Sooner or later we're going to have to decide what to do about the Saudi royal family over this Khashoggi business.

We're either going to have to offer them a massive apology for even thinking that they could have been capable of organising a 15-man hit squad to murder one of their citizens in a foreign country, or we're going to have to — and this is the bit we're going to find really difficult — let it be known that we don't entirely approve.

Let's assume, just for a moment, that the murder of the journalist was a state-sponsored assassination.


Where does that leave us and our $630 million a year trade with Saudi Arabia?

It puts any commitment to cultural relativism to the test and they've been sorely tested in the past when it comes to the kingdom.

Women's rights? Well, the women seem happy enough, so who are we to judge?

Hypocrites who flout the alcohol ban by cutting loose in private parties? That seems to be confined to the top tier of society, so not really a biggie.

And if they want to sentence the blogger Raif Badawi to 1000 lashes for being a bit critical, as they did in 2014, then that is their prerogative.

And anyway, so far, he is only known to have received 50 lashes of the sentence.

But perhaps a line has been crossed when someone pops in to do a bit of prenuptial paperwork and within minutes finds himself shared between several rubbish bags.

The Saudis are promising the truth will come out. And we know they are capable of doing the right thing — when they absolutely have to.


Didn't they deprive Osama bin Laden's sons of their Saudi citizenship in 2003, just two years after the World Trade Centre attacks? That showed them.

But we'd be wise not to expect too much in the way of contrition in this case. And as long as Saudi Arabia keeps buying arms from the US and Britain, those countries' responses will make it clear not much in the way of contrition is necessary.

Donald Trump has already unleashed his strongest form of condemnation — a bad review.

He found time to focus on the quality of the cover up. In Trump's head, all that matters is public approval, so when he gave the killers his negative critique you knew he was going for the jugular.

He had already called the murder a "total fiasco" before saying on Tuesday: "They had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly and the cover up was one of the worst in the history of cover ups." In other words — there are good cover-ups and bad cover-ups and if the cover up had been done better we wouldn't even be having this conversation.

Some of the most perplexing questions may never be answered, given the house of Saud doesn't have a family history of soul-cleansing chats on talk shows: Who exactly ordered the assassination? How did they expect it to work? And why Khashoggi, when the kingdom has many other critics among its citizens?

On this last question, there is one all-too plausible explanation: From his self-imposed exile, the Washington Post columnist wrote a piece a year ago describing his homeland as "unbearable" and shaming its young leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for presenting an image of reform while continuing a reality of oppression.

It seems that may have sealed his fate.

As to the final international response, blogger Dan Primack has written, quoting people who do business with Saudi Arabia: "Almost all governments, including America's, do awful things. Saudi has done awful things for years. Where do you draw the line?"