After the “fistfight”

As Scott has noted, the official Saudi explanation for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi is that he died in a fistfight at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey. That’s plausible. Few of us would be likely to survive a fistfight against more than a dozen vengeful Saudi agents and a hacksaw.

Khashoggi’s demise raises questions for the U.S. about our future relations with the Saudis. It might also raise questions for Saudi Arabia about whether, assuming that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the “fistfight,” it wants to be led by a guy whose judgment is poor enough to have pulled this caper.

Khashoggi was a nuisance for the regime, nothing much more. To bring down the consequences that will flow, even in a best case for the Saudis, from murdering him smacks of paranoia. It ill-serves both Saudi and American interests for the Kingdom to be ruled by an immoral paranoid.

That’s a decision for the Saudi ruling family/class to make, not the U.S. David Von Drehle of the Washington Post says we should “use our considerable influence to steer [Saudi Arabia’s old king] to a new succession plan.” Maybe. There’s obviously a downside to MbS (again, assuming he’s responsible for the “fistfight.”

But there is also a downside to (1) backing another horse if MbS prevails and (2) backing another horse if that horse prevails and turns out to be worse than MbS in terms of American interests.

This Washington Post report suggests that, thanks to his reforms, MbS remains popular in Saudi Arabia even now that, in a reversal of position, he admits Saudi intelligence operatives killed Khashoggi in that “fistfight.” The Saudi ruling family/class might reasonably conclude that it should stick with him.

The U.S., I think, should mete out to Saudi Arabia the punishment it deems appropriate given the gravity of the offense and our interest in not destroying our relationship with Saudi Arabia. The Saudi king and other key players can then figure out whether MbS should rule the country.

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