Why do we care about Jamal Khashoggi?

If, as looks very likely, Khashoggi was kidnapped and murdered on the orders of the crown prince, it should be a cautionary tale for his overly enthusiastic fans in the West. Just six months ago, the 33-year-old spent three weeks in the U.S. meeting leaders of business and government. In addition to an Oval Office session, he met Hollywood bigwigs Morgan Freeman, James Coleman and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. CBS’s “60 Minutes” hailed Mohammed bin Salman as a “revolutionary” who was emancipating women. He was received by Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Rupert Murdoch and Stephen Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group. Jared Kushner reportedly felt that the two young scions understood one another, and helped persuade Trump to make Saudi Arabia his first foreign destination.

But Crown Prince Mohammed’s nods in the direction of reform — he has permitted movie theaters to open for the first time in decades, and women now have the right to drive (at least in theory) — shouldn’t cause hearts to flutter. The history of western wishful thinking about “reformist” dictators is very, very long and nearly always ends in tears. After Leonid Brezhnev died, the American press was suddenly enamored of former KGB head Yuri Andropov. He spoke English! He “relaxed with American novels.” The Washington Post reported that he “is fond of cynical political jokes with an antiregime twist … collects abstract art, likes jazz and Gypsy music,” and “has a record of stepping out of his high party official’s cocoon to contact dissidents.”

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