On Oct. 2, 2018, the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. After his disappearance, politicians and pundits called on the United States and its allies to hold Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the crime. “It should be United States policy,” former National Security Advisor Susan Rice wrote in the New York Times, “in conjunction with our allies, to sideline the crown prince in order to increase pressure on the royal family to find a steadier replacement.”
The Washington Post’s editorial board, meanwhile, was optimistic that such a strategy could work. “[I]t is entirely possible,” the board wrote, “to sanction and shun the Saudi leader while still doing business with his regime.” After all, it continued, “[t]he Saudi royal family cannot afford and will not allow a rupture with the United States.” U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy went further. Trump officials, he warned, “must quickly reorient their policy toward Saudi Arabia or Congress will do it for them.”
There is no question that Khashoggi’s killing was a crime perpetrated by agents of the Saudi government. But the idea that the United States can magically disentangle Saudi Arabia from its crown prince is fanciful. If Mohammed bin Salman stays, Washington will not be able to sideline him without harming its own vital interests.