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COLUMN: Khashoggi’s killing is another reason to criticize US-Saudi alliance



An uncommon event is happening right now in the U.S. mainstream media: our government’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is being fundamentally questioned. Political commentators are pointing out the contradiction between the U.S.’s professed values — democracy, human rights, political freedoms, etc. — and the behavior of our close, longstanding ally the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The cause for this national conversation has been the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist in exile. Khashoggi was seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and he never came back out.

The story of Khashoggi’s disappearance gained traction in the U.S. because last year Khashoggi relocated to the U.S. and began writing for the Washington Post. Even though Khashoggi was not a U.S. citizen, his ties to the U.S. got the White House entangled in this affair, and brought on the attention of the American media.

President Donald Trump has been widely criticized for giving too much credence to the denials by the obvious culprit — the Saudi government. One of his first public comments on the affair compared the treatment of the Saudi royals to the treatment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation process.

“Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Trump told the Associated Press. “I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh. And he was innocent all the way.”

The Saudi government spent 18 days refusing to admit Khashoggi was dead. Then, Saturday morning, the kingdom released a statement claiming Khashoggi had died in a fistfight inside the consulate.

Trump has expressed some doubts over the Saudis’ latest explanation, but he has publicly said he believes the results of the kingdom’s bogus “self-investigation.”

The Saudi royals are hoping to blame this entire incident on rogue elements, rather than Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and top officials. They know that even if most of the world doesn’t buy their story, if they can get American approval, Europe, Turkey and Canada will have no choice but to fall in line and let things go back to normal.

The U.S. should support a truly independent, international investigation into the incident, and the Saudi government should face consequences for its involvement in Khashoggi’s death.

But hiding behind all this discussion of Khashoggi is a deeper question: why has it taken until now for lawmakers and media pundits to question the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia?

The killing of a journalist should receive special attention, of course, but why wasn’t there this level of outrage four months ago when a Saudi jet dropped a U.S.-supplied bomb on a school bus in Yemen, killing 40 children and 11 adults?

What about October 2016, when a Saudi jet dropped a U.S.-supplied bomb on a funeral in Yemen, killing 155 mourners? Or seven months prior, when a Saudi strike killed 97 civilians in a crowded market, again with an American bomb?

What about the five million children threated by famine in Yemen, largely due to Saudi bombing? Are they not enough to garner the sort of attention Khashoggi has gotten?

Khashoggi has become a sensation simply because he has ties to the U.S., while other victims of Saudi atrocities continue to be ignored.

As for the people of Yemen, they have no reason to hope for an end to the nightmares inflicted upon them by Saudi Arabia and the U.S., under Barack Obama and Trump. Trump has dismissed the idea of stopping arms sales to the kingdom as a punishment for the Kashoggi incident. 

If American foreign policy is ever to live up to its claims of promoting democracy and human rights, the U.S. will need to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its actions.

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