On Oct. 2, prominent Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi walked into his country’s consulate in Istanbul and never walked out again. The government adviser turned critic, who entered self-exile last year and lived outside D.C., was there to finalize paperwork for his upcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancée. Once inside, according to Turkish authorities, a Saudi team lying in wait killed him and took his body away.
Khashoggi’s disappearance and possible killing is a fork in the road for the West’s relationship with the new Middle East taking shape amid the ruins of the Arab Spring. Even if Khashoggi were to emerge alive—which seems less likely by the day—his enforced disappearance would signal a dangerous expansion of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s already-extensive efforts to silence critics at home and abroad. If a Saudi team did kill Khashoggi, the implications are far worse.
Seven years on from the revolts that swept across the Arab world, it’s now possible to see the shape of what’s lurching out from the wreckage: a new generation of Saddam Husseins and Muammar Qaddafis ready to impose their authoritarian visions in the name of “reform,” with the blessing of the West.
European and U.S. foreign policies may have long been duplicitous, but norms and public opinion typically forced them to treat murderous regimes, at least officially, as pariahs. Impunity for Khashoggi’s killing would usher in a frightening and more brutal age, one in which we would be complicit. A report by the Washington Post on Tuesday that U.S. intelligence intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to “capture” Khashoggi before his disappearance raises the disturbing possibility that our government may have known about the plot and not warned Khashoggi, as it is required to do.
The scandal has sparked angry arguments that the Trump administration’s eager embrace of the crown prince encouraged his worst tendencies, leading to Khashoggi’s death. That could be true, but to understand the rise of the new authoritarians, we need to look back to the Arab Spring’s original sin. [Continue reading…]