‘The repeated failure to be honest about the incident should call into question the extent of our relationship with Saudi Arabia…’
(Joshua Paladino, Liberty Headlines) Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, thinks it’s time for the United States to stop aiding Saudi Arabia’s assault on Yemen given the monarchy’s lack of respect for the freedom of the press.
Saudi Arabia admitted to killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi last week.
“Killing a United States resident is never acceptable behavior, and the repeated failure to be honest about the incident should call into question the extent of our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Lee said, according to a press release.
Saudi Arabia initially denied involvement in the journalist’s death.
Khashoggi moved to the United States in 2017 when he began to fear the Saudi Arabian kingdom. He began to write for The Washington Post in September 2017. His writing was critical of the current regime.
The relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has long been a complicated one, even before Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman became its defacto ruler last year. Although it has been strategically essential to U.S. military operations and energy supply, its customs—for instance those concerning the suppression of women—often are at odds with Western democratic values. The fact that many of the Sept. 11 terrorists—including Osama bin Laden—came from Saudi Arabia brought the country under suspicion while also underscoring a greater need for cooperation and American influence within it, in order to contain terrorism.
Other Arab nations also maintain an uneasy relationship with Saudi Arabia. On one hand, it is the site of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, to which all devout Muslims must travel as one of the religion’s seven pillars. However, as the seat of influence for Sunni Islam (maintaining belief in a more community-based secular order as opposed to ruling religious imams) it also comes into deep conflict with the predominantly Shia Iran. Many resent the fact that a secular monarchy, rather than a theocracy, oversees these sites—and the Saudis’ cooperation with the U.S. and Israel only add insult to injury.
As the United States largely extricated itself from the ongoing conflict in Syria, a “troika alliance” comprising Iran, Turkey and Russia has emerged, which has helped to stabilize the region but also to consolidate power away from an American sphere of influence and to prop up several decisively anti-Democratic leaders, including Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iran’s Hassan Rouhani and, of course, Russia’s Vladmir Putin.
Despite the mounting evidence of Saudi involvement in the murder and mounting calls for accountability, Trump has been cautious to hitch his wagon to the opposition powers, which most likely do not have America’s best interest at heart and would like to sow discord in its Middle Eastern alliances.
Iran also has continued efforts to spread its influence in the region, including to Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbor, Yemen, where rebels attempted to overthrow the government in 2014. A coalition of Saudi military, with some U.S. support, has clashed with the rebel Houthis for three years now.
For Lee and others, the killing of a journalist who seemed to support democratic institutions was something of a tipping point, bringing to surface the long-simmering questions over which side, in fact, best represents America’s interests and values.
“[S]etting aside the extent of our alliance generally, why should we continue to support Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen when the kingdom is killing our residents and lying about it?,” Lee wrote. “It is far past time that the United States Senate had a serious debate regarding our military involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.”
Lee introduced a bill with Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) in February that proposed to remove U.S. soldiers from the Yemeni conflict.
The Senate sent the bill to committee in March, and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., pleaded with his fellow senators not to let the issue continue without debate.
Corker, the Senate foreign relations chairman, told the chamber to “respect the members of the foreign relations committee that deal with this issue” and send the bill “back to committee with the commitment that we plan to bring forth legislation to actually deal appropriately with many of the issues relative to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and ourselves.”
Liberty Headlines’ Ben Sellers contributed to this report.