A Realist Reset for US-Saudi Relations

Richard Haass in Project Syndicate:

The report issued Friday by the US intelligence community on the murder of Saudi journalist and permanent US resident Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey mostly confirms what we already knew. The operation to capture or kill Khashoggi was approved by Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and in many ways already the Kingdom’s most powerful person. MBS, as he is widely known, wanted Khashoggi dead, both to rid himself of a nettlesome critic and to intimidate other would-be critics of his rule.

We are unlikely to find a smoking gun, but MBS’s fingerprints are all over Khashoggi’s killing. There is not only abundant photographic and communications evidence that it was carried out by people close to the Crown Prince. There is also the simple reality that nothing of significant political magnitude happens in Saudi Arabia without MBS’s authorization.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration looked the other way at the time, as it often did in the face of flagrant human rights violations. Moreover, Trump wanted to avoid a rupture with MBS, whose anti-Iranian policies were appreciated and who was seen as central to his government’s willingness to purchase armaments from US manufacturers.

President Joe Biden’s administration feels differently. It has already distanced the United States from involvement in Saudi military operations in Yemen. And human rights are occupying a central role in its approach to the world. The fact that Biden has not communicated directly with MBS, and instead called the ailing King Salman, underscores Biden’s desire to separate the US relationship with the Kingdom from the relationship with the Crown Prince.

But this separation will likely prove impossible to sustain.

More here.