It now seems clear that the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was abducted and killed by Saudi officials, although whether his death was deliberate is an open question. Yet now is not the time for Washington to jettison its longstanding, and often troublesome, alliance with Riyadh, writes Sohrab Ahmari:
What the Saudis did to Khashoggi was awful and appalling. The Saudis do lots of other awful and appalling things, too. Beheadings. Judicial amputation. Discrimination against the Shiite minority. Outright bans on the practice of religions other than Islam. The global promotion of an especially literal and intolerant brand of Sunni Islam. All of this was well known before Khashoggi walked into the consular trap the Saudis set for him.
Even so, Saudi Arabia isn’t a sworn, systemic enemy of the U.S. or the American-led order in the Middle East. Saudis don’t actively wage war against our forces and interests in the region. Their state is not founded on the mantra of “Death to America, Death to Israel, Death to Britain” (that would be the Islamic Republic of Iran, Riyadh’s archenemy). Washington can’t afford to make another enemy in a part of the world that is already full of them. Remember, too, that if the Saudis can be terrible friends, they can be even worse enemies.
[Moreover], isolating Saudi Arabia would almost certainly doom the diplomatic rapprochement between Jerusalem and Riyadh, among the most astonishing—and welcome—global developments in recent years. . . .
None of this is to suggest that Saudi authorities should be allowed to get away with murdering Khashoggi at their consulate on foreign soil. That would set an unacceptable precedent, all but guaranteeing open season on dissident journalists in a region where they are already an endangered species. But the Western response must be measured. We must be mindful that a cruel order is still better than disorder, that a bitter friendship is still better than enmity and friendlessness, and that no Jeffersonian democrats are waiting in the wings among the Saudis.