On October 2, Jamal Khashoggi, a well-known critic of the government of Saudi Arabia, walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain paperwork he needed to get married. He never walked out. Since then, Washington’s foreign-policy establishment has begun turning against Mohammed bin Salman, the brash, ambitious crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Within days, Turkish officials leaked details of Khashoggi’s alleged grisly murder by a team of 15 Saudi operatives. The Washington Post, where Khashoggi was a columnist, reported that U.S. intelligence agencies had collected intercepts of Saudi officials discussing a plan, approved by bin Salman, to lure the journalist back to the kingdom from his home in Virginia and detain him. As the international outcry grew, the Trump administration—whose foreign policy has largely shrugged at the protection of human rights—refrained from pressuring the Saudis, until Wednesday, when the White House said that Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and National-Security Adviser John Bolton had called bin Salman to discuss Khashoggi’s disappearance.
But the most intense pressure on the Saudis is likely to come from Congress, where both Democrats and Republicans have criticized Saudi policies that promote Islamic extremism and connections to terrorism, especially after the September 11 attacks, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi members of al-Qaeda. Since Saudi Arabia launched a war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen in 2015, a growing number of lawmakers have been concerned about the civilian death toll and have tried to curtail U.S. military assistance to the Saudis and their allies.