But the United States’ strangely close relationship with Saudi Arabia is not of Trump’s creation. We’ve been committed to Riyadh for years, maintaining the alliance through administrations from both major parties. It is not difficult to imagine, say, former President Barack Obama — originator of U.S. backing for Saudi intervention in Yemen and Riyadh’s favorite arms dealer — making essentially the same move in response to MBS’s lies.
I have no illusions that the United States will only deal with “nice” nations that love liberty, justice, and democracy. In fact, as messy as they can be, I think trade and diplomacy stand the strongest chance of peacefully moving oppressive and otherwise unsavory countries toward freedom and normalcy. But that realism does not mean that cultivating this close alliance with Saudi Arabia is defensible. Khashoggi’s death has forced a conversation we should have been having anyway, a conversation about how staying allied with the Saudi regime violates the values we claim without benefiting our national interest. This is fundamentally a partnership with just another murderous and oppressive Mideast dictatorship that undermines regional stability and makes us look like hypocrites in the process.