On Thursday, the Senate rebuked President Trump’s Middle East policy when they voted 56-to-41 to order the Pentagon to end its military involvement on behalf of Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni Civil War. The same day, in a unanimous vote, the Senate also passed a resolution to hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman personally responsible for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“[This] is incredibly important. [This] is challenging this administration to ... have to face the facts as they have been gathered by our intelligence community that are irrefutable,” WGBH News Analyst and CEO of the GroundTruth Project Charlie Sennott told Boston Public Radio Monday.
Though American support for Saudi Arabia has been a consistent core of American Middle East policy since 1945, President Trump generated a significant amount of criticismfrom both sides of the aisle for refusing to take any actions against the crown prince for his role in Khashoggi’s death.
“All evidence points to [Salman’s involvement], that all this leads back to the crown prince,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told the New York Times on Dec. 4. “This is conduct that none of us in America would approve of in any way.”
Though Trump’s support for Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemeni Civil War, which has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths, is a continuation of former President Barack Obama’s policy, Sennott said the Senate vote could be detrimental to Trump in the long run because he has staked his entire Middle East policy on a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia.
“The Trump administration has basically said, ‘We are with the Sunnis against Iran, and against the Shi’a,’” Sennott said. “It’s a very simplistic way of looking at the Middle East. It’s fraught with peril, and it’s been fraught with any foreign policy that has a tentpole like Saudi Arabia to it that can get kicked out to the desert winds really easily, and it just did.”
Following the Senate vote, the Saudi government issued a strong statement accusing the Senate of basing their vote on “baseless allegations and accusations” and denounced “its interference in Saudi domestic affairs and its distorting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's role at regional and international levels.”
Though the resolution is unlikely to pass in the currently Republican-controlled House of Representatives, another bill containing broad sanctions for Saudi Arabia is expected to come in a few months when a new Democratic-controlled House will be in session, and more likely to pass it. The bipartisan support the bill received as well may portend a shift in the typically friendly relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and could force Trump to choose between amiable relations with members of his own party or with the Saudi Royal Family.