For the hawkish Washington establishment, Republican and Democrat, the typical foreign policy approach has long been to give U.S. taxpayer dollars and military aid to even the most tyrannical regimes, even as we simultaneously slap sanctions on these countries.
For his entire career in the Senate, Rand Paul, R-Ky., has asked if this makes any sense—particularly regarding American “ally” Saudi Arabia.
When it was reported that journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi was allegedly killed at the request of Saudi leaders, Paul said he would force a vote to reject arms sales to Saudi Arabia. “Believe you me, I will be forcing votes on them,” Paul vowed Tuesday. "It is a point of difference with the president, but who knows, the president may come around on this if there is any evidence they killed this journalist."
President Trump expressed “concern” about the report. So did Vice President Mike Pence. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., tweeted, “We agree if there was any truth to the allegations of wrongdoing by the Saudi government it would be devastating to the US-Saudi relationship and there will be a heavy price to be paid — economically and otherwise.”
While the alleged murder of a journalist at the hands of the Saudi government should alarm American officials and liberalized countries around the world, ending U.S. military aid to that despotic regime in particular is something that should have happened a long time ago.
Saudi Arabia’s reign of terror did not begin this week.
"Weddings. Funerals. A school bus full of children. The Saudi-led coalition continues to bomb civilians in Yemen’s civil war...” reported progressive outlet Truthout on Tuesday:
Over the past three years, this US-backed intervention in Yemen has killed thousands of civilians, destroyed vital civilian infrastructure and pushed the humanitarian situation in the region’s poorest country from grim to apocalyptic. Beyond direct military support, the US has sold the coalition tens of billions of dollars’ worth of advanced weaponry since the start of the war.
“Far from anomalous, coalition airstrikes hitting civilian gatherings or infrastructure are reported on a regular basis,” the report continued.
“In June of last year, 47 senators supported legislation introduced by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) that would have blocked a sale of precision-guided munitions (like Raytheon’s GBU-12 bomb) to Saudi Arabia,” Truthout noted.
“But 53 senators thought selling more bombs to Saudi Arabia was a good idea."
Will the murder of a journalist be enough to finally turn the tide? If not, what will it take to convince a majority of politicians that aiding Saudi Arabia blindly is neither compatible with our values nor in our best security interests?
Because it wasn’t a good idea for the U.S. to financially support and arm the Saudis when Paul called for a boycott of that country in 2015. It wasn’t a good idea for America to continue funding Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen when Paul teamed with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., in 2016 to block arm sales. "I would argue that … our issues are not aligned in fighting in the way that many new senators and congressmen are taught when you show up here,” Murphy said at the time, describing the longstanding disjointed Washington view of U.S.-Saudi relations. “I think we have largely turned the other way, and allowed for the Saudis to create a version of Islam which has become the building blocks for the very groups that we are fighting today."
Paul made a similar observation to Murphy in a tweet on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia - the largest state sponsor of jihadism — time to quit arming Radical Islam! https://t.co/qPybFaFfcP— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) October 9, 2018
Rand Paul has been leading the charge to disconnect America from Saudi Arabia’s ongoing support for extremists and human rights abuses for some time—and for all of that time, the majority of leaders in Washington under both Democrat and Republican administrations have chosen to ignore him.
With the mysterious and likely murderous disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, perhaps they will no longer be able to ignore it. Americans, right, left or anywhere else on the ideological spectrum, should hope so.
It’s about time.
Jack Hunter (@jackhunter74) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is the former political editor of Rare.us and co-authored the 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington with Senator Rand Paul.