A strong message that resonates across the board

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Md. Sharif Hasan
Published : 16:33, Dec 11, 2018 | Updated : 17:53, Feb 06, 2019

Md Sharif HasanIt’s an extraordinary rebuke from the US Senate to a longtime American ally. Six senior US Senators from across party lines have introduced a resolution which holds the Saudi Crown Prince personally accountable for the murder of journalist and civil rights campaigner Jamal Khashoggi. It urges the US and international community to hold him and anyone else involved in the killing accountable. In a joint statement Democratic Senator Edie Markey calls the Crown Prince a thug and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham calls him a wrecking ball, rare harsh words for the leader of an allied nation. This directly contradicts statements from President Trump who insisted repeatedly that there’s no definitive evidence connecting Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) with the crime. The resolution falls short of calling for A regime change in Saudi Arabia but whether President Trump likes it or not the rift between the US government and its ally of 85 years has never been wider.
One question merits attention: How much weight does a resolution from the Senate actually carry?
It’s very significant. This resolution is not binding, but it is binding in the court of US and public opinion. It’s striking to see the bipartisan support behind this resolution at a time where there really hasn’t been much bipartisan cooperation in the United States Senate. It is a political strike across the bow in terms of the impact it can have on the US-Saudi relationship. And it basically urges the Trump administration in regard to Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) and the killing of Mr Khashoggi to understand that it’s time for the administration to fish or cut bait.
The White House is under no obligation to abide by the terms of the resolution. The resolution, as stated before in terms of its impact on the administration is not binding. However, it does state publically where the United States Senate stands when it comes to the status of Washington-Riyadh relationship, the United States’ relationship with Prince Mohammed and the future interaction between the US and the Saudi government in terms of the potential impact it can have on sanctions, on Washington-Riyadh weapons agreements in the future as well as continued US support for Saudi military forces and Yemen.
What has happened to the members of the Congress in the US? Why are they all suddenly around this particular moment galvanized and have decided that it’s time to call out Mohammed Bin Salman. They’re not going to put up with what has happened, particularly the likes of Lindsey Graham who as we know is a close ally of President Trump and hitherto has been his supporter, a great advocate of the relationship with Saudi Arabia. What’s really happened?
It’s important to remember that it was Lindsey Graham who led the Republican coalition and a Senate to confirm Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court which for President Trump was a tremendous political victory. So, the critical fact is that Lindsey Graham is now taking on the Saudi Crown Prince whereas Trump is seen as defending him.
What we really need to understand is that we are seeing a good cop versus bad cop game playing out here. Because, it is inevitable that the CIA's assessment on most issues is accepted across the political spectrum. President Trump has a responsibility to ensure that the US-Saudi relationship does not collapse. At the same time, he’s letting the Congress lead on this issue. And as the Congress is now moving forward towards a process.
It is important to understand that the resolution is the first measure that potentially could end up in sanctions imposed on the Saudi leadership. So, this is a process moving forward and that process will be to be defined on what measures the Saudi authorities are taking themselves to hold those responsible for this murder.
The US-Saudi relationship goes back to the 1932 when former US President Franklin Delano Rossevelt (FDR) met with the founder of the Kingdom. And, the relationship is strategic in nature and the relationship is between two governments and not between individuals.
Now the public opinion of United States and certainly within the political establishment has now concluded who is behind Khasshoggi murder. The good cop versus bad cop dynamics is giving or providing a space for the Saudi Royal family to take measures that they need to take in order for that alliance to prevail but also in order for Saudi Arabia not to become a pariah state and nobody wants that. But, it also understood that if President Trump goes up on a fort and starts shouting out anti Saudi rhetoric that it will have the exact opposite impact of what the United States is trying to do, which is to balance between holding those responsible for the murder accountable and at the same time ensuring that the Alliance remains intact. And, it’s an extraordinary dangerous and difficult time.
Md Sharif Hasan teaches international relations at the University of Rajshahi.

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