As the full extent of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate becomes clearer, the pressure on Western governments to respond in a forceful and unequivocal way to the atrocity is getting louder. Three weeks since Khashoggi’s disappearance, the Trump administration has only just begun retaliating; this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that 21 Saudis implicated in the murder operation have had their visas revoked. Pompeo assured the world that the reprisals will not stop with travel restrictions.
Across the Atlantic, European governments are also feeling pressure from the public to place strong sanctions on Saudi Arabia for what appears to be tactics straight out of "The Godfather." German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated publicly that Berlin would no longer sell military equipment to the Saudis under the present situation. This Thursday, the European Parliament passed a resolution urging all European Union members to cut Riyadh off from European-manufactured arms. While the resolution was non-binding and therefore has no legal effect, it still served as a warning sign to the Saudi royal family: after the killing of a journalist, the Kingdom’s credibility and reputation have been severely damaged in the minds of many European politicians.
By and large, however, the United States and Western Europe have been cowed by Saudi money. Subtract the righteous claims of indignation about Khashoggi’s death and President Trump’s own description of Riyadh’s cover-up attempt as poorly executed, and you are led to the conclusion that Saudi Arabia has been able to continue with business-as-usual. While numerous high-profile government officials and business executives have boycotted Riyadh’s second “Davos in the Desert” conference in protest of the killing, the Saudis have still signed tens of billions of dollars in business deals. There are no shortage of companies and corporations willing to strike gold in the Arabian Peninsula.
Countries that possess quite a lot of leverage over Saudi Arabia are refusing to use it — either because a relationship with the Kingdom is viewed as too valuable to jettison or because there is too much money to be made. French officials are ducking questions about severing arms sales like the Germans have done, British Prime Minister Theresa May continues to grasp at straws to justify arms exports to Riyadh, and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez cited the need to keep Spain’s manufacturing sector up and running in explaining why his government is going through with a $2 billion shipbuilding contract. None of these leaders want to cut the Saudis off completely over the death of a single journalist, even if that journalist was hacked to pieces by a bone saw in an attempt at disposing the body.
The Saudis have rightly taken a beating in the international press over the last three weeks. Mohammed bin Salman, the heir apparent to Saudi throne who managed to sway influential public figures like the New York Times' Tom Friedman and Hollywood’s Dwayne Johnson, was either too stupid or too arrogant to exhibit the self-awareness that perhaps the West wouldn’t take too kindly to the dismemberment of a Washington Post columnist. Reports of princes in the royal court unable to access the King about his son’s massively oversized ego suggest a kingdom skating on thin ice.
In terms of concrete punishments by its security partners in the West, however, Saudi Arabia has gotten off quite easily.
Daniel DePetris (@DanDePetris) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. His opinions are his own.