And here is the brutal truth behind this amoral love affair: MbS has done what America has asked. Fourteen years have passed since Michael Moore’s risible film Fahrenheit 9/11—long enough to erase America’s collective memory of the complaint against Saudi Arabia that formed the crooked spine of that pseudodocumentary. Saudi Arabia contributed 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11; it encouraged jihadism while professing to be an American ally; it distorted American politics by wielding influence over the Bush family and the various corporate slaves to its oil industry.*
MbS, and his much-vaunted reforms of Saudi Arabia, are the response to these complaints. He has repressed, rather brutally, anyone with connections to Islamists—including Khashoggi, who never concealed his sympathy for what might be called “soft Islamism.” (The Saudis have accused him of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood; he pointedly refused to deny the accusation, while maintaining, reasonably, that freedom of conscience would allow him to be a Brother if he wished.) MbS has acknowledged that hydrocarbon feudalism is not a viable form of government for Saudi Arabia in perpetuity. He has laid off criticism of Israel. Crucially, he has undertaken massive economic and political change, precisely along the lines that were the basis of a liberal critique of Saudi Arabia a decade ago. That the implementation of this critique has occasionally taken a homicidal form may have seemed to MbS incidental.