There is severe division in the US Congress over internal issues that could result in yet another partial government shutdown but there does exist a bipartisan appetite to impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia over the killing of a Saudi journalist and the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen that launched a defensive military intervention supported by the Trump White House.
Once again, legislators are using the well-worn ‘human rights’ canard as a tool with which to manipulate another nation; in this case one of America’s most steadfast regional allies. Whenever I hear American officials citing ‘human rights’ and ‘freedom’ these days, I shudder remembering how those staples of western democracies were delivered on missiles to Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya — countries still fighting to recover.
Venezuela could be the latest recipient of America’s brand of human rights. Not content with demanding regime change there while openly inciting its military to stage a coup amounting to a breach of the UN Charter, for the second time in five months Congress is gunning for Saudi Arabia.
The first attempt known as ‘The Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2019’ was blocked by the then Republican-dominated House of Representatives. However since the midterms, the climate poisoned by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and his cronies has reached high toxicity.
President Donald Trump, who appreciates the US-Saudi partnership and has warned against nudging the kingdom into Putin’s welcoming arms, does have veto power. But sections of the US media are dragging-out ‘experts’ colouring Trump’s friendship with the Saudi leadership as being based on either personal or corporate benefit without any grounds to back up those assertions.
The Washington Post and CNN, that intersperses its anti-Saudi segments with advertisements depicting Qatar as a haven for tourists, is bent on whipping up hostility against Saudi, in particular its crown prince, whose initiatives are transforming his homeland’s economic and social landscapes.
Just days ago, the British CNN host Christiane Amanpour devoted a long segment to spewing anti-Saudi vitriol with the assistance of like-minded guests attempting to paint Jamal Khashoggi as some kind of journalistic deity whose death must be recorded in the annals of history for all time.
In reality he was a columnist working with Qatar to incite dissent against the Saudi government via his columns and encrypted text messages to the like-minded in country. Amanpour adopted a similar antagonistic stance against Egypt following the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood’s stooge.
Notably Iran’s new best friend Qatar is pumping money into the United States, some $30 billion (Dh110.19 billion) to date with another $15 billion over the coming two years. Its embrace of extremists is ignored by the media. The US government is pressing Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to send an olive branch to the Qatari Emir largely because Qatar hosts the United States Central Command and pays through the nose in terms of investments for the privilege.
I fear America’s commander-in-chief could reluctantly go along with sanctions to prove critics wrong just as he did when between gritted teeth he approved sanctions against Russia with which he once rightly hoped to solidify ties in order to find joint solutions to the world’s trouble spots.
Caving to Congress on Saudi Arabia would be a grave mistake on Trump’s part, seen not only as offensive to Riyadh but also to its regional allies and Muslims everywhere. Moreover, that would embolden the region’s enemy Iran and its proxies. It is worth highlighting that Congress can override Trump’s veto provided there are sufficient votes to do so.
Whatever the outcome, Congress is playing a dangerous game that could well create irreparable distrust that could force Saudi Arabia and its allies to hedge their bets by reaching out to other global powers waiting in the wings.
Neither Congress nor the US wins anything by alienating a long-standing friend that is instrumental in the fight against terror and stands as a bulwark against Iran’s territorial ambitions.
It is time for all Arab League member-states to vehemently defend the kingdom in response to this Congressional and western media onslaught, including those nations whose relations with Saudi Arabia have cooled if for no other reason than the risk of joining Venezuela on America’s burgeoning hit list.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.