Read: The U.S.-Saudi relationship is out of control
She remembered the pained look on Khashoggi’s face at a dinner party in London two months earlier as he no doubt contemplated the decision he was about to make: fleeing his home country for the right to speak his mind in America. Even the date seemed prescient: July 4, 2017.
“This is the juncture,” she said, expounding on his conundrum. “To keep quiet, to sit in his house in Jeddah and smoke cigars, to say nothing. Or speak and go to jail. He had been warned by his friends that he needed to leave. And so he went to London to weigh his options: Either he was going home, going to Istanbul, or going to the U.S.”
Mitchell Salem spoke to me by cell phone from an Acela train northbound to New York, where she would see two of Khashoggi’s adult children. Her voice shook as she remembered the past year, when he became a regular presence at dinners in Washington. She and her friends took the initiative to build a family around him, she said, understanding that his new life must have been lonely. His marriage had recently ended, his family was spread out around the world, and he was living alone in Tysons Corner. He talked about his children and how proud he was of them. He told Attiah, The Post’s global opinion editor, that he was depressed at times.
Mitchell Salem recalled a trip she made with him to Men’s Wearhouse shortly after his arrival in Washington last year. He had agreed to appear at the Brookings Institution’s U.S.-Islamic World Forum in New York. “We’re in Men’s Wearhouse, and I was like, ‘Jamal, maybe you should get two jackets … one casual, one—’ He said, ‘Maggie, I’m a minimalist. I don’t want to have a lot of things.’”
He drove to the conference with Mitchell Salem, Franc, and an acquaintance of Mitchell Salem’s who was in town from Doha. On the way, they all helped Khashoggi prepare to be interviewed by the BBC. “There was something about his Saudi accent that precluded the proper pronunciation of the word Orwellian,” Franc recalled. “We had this stupid belly laugh, all of us trying to get him to say Orwellian.” He needed the word for a certain point he wanted to make.
When the time came, they stopped on the side of the road on a hot day, turned off the air conditioning to make the car as quiet as possible, and let Khashoggi do the interview.
His life in exile was filled with journalists, diplomats, and think-tank experts with similarly fond memories.
Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a Khashoggi friend who works as a Middle East fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, offered what became a common observation: that he deeply loved his homeland. “My impression was that Jamal remained a Saudi patriot to the end, and that any sense of freedom he felt at living in Washington and being able to express himself was tempered by a sense of concern at the path that he saw Saudi Arabia’s new leadership going down,” Ulrichsen said. “Jamal spoke out about his country out of a sense of civic and patriotic duty and not because he wanted to see the crown prince fail; rather, he felt the crown prince and those around him were making mistakes, and was hoping that they would be able to learn from them.”