US response to Khashoggi’s killing: "All bark and no bite"?

Thursday, 2018-11-22 11:46:02
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Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. (Photo: Getty)
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NDO – Despite skepticism from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) regarding the involvement of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, US President Donald Trump still announced a firm partnership with Saudi Arabia. The binding interests with the US’s strategic ally made it impossible for the White House leader to “crack down on” the king of oil, although Saudi Arabia is being faced by intense pressure from the international community.

President Trump is under pressure from US lawmakers who require the cancellation of arms provision deals for Saudi Arabia following Khashoggi’s killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Many US parliamentarians even insisted on ceasing supplies of arms to Saudi Arabia. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said she would not support any US arms sales deal or any financial allocations to Saudi Arabia, while calling on Washington to impose sanctions against the Middle East ally. The CIA has also informed President Trump’s administration of the murder of journalist Khashoggi, believing that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stands behind the case.

Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) is considering the issuance of an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia. The European Parliament has adopted a non-binding resolution on this issue. As the country with the strongest response to the case in Europe, Germany has decided to stop exporting weapons to Saudi Arabia until the cause of Khashoggi’s death is clarified. Some European countries, such as Germany, Austria and Switzerland, also stopped exporting arms to Saudi Arabia in protest of the Middle East nation’s intervention in the war in Yemen (a Saudi-led coalition has conducted military interventions in Yemen since 2015).

Under pressure from both at home and abroad, the US was forced to cancel visas of 21 Saudi officials suspected of involvement in the murder of journalist Khashoggi. Despite its pledge to bring the matter to light, the moves taken by the White House showed that the US President did not want the case to push him into a dilemma in the relationship with the Middle East ally. President Trump considered the CIA’s assessments as being “extremely hasty”. He said he had no intention of cancelling military contracts with Saudi Arabia, stating that Russia and China would be “major beneficiaries” in case of the US’s cancellation.

Saudi Arabia was one of the important destinations visited by President Trump after he was elected as the US President. The biggest success of Trump during his visit to Saudi Arabia in 2017 is a US$110 billion arms deal. For Washington, Saudi Arabia is not only a big buyer of arms, but also an important partner in helping the US restrain Iran’s role in the Middle East, as well as implementing policies that maintain Washington’s influence in such a strategic geo-political region. Thus, the reaction of the US to Khashoggi’s killing may be just “all bark and no bite”. The US could not pay a deaf ear as the Saudi journalist, who had lived in the US and worked for the Washington Post, was murdered. However, President Trump’s announcement of continuous appreciation of relations with Saudi Arabia is understandable as any response must consider the benefits that the US currently has with its ally, Saudi Arabia. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US was obliged to select policies that helped enhance national security interests.

The US-Saudi alliance covers the areas of politics, economy and military. Riyadh recently stated that the US would remain a “key part” of the Saudi economy. It can be seen that neither Washington nor Riyadh want large bilateral interests to be dented with regards to the murder of journalist Khashoggi. Many observers said that regardless of the investigation results, both the US and Saudi Arabia want to “calm down” this case, because any “sanctions” will also damage the interests of the two countries.