Opinion: Moran is right about Saudi Arabia

Apparently Sen. Jerry Moran is the only Kansas Republican willing to stand up to Saudi Arabia.

Recently, Moran joined six other Senate Republicans in backing a resolution against President Donald Trump’s use of emergency powers to sell arms to the Saudis. Afterward, Moran stated his concerns about the Saudi government and its role in Yemen’s civil war. He also stressed that it is the prerogative of Congress, not the president, to make such decisions.

Moran is right on all counts. By contrast, Sen. Pat Roberts voted against the resolution, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, of Wichita, is currently in Saudi Arabia cultivating deeper ties, apparently as a counterbalance to Iran. This is bad policy.

If Pompeo and Trump are truly outraged by Iran’s opposition to democracy, its poor human rights record and its support for terrorism, then their stance on Saudi Arabia is indefensible. The Saudi regime’s record is even worse. Both of them ruthlessly hunt down, jail and murder political dissidents and members of their LGBTQ communities, among others. However, Iran at least has a vibrant middle class, popular culture and youth scene that may eventually push for democracy. These are much weaker in Saudi Arabia. Also, Iran’s regime is not quite as oppressive toward women. Regarding terrorism, Iran’s support for groups attacking Israel is well-known, but Saudi Arabia is no better, being closely linked to the extreme, fundamentalist interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism, which underpins al-Qaida and spreads terrorism globally. Saudi government officials have also been identified by the FBI and CIA as sources of funding, training, travel visas, and logistical support for the 9/11 hijackers. Then comes Jamal Khashoggi, the U.S.-based Saudi journalist murdered and dismembered by Saudi operatives last year in Turkey. Khashoggi was killed after publicly criticizing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. A U.N. special investigation suggests that Salman authorized the killing. With friends like these…

Pompeo’s and Roberts’ stands on Saudi Arabia are indefensible, from either a human rights or a counterterrorism perspective. Instead, they are practicing the classic strategy of realism, or realpolitik — the amoral approach to foreign policy often associated with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. This approach is a bit like board games such as Risk but for real — countries advance their national interests by playing adversaries against one another to achieve a balance of power, with little or no concern for any ideals such as stopping terrorism or advancing human rights. In this game, only the national interest matters. Since Saudi Arabia and Iran both have terrible records, Pompeo and Roberts cannot seriously expect us to believe that they oppose Iran because of its abuses. Among Kansas Republicans, only Moran has credibility now.

The stakes are high. In the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), Saddam Hussein’s U.S.-backed regime (yes, you read that correctly) initiated the conflict, thinking that post-revolution chaos made Iran an easy target. Instead, a truce was established only after eight years and at least a half million people dead — possibly up to three times that number — in the bloodiest war since World War II. Back then, the U.S. sought to co-opt another country with a poor human rights record, using it as an ally and proxy against Iran. As we now know, it did not end well.

This is no time to repeat the lessons of history. Moran is now our voice of reason from Kansas. Let us hope he can get through to Pompeo and Roberts while there is still time.

— Michael A. Smith is a professor of political science at Emporia State University.


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