If the Trump administration will not set about substantially changing that relationship (and recent history suggests it will not), Congress must act. Putting an end to arms sales is the first step, and it already has bipartisan support in the Senate. Washington’s habit of turning a blind eye to Saudi malfeasance has never been principled or prudent. The crisis in Yemen and the apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi make it inexcusable.
The raison d’etre for creating the UN following World War II was to have a forum for nations to bring concerns and openly communicate in an attempt to prevent future violence. This is still a viable goal in the 21st century, but for the U.S. must be within the context of our interests and what we believe is achievable. To do that, President Trump must nominate an ambassador who has as much experience and passion for our governing principles as they do with international affairs, and will use our membership in the UN to advance our nation’s economic and security goals.
The killing of a journalist is an unconscionable act, especially when the assailant is a supposed U.S. friend. U.S.-Saudi ties, however, were never founded upon friendship, shared values, a mutual sense of ethics, or a common history—they were founded upon pragmatism and realpolitik. If the pragmatism is wearing off, or the other party is acting counter to U.S. interests, Washington should reassess the assumptions underlying the partnership.
The United States does not need to meddle in every part of the world that faces a lack of security, especially if we can count on our friends. Moreover by getting involved in local fights against radicals—most of which can be dealt with by regional powers—we often go looking for trouble. American interests are better served by a more hands-off approach to Niger and the Sahel.
The Saudi government has taken maximum advantage of America’s appetite for crude oil and a desire for a long-term counterterrorism partner in order to press its own regional agenda. This agenda is centered on the Saudi monarchy’s existential rivalry with Iran and its absolutist quest for hegemony. The United States, despite having no national security interest in the sectarian fault-lines of the Middle East, has frequently chosen to wade into Arab conflicts on Saudi Arabia’s side. Why U.S. officials continue to follow Riyadh’s lead is a mystery with no simple explanation.
We will continue to defend our homeland and citizens from terrorist attacks from wherever they originate around the world—whether Afghanistan, ungoverned territories in Pakistan, Africa, or anywhere else—with robust intelligence, surveillance, and global reconnaissance assets in close coordination between CIA, FBI, and local law enforcement. Perpetuating the permanent failure of 17 years of troops on the ground in Afghanistan, however, must come to an end.
The United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Israel, the Assad regime, the remnants of ISIS, and various militias and terrorist organizations—sometimes distinguishable, but often not—are all in battle. The longer Washington maintains its reckless and unnecessary military intervention, the more likely a direct clash with Iran or Russia becomes.
The U.S. is still the most powerful country on the planet, but it can only keep that title if its power is not overextended. The United States is prosperous, but it cannot afford to forget about what’s most important: seeking mutually beneficial engagement with all nations when necessary, setting realistic defense priorities that elevate the safety of the American people, defending our way of life and promoting our economic prosperity above an obsession with the “liberal order.”
Deterrence and non-interference would be an improvement over aimless sanctions, recognizing the escalation cycles and incentives at play. Sanctions cannot bend Russia to America's will, but deterrence and a calculation by Washington not to back itself—or Moscow—into a corner can prevent the situation from getting worse.
The United States should not invade Iran, and we are by no means bound on course toward intervention. But the Trump team must be more careful here. No more half-facts and mixed messages. No more feckless suggestions that absolutely everything is on the table to force Tehran to bend to Washington’s will. No more use of sanctions as a universal tool of statecraft, a lazy and callous substitute for diplomacy. And certainly no more talk of regime change, which more than anything else is guaranteed to keep Iran away from the negotiating table Trump says he wants.
A longer route to peace is not ideal, but as long as North and South Korea stay friendly, nuclear warheads won’t fly. Peace is possible, and Korean-led diplomacy—not endless sanctions, and certainly not preventive war—is the best way to attain it.
In short, an indefinite U.S. military presence in Syria would be an endeavor with zero strategic benefit for America. It would, however, be costly and unnecessary, both in terms of the U.S. taxpayer funds expended to maintain and resupply that presence and to the safety of the troops themselves. U.S. soldiers and marines should be used to prevent bad guys from killing Americans—not to referee the region’s civil and proxy conflicts.
The way Egypt is behaving, it is simply a bad deal for Washington to continue to ritualistically open its wallet without thinking about the return on investment. Foreign assistance should be earned, not treated as an unquestioned entitlement. Above all, Washington’s generosity must serve the interests of the United States, and benefit the American people—especially the taxpayers who fund it.