The United States Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would hold Saudi Arabia’s leadership accountable for actions implicating it in the 9/11 attacks. The bill stems from a controversy surrounding 28 classified pages of the 9/11 Report. These pages are suspected to hold incriminating evidence indicating that members of the Saudi Royal Family either funded the attacks, or groups linked to the hijackers.
President Obama has vowed to veto the bill, claiming that it could expose Americans to retaliatory legal measures for actions taken by the American government. He had also promised to declassify at least some of the pages from the report, but this was apparently not enough for the Congress, which is now demanding the entire report be declassified along with the legal measures.
Many Senators have come out against the President in support of the bill. Most notable are members of Obama’s own party like Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Nancy Pelosi of California. Should the President attempt to veto the legislation, Schumer even implied that he would try to override the veto.
Saudi Arabia has also threatened retaliation, saying it will sell of 750 billion dollars in American assets before they could be frozen. Lawmakers however, are skeptical that the Saudis would follow through, as it would do major damage to the Saudi economy, already dealing with reduced revenue from low oil prices and an ongoing war in Yemen.
This latest row comes after years of staining ties with the Saudis. First, a schism erupted over the Iran nuclear deal, which was vehemently opposed by the Saudis, who feared it would allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Then, there is the shale and fracking boom which has made the U.S less reliant on Saudi oil. weakening the Kingdom’s influence in the United States.
Ties have also frayed over the war in Syria. The Saudis are taking a much more hardline approach against Bashar Al-Assad, threatening invasions and to send anti-aircraft missiles to rebel groups inside the war torn nation. The U.S, on the other hand, has attempted to balance diplomacy with action, preferring to focus it’s might against the Islamic State while trying to settle the war through engagement with the Russians.
Then there is the Jeffrey Goldberg article, where Obama is quoted sharply criticizing Saudi Arabia’s role in the region. The President accused the Saudis of tribalism and feeding religious radicalism and conflict. He went as far as to call them inept and posited that they where incapable of controlling the region without American help. The Saudis did not take the criticism well.
This newest piece of legislation is the latest sign of our deteriorating relationship with the Saudi Kingdom. In many ways the fundamental underpinnings of the U.S-Saudi relationship are being eroded. Oil is no longer a trump card and President Obama is not an most enthusiastic supporter of the Kingdom. Both Democratic frontrunners have voiced their support for the bill. And Now, even the Senate is acting (I could end the sentence here) against Saudi interests.
Only time will tell whether this is a temporary trough or a long term decline in bilateral relations.