We have a question about motivating western countries to start sanctions against Saudi Arabia. It is rather simple question - murdering and torture in embassy are hard things to explain

And what is on the different side? Why US (as main western country) would NOT sanction Saudis? Saudi Arabia is one of the closest US allies on the Middle East, which arguments can US use for not sanctioning it?

3 Answers 3


I found this comment to be insightful

But the House of Saud always had an almost literal killer counterargument, that they were probably better than any regime that would replace them. Often the world of foreign policy gives you no good options, just lots of variously bad ones. Accepting the Saudis’ help where they offered, and trying to gently nudge them into becoming slightly less brutal and slightly less bad on women’s and minority rights, was probably the safest option.

He then goes on to list multiple articles that, prior to this assassination, lauded Mohammed bin Salman (the leader of Saudi Arabia) as a great reformer and a modern leader.

The catch here is the same as it was in Iraq: you might not like the current regime, but at least they'll work with you in most cases. And there have been some minor successes in "Westernizing" the country, such as women now being allowed to drive as of this year, even if victories like this are still really minor overall. And remember that Al-Qaeda was birthed in Saudi Arabia, with some Saudis still possibly funding terrorism (such as ISIS) as a way to spread Islam. The only upshot there is that government itself does not fund terrorism and frowns upon those who do.

It's unlikely the Saudis will get away from this without some repercussions, however. While they had acted with impunity before, the political pressure to do something (especially in the US) has grown considerably, and in a bipartisan way. Khashoggi had plentiful Western ties and there is now too much scrutiny. Indeed, journalists are continuing to investigate, with sources explaining what happened. While they may not end in sanctions, it would be both embarrassing and damaging to the Saudis to admit they used a diplomatic consulate to commit a murder. At the very least, Turkey may deny the Saudis a consulate, given how there appears to be a continuing attempt at cover-up and the Saudi consul fled the country. Remember, Saudi Arabia is currently leading a coalition against Qatar. While that doesn't include Turkey, it could be a way for some countries to express their distrust, especially if prodded by the US.

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    While the citation is useful, it underscores the the notion that reaction is limited to a binary choice. (1) regime change , vs. (2) business as usual. If the preponderance of evidence is that Khashoggi's disappearance while under the custody of the SA consulate was a political murder, then neither (1) or (2) is appropriate.
    – BobE
    Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 14:51
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    @BobE The larger problem is that what if the Saudis push back? What if they curtail oil production and oil prices spike? The danger there is US fracking could ramp up under that. Now it seems the Saudis are angling for "It was an accident" and probably admitting some wrongdoing, paying some reparations and moving on.
    – Machavity
    Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 15:02
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    Hard to choose any path, the current one, or alternative options, in the Middle East that will make one feel "clean" about it. +1 for looking at the issue in all of its ugly complexity. Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 21:35
  • @Machavity Oh no, Saudi can do far worse than that. Selling all their dollars, or selling oil to China in yuan would be far more dangerous. But that would probably trigger a regime change in Ryad.
    – xrorox
    Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 12:17

The Saudis have been doing this kinda stuff only because they feel empowered by the US, they only do this because they know that they can get away with it. The US has a large interest in the oil and has struck a big arms deal with SA and SA is a reliable and VERY important ally to the US in the middle east. If the US would start imposing sanctions on SA, they'd threaten their own position in the middle east and a lot of money, the only reason why they'd impose sanctions is to give a signal to SA, that they shouldn't do this stuff again, but Trump doesn't seem to be very interested in that, he cares a lot more for the 100-ish billion dollar arms deal.


Very simple answer: Khashoggi wasn't a US citizen.

A brief look at US foreign policy over the last 50+ years there's been many examples of foreign countries murdering actual US citizens, with ZERO repercussions. If American citizen's lives are not worth the diplomatic mess, it hardly seems logical that a noncitizens life would be worth it. Sounds cold, but that's the reality.

  • I wouldn't bet on lack of sanctions if Iran were involved instead of SA, all else being equal.
    – mouviciel
    Commented Jan 5, 2019 at 9:22

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