The Crown and the Cover-up: How Jamal Khashoggi’s Murder Complicates the US-Saudi Relationship

Written by: Simon Fischer

The United States and Saudi Arabia have maintained bilateral relations for nearly a century now, mainly thanks to the prosperous oil trade between the two nations and their continued partnerships in counterterrorism efforts and weapons trade. Recently, though, the pact between the desert kingdom and the leaders of the free world has hit a new snag in the aftermath of the murder of Saudi journalist and former Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. He had visited the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2nd to get documents he needed for his upcoming marriage, but never wound up leaving, as he was believed to have been killed inside by a team of Saudi agents. Khashoggi was a notable critic of the Saudi regime, frequently writing articles criticizing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and even starting a new political party in Saudi Arabia called Democracy for the Arab World Now

Since Khashoggi’s disappearance, though, neither Saudi Arabia nor the United States have shed much light or any sort of details on the circumstances of the situation. The Saudis only confirmed on October 20th that Khashoggi was in fact killed, nearly three weeks after his disappearance, and details have begun to leak out since about what actually happened to the journalist. There have been reports that he was gruesomely dismembered, Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan has accused the Saudis of a “premeditated” attack, and their government has pushed a confusing and incoherent string of narratives regarding the incident. The United States has also been hesitant on taking a firm stance against the Saudis and their response to the incident, as President Trump has displayed a puzzling reluctance to calling the Saudis out for their latest misdeed. 

There are a number of reasons as to why this could be, but a likely cause could be Jared Kushner’s relationship with bin Salman. They have developed a close relationship, and this may have given bin Salman the wiggle room necessary to try to manipulate Kushner regarding what actually happened. A further complicating storyline is Kushner’s past attempts to secure funding from the Saudis regarding an apartment building in New York City. He initially declared his continued support for bin Salman and took his word that bin Salman knew nothing of his death despite mounting evidence pointing to Saudi Arabian involvement and Republican members of congress calling for an independent investigation into the matter. It took a visit from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with investigators and a secret trip to Ankara by CIA Director Gina Haspel where she heard a recording of the killing before Trump even publicly acknowledged that he believed Khashoggi was in fact dead. 

But despite both sides beginning to acknowledge some truths, questions still linger about what actually occurred and where both nations go from here. The U.S. has frequently turned a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s history of human rights violations and state-sponsored terrorism in order to preserve a key relationship with its Middle Eastern ally, but the Saudis’ latest exercise in walking this thin line should be a step too far. Jamal Khashoggi was not only allegedly killed in cold blood by the government of one of our allies, but was also an esteemed journalist who exercised his right of free speech to criticize the government of the country he called home. Freedom of speech is a basic tenant and core pillar of the democracy of our country, and we should not stand idly by while a country that we publicly support executes an innocent man because he exercised his rights. This latest debacle should be the last straw, and it is time for our administration to legitimately question whether or not the Saudis should be punished and whether this alliance is worth maintaining moving forward.