NICHOLAS KRISTOF: If a prince murders a journalist, that's not a hiccup
Reports about Jamal Khashoggi, the missing Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor, grow steadily more sickening. President Donald Trump already rejects the idea of responding to such a murder by cutting off weapons sales. Trump sounds as if he believes the consequence of such an assassination should be a hiccup and then business as usual.Posted — Updated
The reports about Jamal Khashoggi, the missing Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor, whom I’ve known for more than 15 years, grow steadily more sickening.
Turkey claims to have audiotape of Saudi interrogators torturing Jamal and killing him in the Saudi Consulate. None of this is confirmed, and we still don’t know exactly what happened; we all pray that Jamal will still reappear. But increasingly it seems that the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, better known as MBS, orchestrated the torture, assassination and dismemberment of an American-based journalist using diplomatic premises in a NATO country.
That is monstrous, and it’s compounded by the tepid response from Washington. President Donald Trump is already rejecting the idea of responding to such a murder by cutting off weapons sales. Trump sounds as if he believes that the consequence of such an assassination should be a hiccup and then business as usual.
The bipartisan cheers from Washington, Silicon Valley and Wall Street fed his recklessness. If he could be feted after kidnapping a Lebanese prime minister and slaughtering Yemeni children, why expect a fuss for murdering a mere journalist?
MBS knows how to push Americans’ buttons, speaking about reform and playing us like a fiddle. His willingness to sound accepting of Israel may also be one reason Trump and so many Americans were willing to embrace MBS even as he was out of control at home.
In the end, MBS played Kushner, Trump and his other American acolytes for suckers. The White House boasted about $110 billion in arms sales, but nothing close to that came through. Saudi Arabia backed away from Trump’s Middle East peace deal. Financiers salivated over an initial public offering for Aramco, the state-owned oil company, but that keeps getting delayed.
The crackdown on corruption is an example of MBS’ manipulation and hypocrisy. It sounded great, but MBS himself has purchased a $300 million castle in France, and a $500 million yacht — and he didn’t buy them by scrimping on his government salary.
“MBS’ message to Saudis is clear: I will shut you up no matter where you are and no matter what laws I have to break to do it,” Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch told me.
If Saudi Arabia cannot show that Jamal is safe and sound, NATO countries should jointly expel Saudi ambassadors and suspend weapons sales. The United States should start an investigation under the Magnitsky Act and stand ready to impose sanctions on officials up to MBS.
America can also make clear to the Saudi royal family that it should find a new crown prince. A mad prince who murders a journalist, kidnaps a prime minister and starves millions of children should never be celebrated at state dinners, but instead belongs in a prison cell.
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