Home/Daniel Larison/Stop Making Excuses for Saudi War Criminals

Stop Making Excuses for Saudi War Criminals

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis meets with Saudi Arabia’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz at the Pentagon in Washington D.C., Mar. 22, 2018. (DoD photo by Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kathryn E. Holm)

Winston Groom offers up one of the dumber arguments in defense of the current U.S.-Saudi relationship:

Today, America isn’t fighting Hitler. But a nuclear-armed Iranian theocracy is no laughing matter. It is important to keep the Saudis in the U.S. orbit; they have ordered about $100 billion in U.S. arms to serve as a bulwark against Iran in the Middle East.

Killing Khashoggi was reprehensible. And to say that the Saudis are not completely attuned to Western values would be a vast understatement. But perhaps the malediction presently heaped upon them will give them pause in the future. Either way, an old proverb comes to mind: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

The Saudis do not serve as a “bulwark” against Iran. Everything that the Saudi government has done in the last several years has aided Iran and increased their influence. Even if they were an effective “bulwark,” it would not be worth very much to the U.S. because Iran isn’t capable of threatening our country. Iran is not “nuclear-armed” and never will be as long as it complies with the JCPOA, which the Trump administration stupidly reneged on six months ago. There is not much danger that the Saudis would leave Washington’s orbit, but if they did they would stand to lose far more than we do. The Saudis may be Iran’s enemies, but that does not make them our friend, and it certainly doesn’t make them an ally. We owe them nothing, and they should be the ones going out of their way to placate us. Our top officials should not be bending over backwards to cover up for their crimes, but for some reason that is what Trump and his Cabinet officials have been doing for months.

When we strip away the nonsense that defenders of the U.S.-Saudi relationship use to justify continued support for a bad, reckless client, we find that there is very little substance left. Fawning over Saudi despots gets the U.S. virtually nothing, and support for the Saudis imposes increasing costs on the U.S. that we don’t have to accept. The Saudi relationship needs to be downgraded first and foremost because it is an increasing liability for America and because it implicates the U.S. in the kingdom’s heinous crimes. The U.S. should not be supporting some of the worst war criminals in the world. The Saudi crown prince and his government fit that description, and the only appropriate U.S. course is to end all military assistance to Saudi Arabia. The question today is not whether we should ally with a monster in a global war against another monster, but whether we choose to empower a war criminal as he destroys a poor neighboring country. No one should want to keep this generation’s Idi Amin or Pol Pot in America’s orbit, and yet that is what the defenders of the U.S.-Saudi relationship keep demanding.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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