The Biden administration faced a quandary: How do you effectively punish a man who is soon likely to be king of Saudi Arabia and remain monarch for years, perhaps decades, to come? How do you separate his wealth and status from that of the kingdom itself? Even if the United States imposed sanctions against a de facto head of government, they would be very difficult to implement.
The administration appears likely to thread a needle on that question — publicly blaming MBS, as he’s known, but leaving intact the basic U.S. relationship with him and the kingdom he controls. The goal seems to be to recalibrate the relationship without rupturing it. It’s an understandable, pragmatic goal, but it won’t leave anyone happy, on either side.
The administration evidently hopes to use the Khashoggi case as a precedent — never again — and to establish a rule that any foreign operatives who take similar actions to track and murder dissidents living in the United States will be banned from entering or dealing with the United States. The State Department will probably try to monitor such anti-dissident activities and, where possible, disclose them as a preventive measure.
“Justice for Jamal” has been a demand, not just by those who worked with him at The Post but also by a United Nations special rapporteur and governments and human rights activists around the world. A measure of that justice will be delivered when we see the report.
Khashoggi lived in the corridors of power all his life. He understood better than most the compromises that are necessary to survive in a world where government leaders can order a murder, cover it up and maintain control. He would have been glad that the United States told the truth about his murder, but he would have wanted to be sure that the new Biden administration had truly resolved: Never again.
Khashoggi’s friends and admirers should be similarly vigilant. Killing a journalist for telling the truth is a crime that must never be repeated, by MBS or anyone else.