Why Khashoggi’s murder has so many people so defensive

No, at the bottom of this are the human details. If you think of them at all, diplomatic buildings are places of refuge and safety. They are supposed to do elevated business in an elevated way. Whatever Khashoggi’s previous activism and his ambitions, he was not looking to become a martyr the day he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He was getting documents to prepare for his upcoming marriage. If one believes the details leaking out of Turkey, he was greeted by thugs, who then dismembered him with a bone saw, advising embassy workers to turn up their headphones so as to block out the unforgettable sound of a human body being butchered.

Normal humans have a hard time reconciling such a B-movie horror show with the supposed grand ambitions and undeniable moral pretensions of American foreign policy. But, this is the sort of gangsterism that is at the bottom of it. The journalists who redo their kitchens on speaking fees from Riyadh, the politicians who eat steak with lobbyists, the analysts who make a living pretending to combat “the real evil” in the Middle East, all of these people will have that image of the bone saw somewhere in their conscience for the rest of their days. That’s why they’re backing down.