Are some malign activities more evil than others?
For the Trump administration, the answer seems to be yes. On the one hand, the administration is willing to go all out to oppose what it properly calls the “malign activities of Iran and its proxies.” But when it comes to Saudi Arabia and its “king in waiting,” crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, there seems to be a different standard. Thus, notwithstanding the kingdom’s malign bombing campaign in Yemen, its brutal murder of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the kidnapping of the Lebanese prime minister and multiple documented human rights abuses, the administration appears ready to ignore bipartisan opposition and to sell $478 million in precision-guided missiles to the Saudis.
It was just about a year ago that the Trump administration overrode the very pointed opposition of congressional Republicans and Democrats to the sale of $8 billion in weapons to the Saudis and United Arab Emirates. At that time, the administration sought to justify the move by declaring a national emergency. That followed a Trump veto of an earlier congressional joint resolution seeking to have the Saudis end their bombing campaign in Yemen.
The current arms sale effort is moving forward just after Trump fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick who, among other things, was investigating whether the administration broke the law when it declared the state of emergency last year.
In a CNN op-ed last week, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raised questions about all these issues. He wrote: “The question remains: Why is the president and his top diplomat [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] working so hard to prop up one of the world’s worst despots? Until we have an answer, Congress must reject this new multimillion dollar sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.”
Menendez also observed that recent Iranian attacks on Saudi oil fields seemed to confirm that “these sales had little to do with deterrence of Iran and everything to do with placating bin Salman.”
And Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) questioned Trump’s earlier claims that the Saudi sales would be good for American workers, since the arms production would generate jobs in the U.S. Murphy first pointed to the fact that Raytheon, one of the arms manufacturers, is beefing up its production capacity in Saudi Arabia, which means that new jobs will go to Saudi Arabia, rather than to the U.S. And he concluded: “If they’re going to kill civilians, further destabilize the Middle East and it’s not going to create jobs, then what the hell is the point?”
Mohammed bin Salman is a cold-hearted, murderous despot who now leads a brutal, erratic and wholly self-absorbed regime. One way the United States can restrain such a “malign” leader is by not adding to his destructive stockpile of military weapons. That’s the path the administration should take.