The Corner

National Security & Defense

Can Trump Be as Tough on Saudi Arabia as He Was on Canada?

President Trump with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House, March 20, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

It appears as if the Saudis may be set to acknowledge at least some form of responsibility for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Perhaps it was an “interrogation that went wrong” or the action of “rogue elements.” Either way, it seems that there’s no longer any pretense that Khashoggi is still alive, and his killers were almost certainly Saudi.

It’s not Donald Trump’s fault that he inherited the legacy of a generation of bipartisan coddling of the Saudis. Republicans and Democrats alike have looked the other way as the Saudis exported radical Islamic theologies, funded jihadists, and oppressed their own citizens. We’ve consistently treated the Saudi government as if we need them more than they need us. The Obama administration even went so far as to order American jets to refuel Saudi fighters to facilitate their indiscriminate bombing campaign in Yemen, a practice the Trump administration has continued.

But Trump’s president now, and he has to make a choice. In the face of a clear, unacceptable provocation, can he actually draw lines the Saudis can’t cross? Can he take actions to demonstrate that America isn’t bound to Saudi money? Can he even use rhetoric half as extreme as he used against Canada this summer?

It’s not as if we don’t have cards to play. Yes, the Saudis spend immense sums on American arms, but they’re also dependent on American cooperation to sustain their military operations. Yes, the Saudis are extraordinarily wealthy, but our economic power dwarfs theirs. They fear Iran more than we fear Iran.

At a minimum, we can and should stop facilitating the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen, a campaign that depends on American weapons and American help and is murderously indiscriminate. At a minimum, we can demonstrate to the Saudis exactly how much they depend on us to confront Iranian aggression. They are the junior partner in this alliance, and junior partners cannot be permitted to go “rogue.”

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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