Corruption & Ignorance: The Trump Administration on Saudi Arabia
President Donald Trump, for whatever reason, seems to love Saudi Arabia. Trump’s unrelenting support of the Saudis is wrong-headed given the incident with the missing Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia’s airstrikes in the Yemen Civil War. Trump also has financial motivations to remain in the Saudi’s good graces. A clear conflict of interest exists. His son Donald Trump Jr. has no idea what he is talking about on the Middle East. Corruption and ignorance in the White House should bring fear upon the minds of those who actually know foreign affairs.
Trump is awfully friendly and sympathetic to Saudi Arabia, and he continues to support the Saudi campaign in Yemen despite numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity. Senior Advisor Jared Kushner also made a secret trip to Saudi Arabia last year. President Trump also has financial interests courtesy of Saudi Arabia, providing a personal stake in Trump possibly turning on the Saudis (a terrible burden for a corrupt politician also looking to line his pockets). Outside of Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United States have had good bilateral relations under Trump.
It is hard to know the extent of Trump-Saudi relations because Trump has never disclosed his tax returns. For someone who was a major figure on the birther issue regarding President Obama’s birth certificate, Trump is incredulously secretive about his taxes, even though modern-day Presidents have released them.
As for the conservatives who voted for Trump because he would follow the Constitution (unlike Obama, although that claim has always been ignorant), Senators Bernie Sanders, Mike Lee and Chris Murphy have raised the question of whether or not U.S. intervention in Yemen (a war) is constitutional. Under Article I, Section 8 and the War Powers Resolution of 1973, it could be argued that U.S. intervention in Yemen, given the intensity of it, is unconstitutional since Congress was not given the chance to authorize it through an AUMF, as was done in 2001 and 2003. In fact the U.S. House of Representatives, in a 336–30 vote, affirmed that they never voted on an AUMF in regards to helping the Saudi Coalition attack the Houthis in Yemen. This situation is so obscure, that it is the first time that there was a vote to end a war that was never voted on through an AUMF in the first place. Sanders, Lee, and Murphy wanted to vote on ending a war that was never authorized, but the vote failed back in March of 2018. After the events surrounding Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (currently missing), Sanders will re-introduce the bill again on constitutionality grounds. By law, it must be called to a vote.
The Constitution, as well as checks and balances, has been skirted technically since 2015 on Yemen, but with recent ratcheting-up of the conflict in Yemen, the case against constitutionality and the argument of checks and balances being dismantled becomes stronger. Congress is the only body that can approve war and set ground rules on the Executive. This bill should have a re-vote. If it fails again, Congress should then go into an eventual vote on authorizing an AUMF on Yemen. Congress would have to vote to authorize war that would assist the Saudis, despite the Khashoggi disappearance and Saudi Arabia’s other activities.
Congress should be weary of going along with Trump in supporting the Saudis. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, often rumored to be the hotbed of Salafi thought and Islamic extremist ideology. Even as recently as 2014, private citizens in Saudi Arabia were rumored to have back-channeled money to ISIL, a move unsurprising considering that both private Saudi Arabian donors and the Saudi Government have been funding Al-Qaeda, The Taliban, and Lashkar-E-Taiba in Pakistan according to leaked U.S. cables. If an AUMF does come to a vote, spurred by the metaphysics of the Sanders-Lee-Murphy resolution, this light shined on Saudi Arabia should be considered.
Donald Trump ran on the premise of defeating ISIS in 30 days (which has not happened). Beating ISIL was a top priority, in fact he “knew more about ISIS than the generals”. If President Trump continues to support the Saudis in light of their past pro-Wahabbism, which did indeed eventually lead to ISIS through the works of Al Qaeda and other Sunni-or-die jihadist machines, he is not as tough on ISIS as he promised he would be.
Then there is Donald Trump Jr., who while not officially part of the Administration, could be a negative influence on the White House if he has his father’s ear. Trump Jr. pushed the idea that the media was falsely feeling bad for the death of Jamal Khashoggi, who was “ actually a jihadist-sympathizer or jihadist himself”. None of this is accurate. Even if Khashoggi was an ex-jihadist, secretly kidnapping one or killing one without a trial is still problematic. On top of that, it is very clear that Khashoggi was a journalist for Arab News meeting with members Afghan Mujahideen (no sign of Osama Bin Laden in the photograph on record), who in 1988, when the photo was taken, were allies of the United States in the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. President Reagan was arming those same Mujahideens, some of whom would then later form Al-Qaeda and mastermind 9/11 (Bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, etc.). To criticize Mujahideen involvement would be to criticize the U.S. policy in Afghanistan at that time, or the Reagan Doctrine itself. As clear as hindsight is now, neither National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski nor President Ronald Reagan expected that a faction of members within the Mujahideen would one day become terrorists. Not to mention that Jamal Khashoggi was not a member of the Mujahideen, as he is from Saudi Arabia and was most likely NOT living in Afghanistan at the time, and journalists interview controversial figures often, from white supremacists to prison inmates, dictators, and terrorists. It does not mean they are complicit or supportive of their actions. The son of the President does not understand Cold War history or journalism itself for that matter. Not to mention the racial undertones or the sheer hypocrisy of US-Saudi relations in this “anti-jihad context”.
As of right now, the United States and Saudi Arabia should maintain stable but fair-minded diplomatic and economic ties with Saudi Arabia. However, Donald Trump should know about what is going on in Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s support for extremism in the past, and that his son Donald is completely clueless on the Middle East. He should also see that he has conflicts of interest and should do something about them. For the foreign policy experts, corruption and ignorance in regard to any country, but Saudi Arabia in particular, is terrifying for legitimate reasons. The Trump Administration, regardless of Khashoggi’s status (although it is interesting that Trump vows revenge if he has indeed died), needs to consider having a conversation with Saudi Arabia in the White House regarding their soft spot for actual jihadis (not Khashoggi) and the United States should no longer support the Saudi Coalition in Yemen.