Joe Biden DID punish MBS for the Khashoggi killing, and it's hiding in plain sight


 As soon as news was out that the Biden administration had imposed biting sanctions against Saudi nationals who participated in the killing of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi but did not impose direct penalties on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), people like Jake Tapper of CNN rushed to absurdly question whether there was any real difference between Trump's response to the Khashoggi's killing - which was, to be precise, to hide the intelligence report Biden just released - and Biden's.

The comparison is, of course, ridiculous, not least because the President's administration did actually impose a pretty direct punishment on MBS, just without calling it direct. We'll get to that in just a moment.

But Biden's response was markedly, 180-degree different from Trump's even before the State Department announced the sanctions today.

First, the President, in his first call to Saudi Arabia as president, did not speak to MBS. He spoke to the King. The Trump administration simply operated on the assumption that MBS is the Saudi head of state for all intents and purposes - and MBS had conducted the US-Saudi relationship like he is the head of state - but President Biden put an end to that. By making the heads-of-state conversation between himself and the King and by refusing to speak to the Crown Prince, Joe Biden specifically demoted MBS in how the United States views his role in the bilateral relationship between the two countries. That point was made even clearer by having the Secretary of Defense speak to MBS instead before the President spoke with King Salman. If you know anything about monarchies and how people like MBS tend to see themselves, this is an open and deep humiliation.

Second, by declassifying the intelligence report that directly implicated the Crown Prince in the Khashoggi murder, the President once again humiliated MBS, indirectly calling him a criminal on the world stage. He put MBS on notice that the United States will no longer cover up his crimes.

So far, we have Joe Biden calling out MBS and snubbing him.

But that's not a direct penalty, like a travel ban like the US imposed on other responsible parties, you say.

Except that also happened. The State Department did impose a de facto travel ban against MBS, and not simply by saying that the US has no plans to invite him to come to the US. This interesting tidbit is hiding in the reports about just who is getting the travel ax under what the State Department has termed the "Khashoggi ban."

Those actions, approved by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, include a travel ban on Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, who was deeply involved in the Khashoggi operation, and on the Rapid Intervention Force, a unit of the Saudi Royal Guard that protects Prince Mohammed — and is under his direct control.

Read that again. The Biden Administration has instituted a travel ban on the Rapid Intervention Force, which is the personal protective detail for MBS, even though they have not personally named MBS among those banned from traveling to the US. This is tantamount to a ban on MBS himself, since where his bodyguards can't travel, neither can he. This is like if another country did not personally ban the President of the United States from traveling there but banned the Secret Service instead.

So yes, the Biden administration effectively restricted MBS from traveling, but without causing a diplomatic incident about it.

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