President Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Credit: The White House/Flickr

Back on December 12, I argued that we should have reevaluated our relationship with Saudi Arabia long before now. It seems that the days of reckoning have finally arrived, yet we appear to be off to an inauspicious start to the process. In Wednesday’s New York Times, Declan Walsh and Eric Schmitt explore some of the absurdities of the situation.

The biggest distortion in our relationship is that we’ve spent decades building up the Saudi’s armed forces but have always done so with the expectation that those forces would never be used. Now that they are being used – they’re killing civilians in a losing conflict that is devoid of strategic vision. We don’t like the situation, and yet we can’t easily extricate ourselves from it.

In my earlier piece, I wrote “it’s less that Trump is a true outlier than that he doesn’t know how to sugarcoat things,” and what I meant by that is that we’ve been reliant on selling billions of arms to the Saudis for a while but only now do we have a president who’s willing to say that we don’t want to rein in the House of Saud on any level because we don’t want to risk our contracts or political relationship. In the past, we’ve struggled with the moral and strategic implications of this situation, but not to the point of changing it. Now we’re at risk of making our peace with it at a time when that position is least defensible.

Our country is completely implicated in the war in Yemen, including the atrocities, the starvation, and the military failure, and the New York Times is wondering why we can’t even keep track of which aerial bombardment missions are being carried out by which coalition partners or whether or not it is our bombs that are landing on civilian schools and markets and hospitals.

The Saudi Air Force is armed and trained by us, and Boeing has “a  $480 million contract for service repairs to the fleet.” The new acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan is a 30-year veteran of Boeing who, until now, has been recusing himself for decisions related to the defense contractor.  It won’t be long before Boeing finds itself in a public relations disaster.

They are in the same position as our government. They made a contract with the devil, and now the consequences of that bargain are coming due.

On December 12, the U.S. Senate voted 56-41 to halt cooperation with the air war in Yemen, but the House of Representatives refused to follow suit. These are nothing more than baby steps in any case, as it is the entire relationship and our complete Middle East foreign policy vision that must be reevaluated.

This would be excruciating for our country even with the best leadership, but we don’t have any leadership right now. Before we can move forward, we first have to clean our own house.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at