Still, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that there is no good alternative to this regime. Absent this kingdom, disorder, an Iranian puppet state, or an even more radical Wahhabist regime could take root there. And a clean break with the Saudis, which some are calling for, would risk upending the anti-Iran alliance that the U.S. has worked to build and could endanger the safety of our other allies in the region.
So what is the right approach? The U.S. should exact some meaningful price on Riyadh that expresses our displeasure with such a massive disregard for international norms. American reaction should remind the Saudis that we have the whip hand in the relationship. It should not, however, lead to a fundamental rupture of the alliance. Sanctioning the officials involved in the killing is an obvious move, and American lawmakers of both parties seem poised to suspend arms sales to the Saudi regime, at least for a while. Rolling back support to the Saudis’ ongoing campaign in Yemen should also be on the table.
The first step, though, should be for President Trump and the administration to acknowledge forthrightly that bin Salman deserves the blame for this killing, and not to publicly accept the bromide that he is an enlightened reformer poorly served by his murderously rogue operatives. The choice here isn’t between dissolving our Middle East strategy or pretending the Saudis did nothing wrong. The president should not provide public-relations cover for this murder.