It’s not that surprising that the Washington Post, the paper that employed Jamal Khashoggi, would be particularly disappointed with the Biden administration’s half-a-loaf punishment of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman. The Biden administration has publicly accused MBS of ordering the murder, but as of this moment is not instituting any sanctions upon the prince himself.
That said, this assessment from Fred Ryan, the publisher of the Washington Post, is pretty blistering:
President Biden is facing his first major test of a campaign promise and, it appears, he’s about to fail it . . .
It appears as though under the Biden administration, despots who offer momentarily strategic value to the United States might be given a “one free murder” pass . . .
There is no legal, moral or logical reason to apply sanctions to the lower-level players in this conspiracy, who were following orders, while letting the criminal mastermind get away without consequence. In fact, it’s contrary to the American system of justice, which always works to go up the chain of responsibility to land the person ultimately accountable for serious crimes. The man whom Biden described as a “pariah” is about to escape personal liability for a murder he ordered as we offer diplomatic-speak about “recalibration” rather than insist on accountability. As other tyrants in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world watch Mohammed escape without personal consequence for his brutal behavior, not only is his hand strengthened but the others become emboldened to do the same.
The Biden administration could argue that this approach to MBS is carefully calibrated and a just-tough-enough response to a complicated problem. And they could argue that applying sanctions to MBS would do lasting damage to U.S.–Saudi relations that are not in long-term American interests. But that would mean admitting that Biden’s campaign-trail promise of “make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are” — along with a pledge to end all arms sales to the kingdom — was oversimplified and overwrought campaign-trail rhetoric.
In other words, it would require the likes of Jen Psaki to admit that what Biden said back in November 2019 was just campaign-trail rhetoric, and that it was never meant to be taken seriously as a policy proposal.
UPDATE: Robin Wright of The New Yorker offers a similarly scathing assessment, concluding that Biden talked tough during the campaign and then wimped out once he was in office.
Biden has done nothing to punish M.B.S. Absolutely nothing—to the astonishment of human-rights groups, foreign-policy experts, Saudi activists, and even some on his own staff. For days, the Administration had pledged that Biden, unlike Trump, would both take punitive measures and recalibrate the relationship. Biden’s response would symbolize his tough stance on human rights globally, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said, last week. “He will not hold back, and he will speak out when there are concerns he has about human-rights abuses, about the lack of freedom of speech or the lack of freedom of media and expression,” Psaki told journalists. But the Administration didn’t even mention M.B.S.’s name in the punitive sanctions that it announced after releasing the intelligence report. On Saturday, Biden refused to answer questions shouted by the press pool about whether he intended to punish the Saudi royal.