Friend or Foe? The Senate Wants It Both Ways With Saudi Arabia
Policy + Politics

Friend or Foe? The Senate Wants It Both Ways With Saudi Arabia

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

After a summer in which the members of the United States Senate have spent more time on the campaign trail than in Washington, they were hoping to skip town again at the end of this week, not to return until the election. However, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is now promising to keep the body in session into next week, for what might look like a puzzling reason.

McConnell wants to be in Washington in order to try to override an expected presidential veto of a bill that would allow the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over allegations that it provided support to the terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on that day 15 years ago.

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That vote will take place just days after McConnell led a successful effort to scuttle a plan to block the sale of arms to ... Saudi Arabia.


The bill that would allow federal judges to waive sovereign immunity and allow lawsuits against Saudi Arabia is strongly opposed by the Obama administration for a number of reasons, the most significant of which is that if revoking sovereign immunity becomes an accepted response to conflict, U.S. diplomats and businesspersons working overseas could be hauled into court by citizens of other countries.

However, the anger at the memory of the attacks and at the possibility that high-ranking members of the Saudi royal family might have been involved in helping to finance Al Qaeda, the group behind it, has Republicans in Congress as well as many of their Democratic colleagues, ready to defy the president.

McConnell made it clear that he is ready to oblige them, even at the risk of keeping Republican senators away from the campaign trail and damaging relations with one of the country’s closest allies in the Middle East.

And that’s what makes his position on a bill that would bar arms sales to the Kingdom so puzzling.

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On Tuesday, he told reporters that he would aggressively oppose a measure meant to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia because U.S.-supplied arms are apparently being used against civilian populations in Yemen, where the Saudis are leading a coalition against the rebel Houthi.

Taking into account McConnell’s willingness to let Americans sue Saudi Arabia, his defense of the arms sale seems a bit off-key.

“The Saudis have in many, many ways been good allies over the years,” he told reporters Tuesday.

“I think it’s important to the United States to maintain as good a relationship with Saudi Arabia as possible," McConnell also said Tuesday, according to Bloomberg News.

That apparently doesn’t extend to relations in the courtroom.