The US Senate took a remarkable step on Wednesday by voting to end American support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen for the second time. The result (54-46) had the support of seven Republicans who voted in favour of passing the resolution. “In an historic vote, the Senate sent an important message: we will no longer support Saudi Arabia in causing the worst humanitarian disaster on the planet. Congress will reassert its constitutional authority on issues of war and end U.S. support for the war in Yemen,” Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted after the vote. This suggests that US lawmakers are insisting that they are longer willing to turn a blind eye to the crimes that the Saudi regime is committing in Yemen.
Yet this historic step is a rebuke for Trump’s incomprehensible behaviour towards Saudi Arabia and especially the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. It also indicates that the lobbying, which Saudis have been carry out in the United States, did not have an impact on preventing the lawmakers from condemning what Riyadh has been doing in Yemen for almost four years.
“The vote today in the US Senate was really about Saudi Arabia. While the resolution called for ending US support for the war in Yemen, the real target was the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), ”Professor Nader Hashemi, Director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, told me.
This vote was a reflection of popular American anger toward the murder of Jamal Khashoggi [by MBS] and more generally a reflection of American opposition toward the current state of US-Saudi relations.
Last week, Newsweek reported that “a new investigation found that hundreds of civilians – including children – have been killed or maimed by US-made weapons in unlawful airstrikes conducted as part of the ongoing war in Yemen.” Yet, this is not the first time this has happens. This is because munitions experts told CNN that the bomb used by the Saudi-led coalition in a devastating attack on a school bus in Yemen was sold as part of a US State Department-sanctioned arms deal with Saudi Arabia. This demonstrates the way in which Trump has forced his country to be complicit in the violations that the Saudi-led coalition is committing in Yemen.
Arguably, Trump’s approach to Saudi Arabia contradicts the US’ really morals. However, under his reign, we are seeing, more than at any time before, the White House administration giving its full support to a crown prince who has not been doing anything except breaching human rights laws. This makes the US, which has been viewed as a champion of human rights, look like a backer of a crown prince that has destroyed his country’s reputation globally as a result of his human rights abuses.
Such an approach has forced US lawmakers to take a stand and stop their country’s slogan being changed from “leader of the free world” to “backer of a brutal regime”. Only action will stop this happening and the senators did just that.
“The Senate vote to end US support for the war in Yemen is another expression of the bipartisan anger in Congress toward the relationship between the White House and the Saudi leadership in the aftermath of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi,” Baker Institute fellow for the Middle East, Kristian Ulrichsen, told me. “This anger is very real and it is one of the rare instances of an issue that crosses the partisan divide and in which prominent Republicans and Democrats can work together. This presents a real problem for the Saudi leadership as the US-Saudi partnership has lost the support of Congress and now rests with the occupants of the White House, who may not be there in two years’ time.”
Yet it is unlikely that Trump is going to listen to Congress and, as a result, he is likely to veto its decision, stopping it in its tracks. This will only deepen the disagreement that he created between his administration and the lawmakers regarding his “MBS First” policy.
MBS has been gaining strength from Trump, and we can argue that he may not have manoeuvred in the way he has been of late if Trump wasn’t in the White House. The president’s silence has been taken as a green light for the kingdom’s de facto ruler to do anything he wants.
Arab regimes who at first joined the Saudi coalition in Yemen have since realised that their country’s reputation hung in the balance as a result and they withdrew their forces.
Trump has continuously acted as a businessman; everything has a price to him. History will not look keenly on such “leaders” who have deliberately been taking the wrong approach in favour of commercial considerations.