The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Mike Pompeo’s revolting embrace of MBS after the Khashoggi murder

Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo in Manchester, N.H., on Sept. 20. (Steven Senne/AP)

Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo comes out spitting nails in his new book, which is presumably a prelude to a run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. But his commentary on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Post contributing columnist, reveals much more about Mr. Pompeo than his critics. It shows that, rather than acting as a principled leader of U.S. diplomacy, Mr. Pompeo coddled the person who sent the Khashoggi hit squad.

Mr. Khashoggi was suffocated and dismembered with a bone saw inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018. The 15 killers included seven members of the elite personal protective detail of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, who, according to the U.S. intelligence community, “approved an operation” to “capture or kill” Khashoggi. His body has never been found.

Press Enter to skip to end of carousel
Opinions coverage of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder
Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Post contributing columnist since 2017, was killed in Istanbul at the consulate of Saudi Arabia in 2018. According to a U.S. intelligence assessment, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation to capture or kill him.
Fred Hiatt, The Post’s editorial page editor at the time, called it “a monstrous and unfathomable act.” He wrote a column titled “Why bring a bonesaw to a kidnapping, Your Highness?
Khashoggi’s columns for The Post described Saudi Arabia under Mohammed bin Salman, calling it “unbearable” and comparing him to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
President Biden, after vowing on the campaign trail to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah,” visited the country in July 2022. Biden defended the trip in a guest opinion for The Post. Washington Post Publisher Fred Ryan wrote that Biden’s trip showed American values are negotiable.
Biden greeted Mohammed bin Salman with a fist bump, which columnist Karen Attiah called “a crass betrayal.” Attiah edited Khashoggi’s columns for The Post.


End of carousel

The murder was at least partly retribution against Khashoggi for commentaries in The Post in which he had called for a freer Arab world and a more open and tolerant Saudi Arabia — and in which he criticized MBS’s dictatorial ways. President Donald Trump and his secretary of state reacted to the murder by protecting the Saudi despot, refusing to impose serious penalties against the kingdom, ignoring a congressional resolution calling for sanctions, and seeking to refurbish MBS’s standing. Mr. Pompeo makes no secret of his admiration, saying MBS is “leading the greatest cultural reform in the kingdom’s history” and is “a truly historic figure on the world stage.”

Mr. Pompeo reveals that, in private, he and Mr. Trump felt they rescued the crown prince from disrepute. He recalls that the then-president asked him to go to Saudi Arabia, and that he was the first Western official to see MBS since Khashoggi’s murder. “In some ways I think the president was envious that I was the one who gave the middle finger to The Washington Post, the New York Times and the other bed-wetters who didn’t have a grip on reality,” Mr. Pompeo writes. “He said, ‘Hey Mike, go and have a good time. Tell him he owes us.’”

Press Enter to skip to end of carousel
Also on the Editorial Board’s agenda
  • The world’s ice is melting quickly.
  • The Taliban rolls back women’s rights.
  • Turkey’s autocratic president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is at it again.
  • Hong Kong’s crackdown on free speech continues.
A new study finds that half the world’s mountain glaciers and ice caps will melt even if global warming is restrained to 1.5 degrees Celsius — which it won’t be. This would feed sea-level rise and imperil water sources for hundreds of millions. Read a recent editorial on how to cope with rising seas, and another on the policies needed to fight climate change.
The Taliban came back to power in Afghanistan last year promising to be different from when they ruled the country before 2001. This pledge has gone up in smoke. The Taliban banned women from attending universities, effective immediately. Earlier the Taliban banned girls from middle and high school, restricted them from jobs, and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Read recent editorials on women’s rights in Afghanistan.
A court in mid-December sentenced Istanbul’s popular mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, a political rival of the president, to more than two years in prison on the charge of “insulting public figures.” If confirmed on appeal, his conviction would bar Mr. Imamoglu from seeking public office. Mr. Erdogan has a long history of suppressing critics and competition. Read our recent editorial.
A Hong Kong judge sentenced Jimmy Lai, a media magnate known for publishing a defiantly independent newspaper, to almost six years in prison. His trial for violating Hong Kong’s repressive national security law, charges for which he could face life in prison, has been postponed until next year. Read our most recent editorial on the case.


End of carousel

This is the language of a street tough, not the leader of a nation based on rule of law. Mr. Pompeo offers the lame and ignorant excuse that the Middle East is a tough neighborhood. “The episode was ugly, but it wasn’t surprising — not to me anyway,” he writes of the killing, because “this kind of ruthlessness was all too routine in this part of the world.” Mr. Pompeo salutes Mr. Trump’s decision not to punish the crown prince, saying “it wasn’t a close call.” He then goes on to smear the murdered Khashoggi as an “activist” and not a journalist, claiming he “had supported the losing team in a recent fight for the throne.”

Khashoggi’s journalism, including his criticism of the Saudi despot, was in the best tradition of American values of free expression, shining a light on dark corners of the world. Mr. Pompeo reveals that he is estranged from these principles.

The Post’s View | About the Editorial Board

Editorials represent the views of The Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care); Lee Hockstader (European affairs, based in Paris); David E. Hoffman (global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; and Molly Roberts (technology and society).