Saudi Arabia's criticism of the US Senate resolution is unconvincing and is a sign that US-Saudi relations could be further tested under a Democrat-led Congress next year.
Standing in direct opposition to President Donald Trump, the United States Senate voted to pass a surprising resolution last Thursday to censure one of the US’ closest allies. The Senate called for an end to US involvement in the Saudi Arabia and UAE-led military intervention in Yemen and held Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, better known as MBS, responsible for the brutal slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Riyadh immediately lashed out against the upper house, criticising senators for interfering in Saudi Arabia’s “internal” affairs.
Murder: An infernal affair
However, far from being an internal Saudi affair, the Khashoggi murder is more like the infernal affair that simply won’t be put to bed.
As most know by now, Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. While the details of the grisly crime are still murky, it is indisputable that Saudi operatives were responsible.
According to Riyadh–who first denied he had even been killed–rogue agents acted without orders and killed the columnist in cold blood, a narrative that has been rubbished globally. While Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled out King Salman bin Abdulaziz’s involvement, he has been deafeningly silent on MBS’ culpability for the crime.
For Riyadh to claim that the killing of Khashoggi is an internal affair, one would at least expect for the crime to have occurred within Saudi Arabia’s borders. Instead, it occurred brazenly within Turkey’s borders, and Turkish police and intelligence services were directly responsible for bringing many of the dark deed’s details to the world’s attention.
Although consulates and embassies are technically the sovereign soil of the countries that own them, Khashoggi was a guest in Turkey and was only at the consulate so he could get the necessary papers to wed a Turkish woman. In and of itself, that makes his case more than just a discretely Saudi issue.
Aside from that, Khashoggi also happened to be a US resident and was a columnist for The Washington Post, a large American newspaper. His exposure from his self-imposed exile in the United States due to his writings as a Saudi dissident speaking out against MBS’ policies means that anything that happened to him would be of concern to a large proportion of the American public.
Inevitably, that would drag in the US government itself with even Trump coming out and calling Khashoggi’s murder “the worst cover-up in the history of cover-ups”.
Yemen is a global concern
The global reaction to the brutal slaying of Khashoggi only served to further illustrate not only how polarising the issue has become–pitting the White House against the Senate, for example–but also its international impact.
It has not been very long at all since Khashoggi’s death, yet the Senate’s resolution calling for an end to American support for the Saudi-led coalition’s operations in Yemen will potentially set the stage for a political clash between the White House and Congress next year after the Republicans lost the lower house earlier this year.
Democrats will be keen to curtail Trump’s ambitions as much as possible and that could include paring back his ability to sell armaments to the Saudis and the Emiratis as they bomb the Houthis.
It would be unfair to say that the Yemen crisis is not at least somewhat an internal Saudi affair. After all, arguably, if it were not for Iran supporting the Houthis with arms, training and political backing, then Saudi Arabia would not have felt compelled to do something on its southern border.
After all, its northern border was already lost after Iran completely pulled Iraq into its orbit, and its eastern territories are also under threat both internally as a result of Iranian agitation of the country’s Shia minority and due to Tehran’s religious and political influence over Shia groups in neighbouring Bahrain.
After all, the Saudi-dominated Peninsula Shield Force deployed to Bahrain in 2011 to quell the riots that almost brought down Riyadh’s Al Khalifa allies in Manama.
However, the sheer humanitarian tragedy visited upon the Yemenis both as a result of the Arab intervention–which once included Qatar–and due to the actions of Iran and the Houthis is nothing short of a catastrophe requiring international attention.
A leading charity has said that, as of November this year, 85,000 children had died of malnutrition over the past three years. One child starving to death is bad enough, but trying to visualise all those small, emaciated bodies is enough to make anyone with a heart retch with disgust. That is all of course not forgetting the approximately 10,000 who have been directly killed as a result of the war.
How, then, can the war in Yemen or the murder of Jamal Khashoggi be internal Saudi affairs?
The answer is, of course, that they are not, and the world should resolve the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the crisis in justice that has so far seen the real culprits behind Khashoggi’s killing escape justice.
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