Congress gets tough on the Saudis

Staff Columnist

By Lindsey Graham“U.S. power depends on a system in which the rule of law restrains strongmen’s whims.”

“Last week the Senate voted to advance a resolution ending U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned against the action , saying the U.S. ought not rebuke the Saudi  government because doing so would threaten our alliance and empower Iran.  But the vote wasn’t even close.

Sixty-three senators felt we couldn’t remain silent while America’s interests and values are at stake.  Regardless of whether this resolution passes, it is important for Congress to signal that there is no excuse for recent Saudi behavior.

It is wrong to suggest that maintaining U.S. alliances consists of mutually exclusive choices between choices between power and principles.  In the long run, America’s power  as well as its principles depends on an international system in which strongmen can’t act on their violent whims and the rule of law enables social stability and the free flow of trade.

The Saudi regime’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi, its reckless military campaign in Yemen, its blockade of Qatar, and its effort to remove Lebanon’s prime minister all show astounding arrogance, entitlement , and disregard for international norms.   If these actions make Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia’s ‘source of stability’ in the Middle East, I’d hate to see what destabilizing behavior looks like..”

More from Senator Graham:   “ Saying so brings me no joy.  I have supported the Saudi regime for years, and I agree with President Trump that Saudi Arabia remains a strategic ally.  Yet it is not too much to ask an ally not to abuse civilized norms,  and the extra judicial killing of a journalist in a diplomatic facility is nothing if not uncivilized.

I also take issue with Mr. Pompeo’s charge that criticism of Saudi Arabia in the U.S. comes from the Obama  ‘echo chamber’ that supported  the horrendous Iran nuclear deal.  I never supported the nuclear deal, nor have I coddled the Iranian regime.  I’ve made it clear that the ayatollah and his henchman are religious Nazis.  Iran is destructive, destabilizing and hostile to the interest of America and its allies.  The missiles Iran provides to the Houthis in Yemen pose a real threat to Saudi cities, freedom of navigation, and regional stability.  No one’s hands are clean in the suffering of the Yemeni people, least of all Iran.

But left unchecked , Saudi Arabia’s recent behavior will help Iran by driving a wedge between the U.S. and our other Mideast allies.  Lebanon, Jordan and others need  assurance that America won’t bend to the whims of the crown prince.  He is a wrecking ball to U.S. – Saudi relations.

Given the evidence U.S. intelligence has gathered on Khashoggi’s killing , denying the crown prince’s involvement amounts to willful blindness.  Failing to censure him would give a green light to murder their critics.  To borrow a Churchill phase, inaction would only give the disturbing  impression the U.S. has a price, but that its price is quite low”

Still more from Graham: “America has a strong hand in dealing with Saudi Arabia and the leverage to demand better.  This administration has committed the U.S. to its largest-ever volume of weapons sales to the Saudis.  America guarantees Saudi Arabia’s security in the event of a wider war with Iran. The U.S. protects its cities and provides critical training to its armed forces.

U.S.  official shave the ability and responsibility to distinguish between limited support for the Saudis that advances both countries interests and blind assistance that enables destructive  Saudi behavior.

The fear that the Saudis will stop cooperating with the U.S.  on terrorism or Iran isn’t rational.  Those threats pose as much of a danger to the Saudis as they do to America.  Demanding better from allies isn’t downgrading the relationship; it’s a sign that Americans take our principles seriously and won’t be taken advantage  of by anyone, friend or foe.”

Finally:  “The recent vote should show Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration that Congress isn’t mugging for the cameras or ‘cater-

wauling ‘ as the Secretary of State put it.  We are a co-equal branch of government exercising leadership to safeguard the country’s long-term interests, values and reputation.  After all, someone’s got to do it.[“

Mr. Graham, a Republican, is a U.S. Senator from South Carolina.]

[I lived and worked in the Kingdom for four years more than twenty years ago.  This gives me some slight insight into the people, whom I respect.]

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