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Herb Rothschild Jr.: Khashoggi murder had silver lining

Last week I wrote about two recent books that validate my claim that our current political condition is best explained by acknowledging that we are an empire in decline. This week I focus on events that, I’m pleased to report, promise to invalidate my contention in early November that the stir over the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi would not end our support for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen.

Back in 2016 I complained that Saudi Arabia has been off limits to criticism in the U.S. And I specifically mentioned the mainstream media’s silence about the Saudi air war in Yemen. I did so again last August, as the humanitarian crisis there grew alarmingly. Then, in October, when Kashoggi was gruesomely murdered in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, the silence was broken. I can’t credit the media for finding their conscience only when their own ox was gored, but it was a welcome change.

Better yet, despite Donald Trump’s refusal to side with our intelligence agencies’ confirmation of Saudi responsibility at the highest level (Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince) and my own jaundiced prediction that nothing would change in U.S.-Saudi relations, influential U.S. senators began to criticize Saudi Arabia and our involvement in its air war. Reacting to media and political pressure, on Oct. 30 Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on all participants in the Yemen civil war to agree to a ceasefire “in the next 30 days.” On Dec. 6, negotiations among the warring parties began under U.N. auspices in Stockholm. And on Dec. 13, the Senate passed SJR 54, which had been introduced by Bernie Sanders back on Feb. 28, directing the president “to remove U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen within 30 days unless Congress authorizes a later withdrawal date, issues a declaration of war, or specifically authorizes the use of the Armed Forces.” Facing the loss of U.S. support, the Saudis indicated a willingness to end the four-year war, starting with a ceasefire and allowing a route for desperately needed emergency aid through the port of Houdeidah. And Wednesday the House passed a resolution similar to SJR 54.

Besides promising to avert a humanitarian crisis threatening 20 million people, the events I’ve recounted offer modest hope for two major changes in U.S. foreign and military policy. One is that Congress at last is getting serious about its constitutional responsibility for U.S. war-making. All the whereases in SJR 54 speak of that authority and its applicability to U.S. involvement in the Yemen war. And in a Jan. 15 op-ed in In These Times, Sanders said the two motives for passing the resolution were to avert the humanitarian crisis and to reassert Congress’ responsibility under Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. “Over the years, Congress has, under both Democratic and Republican leadership, abdicated that responsibility and given it over to the president. The time is long overdue for Congress to regain control over this vitally important process.”

The second hope is that we will loosen our geopolitical attachment to Saudi Arabia, which is the world’s main instigator of radical Islamic agitation. Abroad as well as at home, Saudi Arabia promotes Wahhabism, an extreme and militant version of Islam. That includes support of Sunni terrorist organizations like al-Qaida that ascribe to Wahhabism. It’s time to question our assumption that Iran is the primary mischief maker in the Middle East.

Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Daily Tidings every Saturday.