October 24, 2018

Jamal Khashoggi’s Murder Hurt American Interests, Not Just American Values

By Richard Fontaine

Most observers have seen the murder of Jamal Khashoggi as the latest example of an age-old tension in U.S. foreign policy: the pursuit of national interests versus the defense of American values. Our leaders, this reading goes, abhor the brutal killing of a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist, but security and economic considerations must temper their reactions. The government of Mohammad bin Salman is, after all, a friendly autocracy whose dollars buy our weapons and whose oil exports supply global markets. The United States needs Saudi help in opposing Iran, its support for a Middle East peace deal, its intelligence and operations to fight terrorism, and its commitment to ensure regional stability. Better, then, to signal displeasure at this latest horror but leave the broader relationship relatively undamaged—or even unchanged.

A balance between interests and values is implicit in statements by President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo about the strategic partnership between Washington and Riyadh. Calling Saudi Arabia a “very strong ally,” the White House advisor Jared Kushner explained that “we have to be able to pursue our strategic objectives,” while “deal[ing] with what is obviously a terrible situation.” Others, like foreign policy scholar Walter Russell Mead, have urged Washington not to “ditch Riyadh in a fit of righteousness.”

But this frame represents a misreading of both the incident and the last several years of Saudi foreign policy. It’s also likely to encourage the wrong policy response. The hard reality is that the Khashoggi murder is one in a series of recent Saudi actions that have set back U.S. objectives in the Middle East—and Saudi ones as well. Continued partnership with Riyadh is possible and even desirable, but only if Saudi Arabia changes its approach.

Read the full article in The Atlantic.

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