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Indulging Reckless Clients Is a Bipartisan Tradition

A New York Times editorial [1] on the U.S.-Saudi relationship earlier this week contained this baffling assertion:

But it has not been American practice to give allies a free pass when they’re destabilizing the region [bold mine-DL], and Saudi policies, both domestic and foreign, have become increasingly aggressive under Crown Prince Mohammed.

If this has not been the common American practice in the past, it will come as news to the people in Lebanon, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, among other places destabilized by the actions of our allies and clients. In 2006, the Bush administration gave Israel carte blanche as it bombed Lebanon for weeks, and the U.S. did much the same during multiple campaigns in Gaza. When U.S. allies agitated for military intervention in Libya in 2011, the U.S. under Obama did more than give them a free pass. The Obama administration joined the intervention and helped to topple a government that posed no threat to us or our allies. When regional allies and clients wanted to start meddling in Syria by arming opposition forces, the U.S. aided and supported them as they stoked the conflict. It is hard to think of examples where the U.S. has not given allies and clients a free pass for their destabilizing behavior. More often, the U.S. has encouraged that behavior and engaged in it along with them.

The most glaring example of giving our clients a free pass has come in Yemen, of course, and U.S. support for the Saudi-led war there has been unstinting since the spring of 2015. Obama’s desire to “reassure” the Saudis became the official excuse for enabling an atrocious war, and that involved repeatedly giving the coalition a free pass for their war crimes and helping them to conceal those crimes for years. Obama was not personally flattered by the Saudis, nor was he mesmerized by foreign authoritarian leaders as Trump often seems to be, but he still endorsed and enabled a disastrous war in the most consequential error of his presidency. He also set the record for presiding over the most arms sales to the kingdom during his eight years in office. Trump may be more susceptible to Saudi influence, but in practice Obama was just as ready to support them to the hilt.

None of this started with Trump, who has simply adopted the worst policies he inherited from Obama and made them even worse. The pattern of indulging allies and clients in their abuses and destabilizing policies goes back long before these examples. These are just the most recent instances of looking the other way or actively aiding and abetting these governments in their destructive acts. One reason why the Saudi-led coalition has received so little criticism or opposition from Washington is that our political leaders take it for granted that our government should automatically back so-called “allies.” Then once our government has made itself complicit in their excesses and crimes, there is reluctance to call attention to those excesses and crimes. It is encouraging that there is some significant resistance to this policy in Congress now, but it has taken the creation of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis to generate it.

The conventional D.C. wisdom in the closing years of Obama’s presidency was that Obama had neglected U.S. clients and been too solicitous of Iran. Trump has embraced that false view and applied it with a vengeance. If we hope to oppose the misguided indulgence of clients such as the Saudis, it isn’t enough to fault Trump for sucking up to Salman and his son. As awful as that is, it is just a symptom of the noxious relationship with the Saudis. We have to remember that most of our political leaders mistakenly consider them to be our “allies,” and they also make the mistake of thinking that this requires us to provide uncritical support for whatever they want to do. The first step in rejecting these views is to stop calling them our ally and to start emphasizing that our interests and theirs increasingly diverge. Then perhaps there will be greater willingness to call out their abuses and to withdraw U.S. support from their reckless policies.

5 Comments (Open | Close)

5 Comments To "Indulging Reckless Clients Is a Bipartisan Tradition"

#1 Comment By Ken T On November 14, 2017 @ 9:19 am

Our ME policy has for years been driven by a coalition of the oil industry, the defense industry, the neocons, and AIPAC. They form a perfect storm of interests that are all different, but congruent. Their combined financial and political power has so completely twisted our foreign policy to serve their own ends at the expense of the interests of the country that it will require something close to a revolution to break their hold.

#2 Comment By CharleyCarp On November 14, 2017 @ 11:13 am

I agree that our Yemen policy was as wrong then as it is now. At least under the prior administration, the wrong policy was pursued for an arguably defensible objective: we indulged SA’s fantasy of putting Hadi back in power because we wanted SA to accept the Iran deal. Now we’re backing SA for no reason other than that they let Trump touch their cool orb, or, maybe, because it’ll help undermine the Iran deal.

#3 Comment By Donald (the left leaning one) On November 14, 2017 @ 12:33 pm

I assume Daniel is being ironic, but the behavior of the NYT isn’t puzzling once you realize that they are part of the “system”. Not to sound like some leftover radical from the 60’s, but the NYT obviously sees itself as the fourth branch of government and their role is to offer some degree of mild criticism, but not to be too honest or scathing about how things really work. So they will criticize our policy in Yemen, for example, but they aren’t going to probe too deeply into why we pander to the Saudis so much, as it probably involves a fair amount of corruption (much of it no doubt legal) in both parties.

And there is zero chance they will subject our support of Israel to any detailed scrutiny. I don’t think they had a single editorial criticizing Israel’s bombing of Gaza in 2014. I doubt they were very critical of the bombing of Lebanon in 2006 either.

#4 Comment By b. On November 14, 2017 @ 2:57 pm

One of the few payoffs of Trump’s unthinking adoption of Obama policies and Clinton proposals is that there is now an opening for an honest accounting of the bipartisan foreign policy consensus. If Trump had actually had the balls to take on the military and the national security agencies along with Congress and the mob of Un-Think Tanks, anything that went wrong would be celebrated as a repudiation of the repudiation of the Frog Choir consensus of US Foreign Policy. Now that Trump is doing his best to deliver on the various neoconlib pipeline dreams across the globe, the continuity of derangement become increasingly obvious. We can span the bridge from Bush to Trump as long as we are willing to step on the milestones of the Obama administration and the road signs planted by his Great White Hope.

Best of all, Trump has yet to make Yemen all his own, and he certainly has not managed his very own Libya yet. As long as he sticks to Obama do-overs, continuity of government is ensured.

#5 Comment By Worst Western On November 14, 2017 @ 9:04 pm

“None of this started with Trump”

More and more keeps coming out about what Obama was up to. I was surprised to learn that US interventions in Mali and Niger both began with Obama, for example.

In substantial ways, Obama really was worse than Bush II, wasn’t he? I think that people expected that Obama would stop doing “stupid s#@#”, as he himself called it, and assumed that he actually had stopped. But all that really happened was that a sympathetic international press looked on in silence as Obama compounded and spread the botches and errors of Bush II.

Same thing’s happening with Trump now. I do however think that Trump’s going to get s*$#-canned in 2020, if for no other reason than the press has started reporting on government incompetence, corruption, and other evils again now that Obama’s out of office.