CIA Director Gina Haspel is in Turkey joining the clamor to figure out what happened to Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate and how far up the order for his murder went. She’s got a lot of work ahead of her in the gruesome matter, and an even larger question to answer for the United States.
As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan laid out the evidence against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday morning, there weren’t many surprising revelations, but his remarks made clear that not only was Jamal Khashoggi murdered, but that his murder seems to have been pre-planned and that the Saudi government has been caught in a sloppy cover up.
For those not entirely caught up on the saga, the latest bit from Turkey is a video footage of a man, dressed in Khashoggi’s clothing, who is clearly not Khashoggi, making appearances around Istanbul after his death.
At the very least, that shows that after the deed was done, the Saudi’s figured they should try to give themselves some cover by making one of their own don a dead man’s clothing and position himself to be visible for security cameras. What seems more likely, given the flight patterns of Saudi Officials linked to the murder, is that this was part of a pre-planned killing – a far cry from the fight alleged by Saudi officials.
Indeed, the only part of this poorly thought out plan that caught Saudi leadership by surprise was that they were caught and the international community has expressed so much concern.
As Haspel wades into this mess, the question looming for Washington are not only the specific questions about the murder, but broader questions about Riyadh: Can the U.S. trust our allies in Saudi Arabia and, if not, then what?
If the U.S., as many in Congress have called for, decides that not only is Saudi Arabia not believable but that it must be held accountable, then that means that Washington has to make some tough calls about the relationship.
The current arrangement of U.S. arms deals with the kingdom, which Trump seems bent on defending, is premised on the very trust that murdering a dissident in a consulate and lying about it violates.
This trust has real consequences. Since Saudi Arabia got involved with the conflict in Yemen with U.S. support, every time that civilians end up dead in a Saudi airstrike, the U.S. has relied on a defense that goes something like, “They are our allies and they said it wasn’t intentional. We trust them.”
Pulling trust out of the equation undermines that entire relationship and not only has implications for the future but also should prompt some painful evaluations of the past. For Haspel, these questions at the heart of the investigation are not going to be an easy to answer nor have answers that will yield easy solutions.
For the U.S. investigation and her involvement to be anything more than a show, however, Washington cannot shy away from them.