Statement: Washington’s longstanding devotion to Saudi Arabia is misguided and should end

November 21, 2018

WASHINGTON, DC—In response to President Trump's statement on the Khashoggi murder, Defense Priorities Senior Fellow and Defense Scholar Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement:

“While much has been made about President’s Trump’s refusal to accept the CIA’s assessment that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the operation to murder Jamal Khashoggi, it is not the most troubling part of this saga.

“President Trump’s denial of the obvious is merely the latest display of Washington’s long tradition of misguided devotion to the Saudis.

“Shifting focus to Iran, a nation led by a regime undeniably guilty of malign behavior in the Middle East, gives the false impression that there is a good side and a bad side in the fight between Tehran and Riyadh. Neither side has clean hands, neither side shares America’s interests or values, and neither side is deserving of America's unconditional support.

“Iran’s many sins are well known. But Saudi Arabia has done the most to exacerbate the humanitarian disaster in Yemen by bombing. Saudi Arabia has been the world’s greatest state supporter of terrorism, especially against the west. Saudi Arabia has lately been the biggest source of trouble in the Middle East.

“If Iran were uniquely dangerous or nearly as threatening as the Trump administration claims, devotion to the Saudis might make sense. But Iran is relatively weak and nowhere close to becoming a regional hegemon.

“Being prosperous, powerful, and safely removed from the brutal politics of the Middle East allows the United States to be principled and balanced in our approach there. We do not have to choose between our interests and our values when it comes to Saudi Arabia. We should acknowledge Mohammed bin Salman is the murderous despot everyone knows him to be. And we should treat Saudi Arabia as neither a friend nor an enemy, but a normal autocracy that we do business with but do not praise, sponsor, or serve.”