I don’t agree with David French about much but I didn’t find anything to disagree about in his latest column which asks if it is possible for Trump to be at least as tough on Saudi Arabia as he’s been on Canada. It’s rare that writers at the National Review express opinions on foreign policy that are shared by a lot of people on the left, but here we have an example:
At a minimum, we can and should stop facilitating the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen, a campaign that depends on American weapons and American help and is murderously indiscriminate.
In this day and age, I’m inclined to latch onto any bipartisan agreement I can find, and I also agree with this:
Republicans and Democrats alike have looked the other way as the Saudis exported radical Islamic theologies, funded jihadists, and oppressed their own citizens. We’ve consistently treated the Saudi government as if we need them more than they need us.
Of course, our relationship with the Saudi regime was forged in the immediate aftermath of World War II, and the Eastern Front of that conflict, at least, largely followed a logic that is impossible to understand outside of the context of energy resources. Hitler made a race for the Caucasus rather than concentrating all his troops on a crushing blow against Moscow because he needed the fuel, and it’s the same reason that the German dictator was so interested in taking over and holding Romania. Tanks and planes require vast amounts of fuel and an alliance with Saudi Arabia (and, initially, Iran) gave us a chance to not worry about that factor in any confrontation in Europe with the Soviets.
At the time, the culture, politics, and welfare of the people of the Arabian Peninsula were far down the list of American national security concerns, and we were primarily interested in applying the lessons we’d learned from the war so that we’d be better positioned in any future conflict. In retrospect, we might have made some different choices, but it’s doubtful we would have risked having that oil and gas fall into the hands of the Soviets who enjoyed enough of those resources as it was.
With so much money available, we naturally saw some of our purer motives become corrupted over time, and there’s not much to be proud about when we look back at our relationship with the House of Saud. Particularly after 1979, the relationship has curdled badly and we already had the experience of blowback in 2001, when we were attacked on our own soil by Saudi terrorists.
I’m probably more forgiving of our Saudi policy than many on the left, mainly because I recognize the legitimate reasons for why it began and that nothing is easy in the region. There are never easy pat solutions to the problems we encounter there, and when we pull back it invites different problems that are sometimes just as severe and devastating as when we move in.
We’re making progress on being less dependent on the regions’ energy, but that hasn’t solved as much as we might have hoped. Syria’s refugee crisis has already transformed the politics of Europe and the United States, leading to a resurgence of the type of fascist ideas that we fought to defeat in the 1940s.
What’s most depressing in our current situation is that the president is now running interference for a Saudi Crown Prince who has been caught red-handed murdering an American resident and journalist and having him chopped into pieces. That’s probably a new low. America is actually free to criticize the Crown Prince and to punish him, but apparently President Trump doesn’t feel that way.
This mess obviously needs to be dealt with with some delicacy and deftness, but we should not have our president helping the Saudis make up some story about how rogue and unauthorized elements are responsible for this murder.
And, as David French said, at a minimum we should respond by cutting off all assistance for the indiscriminate bombing in Yemen.