Sur­rounding its one-year anniversary, the Jamal Khashoggi murder scandal has been res­ur­rected, haunting Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) again. Though he has con­tin­ually denied any direct con­nection to the murder, he is having a hard time putting Khashoggi’s ghost away.
But the United States should not be too quick to pull the trigger and dis­engage with MBS and Saudi Arabia.

Cur­rently, the Saudis are the U.S.’s second biggest crude oil sup­plier, and any kind of mea­sures to sta­bilize the Middle East must have support from the House of Saud. And as the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, the U.S. has to play nice with MBS — not nec­es­sarily condone or ignore his actions, but avoid making him an enemy.

On Oct. 2, 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian jour­nalist who lived in self-imposed exile in the United States, went back in Istanbul to finalize his divorce so he could marry Turkish citizen Hatice Cengiz. At 1 p.m., Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian con­sulate in Istanbul. But he never came out. Police later con­cluded that inside the con­sulate he was drugged, killed, and cut into pieces by Saudi hitmen. His remains have yet to be found.

Khashoggi was pre­vi­ously known for his crit­icism of the Saudi royal family, and in par­ticular Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Before he died, Khashoggi said his con­tinued crit­icism led to sus­picion and accused the Saudi gov­ernment of banning him from Twitter. He claimed his move to the United States in 2017 was for safety.

Imme­di­ately fol­lowing Khashoggi’s death, the Saudi gov­ernment — MBS in par­ticular — denied any con­nection to the murder. The Turkish author­ities kept inves­ti­gating and insin­u­ating that there was official Saudi involvement until the Saudi gov­ernment finally said they believed it was a “rogue oper­ation.”

A global uproar ensued, as many thought this was a human-rights vio­lation. The United Nations inves­ti­gated the murder last summer and con­cluded that Khashoggi’s murder was a “delib­erate, pre­med­i­tated exe­cution” and the state of Saudi Arabia had to bear respon­si­bilty. The U.N. also said there was “suf­fi­cient” and “credible” evi­dence to link MBS to the murder.

The fiasco has not only slowed down the U.S.’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia in the past year, but it has dras­ti­cally slowed foreign investment in the kingdom, espe­cially now that the United States fell in line with the rest of the globe in demanding a full inves­ti­gation of Khashoggi’s death.

Just in the past two weeks, MBS agreed to an interview with PBS for a doc­u­mentary. In this interview, MBS made the bold move of taking respon­si­bilty for the murder.

“I get all the respon­si­bility because it hap­pened under my watch,” and “since it was com­mitted by indi­viduals working for the Saudi gov­ernment,” MBS said. “This was a mistake. And I must take all actions to avoid such a thing in the future.”

But though he is taking respon­si­bility as a ruler, he still com­pletely denies that he ordered Khashoggi’s death.

There is still a massive global outcry against Khashoggi’s murder. Turkey’s Pres­ident Erdogan in par­ticular refuses to stand down and for the past year has been calling Khashoggi’s death a political murder and “a serious threat to inter­na­tional order.” He also said it “was arguably the most influ­ential and con­tro­versial incident of the 21st century.”

Khashoggi’s murder nearly ruined MBS’s inter­na­tional image. Instead of being the reformer that he tried to set himself up to be in 2017 and 2018, he is now being per­ceived by world leaders, espe­cially the U.S. Con­gress, as another shady Arab dic­tator that the United States and the rest of the inter­na­tional com­munity has ethical qualms about dealing with.

Though MBS tried to smooth things over by pub­licly taking some of the respon­si­bility for Khashoggi’s death, he has lost many U.S. sup­porters to a now bipar­tisan crusade of justice for Khashoggi. For example, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives recently added lan­guage in the National Defense Autho­rization Act requiring the admin­is­tration to identify and sanction those found respon­sible for the murder.

Though there has been a serious reaction against MBS, Trump, now putting himself at odds with both political parties, has stood up for MBS saying that it is unclear that the prince had any con­nection to the murder. Why? Because Trump knows the impor­tance of the Saudi‑U.S. rela­tionship. He is simply being prag­matic and serving U.S. interests.

Trump probably shouldn’t be so intimate with MBS, but at least he under­stands that it’s vital not to sab­otage the U.S. ties with Saudi Arabia. If Con­gress wants to keep MBS at arms-length, fine. That’s maybe even a good idea. But don’t cut him off alto­gether. Saudi Arabia, and MBS as its ruler, is not only a key U.S. business partner, but the key to any sort of Middle Eastern sta­bility.

From a prac­tical stand­point, if the United States antag­o­nized and cut off every world leader that has ques­tionable actions and ethics, it would be a lonely hyp­ocrite. In a cynical but true sense, some­times not letting cor­ruption shut down every inter­na­tional relation, is what brings success in the broader scheme.

Yes, MBS is probably shady, but some­times it is nec­essary to work with evil men for a greater good. Read Jeane Kirkpatrick’s 1979 “Dic­ta­tor­ships and Double Stan­dards” to under­stand that that there is often a necessity to work with less-than-stellar dic­tators, while still rec­og­nizing what they are, for the greater good and U.S. interests.

No, the United States should not just look the other way and ignore Khashoggi’s murder. Go ahead, inves­tigate MBS. Be very wary of him. Keep in mind his impor­tance and use­fulness, and do not cut off rela­tions with him.

Abby Liebing is a senior studying history and is the asso­ciate editor of The Col­legian.