It’s been less than a year since agents of the Saudi regime lured Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi to its country’s consulate in Istanbul where they proceeded to murder him in the most grisly way imaginable. They then failed to cover up the crime and lied about it to the world despite mounting evidence of the guilt of top Saudi leadership. Khalid bin Salman abruptly left Washington — well before the end of his planned term — amid the growing public outcry over the incident and the Saudi government’s prevarications.
No justice has been done in the Khashoggi case — and yet, it would seem, the Saudi foothold in the halls of American power remains stronger than ever.
State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement that Pompeo and Khalid bin Salman had “discussed a broad range of bilateral and regional issues,” which included “the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities in the region, and human rights.”
Human rights? Was this some sort of joke?
The conversation between Khalid bin Salman and Pompeo also touched upon efforts to end the ongoing war in Yemen. That conflict has been perpetuated by Khalid’s big brother, the crown prince, for more than four years now. Saudi-led bombing campaigns and the blocking of Yemeni ports have resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of deaths and widespread starvation.
Initially, Saudi military intervention in Yemen was supported by the United States and its other Persian Gulf allies, most notably the United Arab Emirates. But now the proxies of the UAE and the Saudis are fighting each other, and support for the war has waned in recent months — along with Mohammed bin Salman’s campaign to counter Iran.
And as the United States becomes increasingly self-sufficient in energy, for the first time, a growing number of members in both houses of Congress are beginning to openly and publicly question the wisdom of continuing a relationship in which we have essentially given the Saudis license to do whatever they want.
The murder of Khashoggi and the senseless aggression in Yemen have helped to focus our reassessment of this long-standing alliance.
The Obama administration’s outreach to Iran helped to launch this discussion. The Iran nuclear deal was designed, in no small part, to curb what everyone understood to be the growing influence of Saudi Arabia — in U.S. policy circles as well as on the ground in the Middle East. Events in the region have gradually forced us to acknowledge that we had armed and abetted a power that did not share our values.
This makes the Trump administration’s return to a policy of blind support for the Saudi royal family that much more perplexing.
Simple catchphrases, selective reading of available facts and indefensible allegiances now dominate our foreign policy. But the brutal truth is that Saudi Arabia is not our friend. Nor is it a reliable ally in our quest to check Iranian influence.
At a time when key members of the Trump administration are making their case for “maximum pressure” against the Iranian regime for its “malign behavior” in the Middle East, all signs indicate that there has been no greater menace to the stability of that region than Mohammed bin Salman.
During his reign of terror, domestic and foreign opponents, real and perceived, have disappeared and have been murdered, imprisoned and otherwise silenced. On every available metric, Mohammed bin Salman has out-eviled his Iranian counterparts.
We should certainly not exonerate Iran of its many crimes. But we can no longer use its sins as a pretext for punitive action against Iran and its people while we continue to reward Saudi Arabia despite its brazen flouting of the rules and norms of international behavior.