It seems at least a handful of Republicans and Democrats in Congress have finally found something they can agree on: A new bipartisan bill that would allow victims of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks and their families to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the attacks may be a bad idea.
Not for the families of the victims, of course–it would be a great idea for them to be able to finally hold someone fully accountable for the unspeakable tragedies that occurred–but for the United States as a whole.
There’s no denying that Saudi Arabia’s whole connection to the terrorist attacks is pretty sketch. Nationality and tendency to partake in terror are not correlated, but the fact remains that of the 19 hijackers, 15 were of Saudi descent–a fact worth noting in this case, due in large part to the fact that the monarchy has been suspected of covertly supporting al-Qaeda for years. No one has ever been able to prove that Saudi Arabia is connected to the terror group, and the 9/11 commission has even stated that “There is no evidence that the government of Saudi Arabia supported or funded Al Qaeda.” However, as long as the Obama Administration continues to act shady and refuses to declassify the full 28-page report conducted by the commission, questions continue to linger about the Saudis’ involvement.
Given the general lack of clarity surrounding the situation, you’d think this bill would be instrumental in answering some questions, but that’s not at all the case.
While broad support does exist in both parties, very vocal minorities–many of whom are senior members of Congress–on both sides are opposing the bill for very different reasons. Yet in both cases, it’s fair to say that what goes around, comes around.
On one hand, many Democrats oppose the bill for fear of Saudi retaliation, on the grounds that Saudi Arabia has threatened to sell off around $750 billion in American assets if the bill passes, which would certainly cause a crisis in the U.S. and could send the world into international economic turmoil.
As Edwin M. Truman, a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told the New York Times, however, this is likely not a credible threat. “The only way they could punish us is by punishing themselves,” he said, reminding us that any threat to the stability of the U.S. dollar is also a threat to the value of the Saudi riyal, since they are tied together.
So, okay, Democratic opposition to the bill might not actually have a solid basis. On the other hand, Lindsey Graham and many of the Republicans who oppose the bill are actually making some valid points. (Meanwhile, Donald Trump wants to be the President, but he can’t even get the date right.)
It’s not often that the South Carolina fossil makes sense, but as he said with regards to this proposal: “I want to make sure anything we do doesn’t come back to bite us.”
It’s a pretty damning statement, and reeks of self-interest, but it also hits the nail on the head, and a little too well.
Nations are currently generally exempt from lawsuits by civilians under a 1976 law that grants them immunity. However, Secretary of State John Kerry, like Senator Graham, worries that this bill would “…expose the United States of America to lawsuits and take away our sovereign immunity and create a terrible precedent.”
Which is a very real concern, if you pause and take a look at our track record.
In the decades since the Cold War, the United States has increasingly begun to rely on covert operations to complete its goals on the world stage, which has led to some partnerships that are unsavory, to say the least, and would probably land the U.S. in court from sea to shining sea if investigated thoroughly. Even now, with regards to Saudi Arabia itself, it is America that is most avidly financially backing the slaughter of Yemenis in a seemingly never-ending air campaign. Unless we change our stance quickly, as long as the Saudi war in Yemen drags on, our hands are tied and we’re in a very sticky situation.
It’s almost like we didn’t learn from sticking our hands on the burning stove that was the Bay of Pigs. Or the Bangladeshi Liberation War of 1971. Or Vietnam. Or Iran-Contra. Or Afghanistan. Or Iraq. Or any of the other great American miscalculations in foreign policy in the last 50 or so years.
Obama and the US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter headed to Saudi Arabia yesterday, where they’re slated to have met with the Saudi government, and other Gulf nations leaders. Per the BBC, Carter says the two are seeking help with military and naval operations to counter Iran’s “destabilising activities” in the region. (Sounds like war with Iran is imminent? Guess that’s where we’ll be invading next?)
BBC’s security correspondent, Frank Gardner, says that in regards to the United States’ 71-year-old relationship with Saudi Arabia that “…the relationship is not broken–Saudi Arabia and the US still need each other–but their alliance is probably under more strain now than at any time since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.”
The bottom line is: The 9/11 victims and their families deserve only the best–and they, and especially the first-responders among them–have had to fight over and over again to get even the smallest solace. If this isn’t the proper way to give them that–if for no other reason than because of failures in the decision-making of our own government– then Congress needs to step it up, and act fast.