Just a few months ago Saudi Arabia’s leader, Mohammed bin-Salman (MBS), was on the defensive. He authorized the murder of an independent journalist, his domestic reforms had turned out to be fanciful, and the US Congress had moved to deprive him of the military support he had counted on continue his war crimes in Yemen. But MBS had crucial support from the Trump administration. Trump was unwilling to accept the CIA’s finding that MBS probably ordered the assassination of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, and Jared Kushner evidently persuaded Trump that continued support of his friend, the crown prince, was essential to US ideas about a Middle East peace.
As a result, US policy toward Saudi Arabia did not change. And now, we see that far from distancing the US from Saudi Arabia, Trump has found a false reason to tighten it. Based on accusations of a new security threat from Iran, Trump has authorized the dispatch of 1500 additional troops to the Middle East and the sale of several billion dollars in precision-guided weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The arms sale is being made without Congressional authorization or consultation, on the argument (made by Pompeo) that an extreme emergency eliminates the legal requirement to make the case to Congress.
There is no emergency. No evidence has been presented to show that Iran is taking any action that threatens US or any other country’s interests. On the other hand, evidence is abundant that US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran, the sanctions imposed on Iran, and threats of regime change do present a security threat—to Iran. As for Saudi Arabia, selling arms to a murderous regime that consistently violates human rights and is committing war crimes in Yemen is simply unconscionable.
Trump’s latest moves are perfectly in line with the insidious way he conducts his office. He declares an emergency when none exists, as with the use of the US military for border security, now in litigation.
He ignores Congress when it suits his political purposes, as with his refusal to honor House of Representative committee subpoenas and requests for documents. Trump further cements his authoritarianism, and Congress members are left to ponder at what point they will draw the line and defend our form of government from an imperial president.
Professor Emeritus of Political Science
Portland State University