The gruesome murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi marked an extreme low point for diplomatic scandal even as it raised the profile of another of Saudi Arabia’s crimes, its similarly sadistic treatment of the people of Yemen. It is disheartening that it has taken the murder of one well-connected media figure to finally force Congress to confront U.S. complicity in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, but so be it. In this era of acute political dysfunction, moments of institutional self-reflection are valuable even when inspired by tragedy.
The United States is being outmaneuvered by Russia and President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, by Iranian mullahs in Iraq and by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Trump administration has abandoned even the pretense of neutrality in what passes for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue these days, content to cheer on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the settler maximalists.
Children not even born when U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq began will soon be able to enlist in the military, yet the mission and strategy in these traumatized states remain as murky as ever. Meanwhile, the guiding principles of current Middle East policy appear to be knee-jerk antipathy toward Iran and unqualified support of Israel and Saudi Arabia, despite their evident contradictions with long-term U.S. interests in regional peace and stability.
The underfunding of the State Department and its marginalization by other players in the administration has degraded U.S. responses to shifting conditions in the region and led to a limited focus on military power and threats. But entrenched conflicts in the Middle East make a mockery of the long-term effectiveness of military might in the service of geopolitical ends.
The apparently state-sanctioned murder of Mr. Khashoggi offers the administration an opportunity to step back and reassess not just its relationship with the Saudi royal family but the overall mission of the United States throughout the Middle East. A rebalancing of diplomatic and military deployment seems warranted, preferably before the next U.S. misstep adds to the region’s too-long-ignored human suffering.