In-Depth: Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) introduced this bill to prohibit all military sales and aid to the Saudi government due to its role in the death of U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi:
“It is now clear that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi Consulate. The use of a diplomatic post as a torture chamber is an affront not only to international norms, but to basic human decency. And the inconsistent and implausible explanations put forth by the Saudi Government make absolutely no sense and defy credibility. Under both Democratic and Republican Administrations, I’ve called for a serious review of our arms sales to the Saudi government. With the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it’s time for the United States to halt all weapons sales and military aid to Saudi Arabia. Our democratic values are on the line here – and we need to step up as a country and do the right thing.”
In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote that the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government, and called on the international community to reveal the identities of the puppet masters. Similarly, the Justice for Jamal campaign, which is dedicated to bringing those responsible for Khashoggi’s death to justice, has called for the Trump administration to work with Turkish authorities to help find Khashoggi’s body and put pressure on the Saudi government.
President Trump, discussing the Saudi government’s role in Khashoggi’s death, said:
“They had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly, and the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups. Somebody really messed up, and they had the worst cover-up ever.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that a move to revoke visas or U.S. entry ineligibility from 21 “Saudi suspects” was just a “first step,” and that “these penalties will not be the last word on [Khashoggi’s death].” Secretary Pompeo added:
“[The administration] will continue to hold those responsible accountable. We’re making very clear that the United States does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr. Khashoggi, a journalist, with violence. Neither the president or I am happy with this situation.”
However, Secretary Pompeo stressed the strategic importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, likely indicating that this legislation would be opposed by the administration. He stated, “we continue to view as achievable the twin imperative of protecting America and holding accountable those responsible for the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.”
Secretary Pompeo’s view was supported by a “60 Minutes” interview in which President Trump said that he wants to continue selling arms to Saudi Arabia to protect U.S. jobs. President Trump declared, “I don’t want to lose an order like that” in reference to the Saudi Arabia arms deal. In a roundtable discussion with defense executives after Saudi Arabia’s role in Khashoggi’s killing was confirmed, President Trump continued to refuse to back down on arms deals with Saudi Arabia:
“Probably the people around this table have the vast percentage of the $110 billion order from Saudi. Almost 100 percent of it would be sitting right around this table… “I don’t want to look over and tell Marillyn [Hewson, CEO of Lockheed Martin] or Dennis [Muilenburg, CEO of Boeing], ‘By the way, we’re going to take $25 billion worth of sales away from you.’ because that would mean a lot of jobs. ”
A number of large U.S. defense companies, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon, are heavily reliant on sales to the Saudi Arabian government. These companies have been largely quiet in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s death. In an investor call on October 23, Lockheed’s CEO, Marillyn Hewson, explained to investors to Lockheed would refer to the U.S. government’s decisions regarding relations with Saudi Arabia. However, she didn’t take an explicit position on calls for the U.S. to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Bruce Riedel, senior fellow at the Brooks Institution, argues that putting pressure on Saudi Arabia isn’t well-served by ending arms deals. Instead, he contends that the U.S. should squeeze the Saudi government for spare parts and maintenance:
“"It's not clear that the Saudis have ever been serious about (the) THAAD (arms deal). They have been considering it for years… The United States has much more leverage than Saudi Arabia. Without American support the Saudi military would be inoperative. If Washington wants answers from Riyadh [it should] squeeze the spare parts and maintenance lifeline.”
Analysts who follow the U.S.-Saudi relationship don’t expect a long-term disruption to the relationship, despite the escalating rhetoric. Jon B. Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., notes that Saudi Arabia remained an important regional partner for the U.S. even after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which were largely perpetrated by Saudis:
“Congress will have a debate about [the Khashoggi case], and Congress will place some holds and restrictions [on Saudi Arabia]. I can’t imagine that Congress will sever military ties or any other kind of ties with Saudi Arabia. This is intended to put pressure and get answers, but not to destroy the bilateral relationship.”
This bill has the support of 26 cosponsors, including 23 Democrats and three Republicans.
Of Note: On October 19, 2018, the Saudi government admitted that Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. journalist and U.S. permanent resident, died on the premises of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, ostensibly from a fist-fight. This led Saudi authorities to fire several intelligence officers and arrest others. Riyadh has blamed a “rogue operation” for Khashoggi’s killing; however, many have raised questions about Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in his death. Turkish officials, who have been investigating Khashoggi’s death, say he was killed and dismembered in a premeditated attack.
Saudi purchases of U.S. military equipment are significant: since the 1950s, the Saudi government has spent nearly $90 billion on weapons systems from U.S. defense contractors.
On October 11, 2018, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a Senate bill to prohibit military aid to Saudi Arabia until the Secretary of State determined that Khashoggi was alive and free.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Enes Evren)