Has Mohammed bin Salman emerged intact after his crimes?

It was first reported and initially denied by Saudi authorities. Then it was acknowledged as a “rogue” operation gone wrong. For the past year, every honest observer has clearly understood that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), ordered and most likely even stage-managed and monitored the carefully scripted and exceptionally macabre murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul that took place on October 2, 2018.

In a world that claims to be governed by “the rule of law,” such a brazen act required a commensurate response from the international community. The response came with calls for an investigation and swift justice from various official sources, most energetically from Turkey (the scene of the crime).

A notable exception was US President Donald Trump, for whom, as a matter of principle, the sacrifice of one person (Khashoggi) or tens of thousands (Yemeni civilians) should never constitute an obstacle to the conduct of profitable business with the astute leader of a rich nation. Time is money. Investigations, trials and meting out punishment are all time-consuming activities that delay and may even hinder the everyday business that serves the noble purpose of enriching those who are gifted in the art of the deal. As everyone knows — or should know — the rest of humanity depends for its continued survival and prosperity on the success of their deals.

Last month, on the first anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder, Al Jazeera quoted Bessma Momani, a professor of political science at Canada’s University of Waterloo, who regretted the fact that, a full year after the murder, the nations of the world (though not the United Nations itself) appear to have given MBS a pass on what as great a moral authority as Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has now called a “mistake.” Certainly a regrettable mistake, comparable — as Khosrowshahi insists — to an Uber self-driving car killing a pedestrian. But, hey, that’s the price of progress.
In a less trivial reflection, Professor Momani detected a geopolitical pattern of far wider impact that might worry us all: “The decision not to take punitive measures against Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi’s killing also reflects a rise of ‘nationalist-populist dictators globally.’”

Dara Khosrowshahi has now come under fire for his implicit defense of Mohammed bin Salman, whereas he simply wanted to underscore what everyone understands to be the true basis of business ethics as it is applied in Trump’s Washington, in MBS’ Riyadh and Uber’s Silicon Valley. It was once most pithily summed up in Facebook’s historical motto, “Move fast and break things,” before Mark Zuckerberg changed it, having realized that the slogan’s tone of irresponsibility and unaccountability may not be the best advertising for a powerhouse company over which he held dictatorial control.

The Iranian-American Khosrowshahi seem to think nevertheless that the Saudi de facto leader may have gone a bit too far. He explained: “Listen, it’s a serious mistake. We’ve made mistakes too.”

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