Jamal Khashoggi, advisor-turned-critic of the Saudi Kingdom, walked into the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul’s leafy Levent neighbourhood on the afternoon of 2 October. He had been called in for some routine paperwork issues. He has not been seen since. In a week that has seen two high-profile disappearances, including the now-former Interpol President Meng Hongwei, a lot can be inferred about the current state of play in international relations.
Whilst little public information has been made available, both the Washington Post and New York Times have received anonymous tips that a ’15-member Saudi team’ was involved. They checked into the Mövenpick for a few hours, entered the embassy at three o’clock in the afternoon and were back in the air just seven hours later, heading back to Saudi Arabia. That Saudi Arabia is involved in this disappearance is almost beyond doubt. Indeed, just this morning the Post reported that the US intelligence services were aware of the hit on Khashoggi before it happened.
Granted, top Senator’s from Lindsey Graham to Bob Corker have called for ‘a heavy price to be paid for any wrongdoing’. Lip service is being paid to liberal democracy and western media has been reporting this story scrupulously. It is certain, however, that the price paid will be disproportionately small relative to the violation of international law and human rights. The Saudi Kingdom is a strategic partner of the US. A top oil producer and buyer of US manufactured goods, it is unlikely the White House would action any tangible reprimands any time soon. In 2017 alone, the administration negotiated $110bn in arms contracts was signed with Saudi Arabia. Given the current economy, namely rallying oil prices increasing the Kingdom’s disposable income, that figure is likely to be considerably greater. Quite literally days before the disappearance of Khashoggi, Trump was rallying in West Virginia imploring the ‘rich’ kingdom to increase its military spending. So now given the high profile disappearance of a prominent Post reporter, will the administration put its money where its mouth is? Given that the US economy will undoubtedly take a considerable hit should oil supply be cut, a Saudi response that cannot be ruled out, and price creep up any further, I would say there is a lot for the US administration to consider. It would prove a real departure from their current foreign policy should they significantly reprimand the kingdom, and, unfortunately, I don’t see them choosing liberal values over Benjamins any time soon.