America should side with principle, not politics, for Jamal Khashoggi

Elie Salem, News Editor

For decades, America has been dancing the geopolitical dabke with two left feet. On one foot, American politicians loudly tap away, preaching the doctrine of democracy and de-escalation in the Middle East, on the other beats America’s policies, quietly binding us to the intoxicating spoils of empire and oil in the desert sands.

The perilous dance ended in catastrophe the week of October 2, when the international world discovered that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS) had ordered his intelligence operatives to butcher American journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a consulate in Istanbul.

American leaders claimed to have their hands tied. They wouldn’t risk reprimanding a major U.S. ally or appearing to lack sympathy for a gross humanitarian violation. Instead, the Trump administration reverted back to the worn-out jig: promising to enforce their democratic beliefs while refusing to reprimand Saudi Arabia.

In the process of making friends and playing soldier, the land of the free and the home of the brave found itself kowtowing to the whims of an infantile dictator and outright denying the injustices done to an American resident.

If America wants dogs in the Middle East to do its bidding, then we should at least make sure that we’re holding the leash. Otherwise, the mad Prince will continue to drag us by the neck into a series of diplomatic disasters: the ruinous embargo with Qatar, a brutal civil war in Yemen, and the appalling kidnapping of the Lebanese Prime Minister.

Trump fears that any sort of response will push Saudi Arabia into the hands of our enemies. What is the point of having allies if we cannot influence their actions? What then are the principles of the United States, if we only note the abuses of Russia and Iran? Hypocrisy is not a solid foundation to safeguard the abuses of humanity; nor is fear a valid basis for friendship.

America, as a global hegemon and the political counterbalance to Sino-Russian international authoritarianism, is the only nation capable of effectively advancing human rights. The squeals of the Scandinavian utopias, or France and England, are little more than inaudible whispers in Bin Salman’s ears without the sheer hard power of our military or the soft power of our State Department. We can not expect international laws and regulations to stand on their own two feet in a world order governed by immoral and sovereign states.

MBS wants to reform Saudi Arabia, that much is clear. Salman is in love with the prosperity of the West, but doesn’t want to endanger his current employment. He opts to enforce freedom with an iron fist, and create business competitiveness and political freedom solely through the powers of the state.

Jamal Khashoggi died because Saudi Arabia believed that they could play the assassination card. International outcry was surely factored into their malicious calculus, but they rightly bet that their close relationship with the U.S. and Trump’s lack of personal character would make the moral tidal wave little more than a political ripple.

In fixating on maintaining our economic strength, we have forgotten how to use it. Instead of setting a clear standard, America has shown that our beliefs in inalienable rights are easily alienated by a fat paycheck and a good deal.

Khashoggi’s death is a tragedy. Devastating for his family, heartbreaking for the journalist community, and painful for the citizens of the Saudi nation. For both sides of my family, he was an exceptionally close family friend. I saw him at my house weekly before his death; we had Thanksgiving with him.

Jamal was among the most soft-spoken, outspoken people I had ever met, lightheartedly sharing jokes and random Netflix TV show scenes while remaining constantly in tune with the worsening political situation at home.

We cannot cast our ideological aspirations in the sand, and bend to the will of a murderous dictator in the Middle East. To bat our eyes at injustice, great or small, is to deny our role as the United States of America.