President Donald Trump seems to be moving closer to finding Saudi leaders, perhaps even Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, culpable in the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Why isn’t clear. Maybe it is the Saudis’ evolving and implausible story. Perhaps U.S. spy agencies see the crown prince as inextricably linked to Khashoggi’s suspected murder, what with Salman’s henchmen populating the Saudi Consulate in Turkey the day the journalist vanished inside. Or maybe it’s evidence of Khashoggi’s torture provided to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he visited Ankara last week, according to ABC News.
Either way, Trump told reporters that conclusions are soon forthcoming, and that punishment will be “very severe.”
But what is justice for Khashoggi, 59, a father of four children — a couple of them U.S. citizens — who lived in Virginia, who was a contributing columnist for The Washington Post, and who’s guilty only of criticizing the House of Saud?
Before the reality of this appalling crime became clear to the world, Trump spoke of lost jobs should arms contracts with the kingdom be canceled as punishment. But that’s an exaggerated claim. Saudi Arabia hasn’t made good on most of the $110 billion in weapons deals Trump boasted about (many of which, incidentally, were negotiated under the Obama administration). So much for jobs at risk.
OTHER VIEWS: Khashoggi’s death haunts any Saudi ties
The United States is dependent on its autocratic Saudi allies in other ways. The monarchy, for all its warts, is a bulwark against the theocratic regime in Iran. The Trump administration is certainly counting on Saudi Arabia to increase oil exports to make up for Iranian crude pulled from the world market when U.S. sanctions against Tehran are fully levied next month. Saudi Arabia’s support for a long-awaited Middle East peace plan is seen by the White House as essential.
And there’s also Trump’s history of personal business ties to the kingdom.
In many ways, however, Saudi Arabia needs America more than America needs Saudi Arabia. The Arab kingdom feels threatened by Iran and its growing clout in neighboring Iraq. To balance that threat, Saudi Arabia needs an open weapons pipeline.
Riyadh remains heavily reliant on U.S. military precision-guided bombs, air-refueling support and other maintenance and spare parts for the F-15s purchased from Washington and used to wage its catastrophic war against Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen. Thousands of civilians have been killed in airstrikes with American bombs since the war began in 2015. Wedding parties, markets and a funeral hall have been obliterated. In August, a laser-guided U.S. bomb destroyed a school bus, slaughtering 40 children.
All of them were as innocent as Khashoggi.
As punishment for the columnist’s fate, that military assistance could end. The Senate fell four votes short in June of curbing munitions sales, and bipartisan ire toward Riyadh has only escalated in reaction to Khashoggi’s disappearance.
If U.S. bombs, munitions, spare parts and air-frame maintenance were withheld, “the Saudi air force would be grounded,” says Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “We shouldn’t be complicit in a war in Yemen, which has horrifying humanitarian consequences.”
The Trump administration could also levy personal sanctions on any Saudi individuals responsible for Khashoggi’s death, up to and including the crown prince. A bipartisan group of more than 20 senators have already triggered this sanctions process under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act with a letter to Trump earlier this month. If any investigation finds that the crown prince is to blame for the murder, the act could freeze his assets held in U.S. banks, bar him from traveling to America, and sever his wealth from the U.S. banking system.
Either move might make Saudi Arabia’s rulers think twice about killing the next journalist who provokes their ire.
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