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Khashoggi: U.S. and Saudi Relations

Jamal Khashoggi, a dissenter and columnist for The Washington Post, was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, on Oct. 2

Khashoggi’s murder has provoked scrutiny of the kingdom’s pursuit of critics and the ethics of U.S. relations with the Saudi royal family. The effort to silence Saudi critics has stretched decades, but Crown Prince Mohamad bin Salman has pursued the practice.

When speaking about Khashoggi’s apparent murder by Saudi agents, Michael Phillips-Anderson, Ph.D., an associate professor of communication, said, “At this point it is still alleged. The evidence of the Turkish investigation seems to point conclusively towards the royal family. When you have a country that is solely a monarchy, there’s the idea that the members of that government can behave with impunity,” stated Phillips-Anderson.

Saliba Sarsar, Ph.D., professor of political science, believes that like most countries in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is “authoritarian” in nature and “does not tolerate opposition.” Bin Salman’s crackdown on corruption in early 2018, consisted of detaining members of the Saudi royal family in the Ritz Carlton, where 17 detainees were hospitalized for physical abuse is one example of the king’s disapproval of opposition.

Sarsar acknowledges the precedent for speculating that bin Salman might be responsible; however, he expressed the importance of not assigning guilt without due process.

He recognizes that evidence points towards Saudi officials but suggests that the Saudi king might be innocent of ordering Khashoggi’s murder. Nevertheless, human rights continue to be violated and the murder of a U.S. permanent resident has gone unpunished.

Phillips-Anderson explains that this is due to the U.S.’s transactional relationship with Saudi Arabia, through both democratic and republican administrations that have overlooked human rights abuses to further strategic and economic purposes. Sarsar agrees that morality has been consistently compromised in order to maintain a relationship with Saudi royal family. “The president can express displeasure and opposition, but that might damage the relationship. He must weigh our need for resources,” he said.

While the U.S. has regularly catered to Saudi Arabia, Axel Martinez, a sophomore political science student, believes, “Trump’s past business dealings in the Middle East are clearly affecting his presidency.” Phillips-Anderson accepts this possibility. “Trump’s first international trip was to Saudi Arabia, which is a symbolic movement. It connotates the importance of the relationship,” he said.

 “[Trump’s] framed it as an economic issue, that we can’t get involved in what [Saudi Arabia is] doing because they might pull out of an arms deal that he has consistently mischaracterized,” he continued.

Even though Khashoggi was not a U.S. citizen, he was a permanent resident falling under the constitution as having the same legal protections as any citizen. Prioritizing business deals and resources over basic human rights has been a consistent issue. Sarsar believes it could be remedied by uniting and refusing to do business with Saudi Arabia, forcing them to enact change.