The Irish Times view on the killing of Khashoggi: Biden pulls his punchesThe Irish Times View
Public denunciation tempered by desire not to hurt US business relationships with Saudi Arabia
The subtext of the message sent out by the Biden administration in publishing its intelligence report on the 2018 killing in Turkey of journalist Jamal Khashoggi will go down well with autocrats around the world. The promise to put human rights at the centre of US diplomacy need not unduly worry the likes of Vladimir Putin or Recep Erdogan.
Public denunciation, they will note, of the central part played by Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman - known as MBS, and the kingdom’s s effective ruler - will be tempered by a pragmatic desire not to hurt the extensive security and business relationships between it and the US. A few officials will face travel and financial sanctions, but the crown prince will not be touched, despite the report’s finding that he approved the assassination carried out by a hit squad drawn from his entourage.
President Donald Trump had refused to make the report public, knowing it would fuel the demand for sanctions or criminal action against Prince Mohammed. Joe Biden has taken that risk to show that he is not his predecessor, but, as Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reassured euphemistically, “What we’ve done by the actions that we’ve taken is really not to rupture the relationship, but to recalibrate it to be more in line with our interests and our values.”
The administration has concluded “pragmatically” it could not risk a full break in its relationship with the kingdom, which is relied on by the US to help contain Iran, counter terrorist groups and to broker peaceful relations with Israel. Cutting off Saudi Arabia could also push its leaders toward China.
Yet even realpolitik would suggest that America will not be well-served by its implicit diplomatic acquiescing to the inevitability that MBS will accede soon to his aged father’s throne and that there is no price to pay by him or his country for his repeated recklessness and ruthlessness - in killing Khashoggi, in pursuing the most brutal war in Yemen, in his imprisonment of women’s rights activists, in feuding with Qatar. Biden will regret his caution.