Saudi Arabia: The lesser of two evils

Saudi Arabia: The lesser of two evils

December 7, 2018

Churchill and Roosevelt are revered. Stalin is loathed. Yet it was the latter’s army that liberated Auschwitz, Chelmno and Majdanek.

Stalin remains one of history’s most brutal dictators, but for the United States, the decision to support him in the fight against the Nazis was a necessary one. Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease policy, which provided military assistance to the Soviet Union, helped bring an end to the horrors of World War II.

Fast-forward to 1979, when the Iranian Revolution ended the reign of Shah Reza Pahlavi, replacing him with a brutal Islamist dictatorship. The Shah was no saint—he was a corrupt authoritarian who tortured and murdered political dissidents. But the United States supported him for decades, knowing that his downfall would only bring about something far more hostile to American interests.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Today, the Iranian regime is the largest state sponsor of terrorism, providing assistance to groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the Houthis in Yemen. They continue to conduct ballistic missile tests, promising to use them in their quest to obliterate the United States’ closest ally in the region, Israel. And finally, they have ignored the wishes of the Iranian people to invest in economic development and opportunity, sparking a wave of anti-regime protests in the streets of Tehran earlier this year.

In the effort to combat Iranian aggression in the Middle East, the United States has found a viable partner in Saudi Arabia. Yes, this is the same Saudi Arabia that brutally oppresses women and political dissidents. But, as was the case with Stalin, the Shah, Batista in Cuba, Mubarak in Egypt and so many others, American foreign policy is built on the principle of supporting the lesser of two evils.

Unfortunately, many in Congress and the mainstream media have decided to abandon that principle. In the wake of the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist and frequent Saudi-critic Jamal Khashoggi on Oct. 2, which the CIA concluded was orchestrated by Saudi Crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman, there has been a revived effort to cut off all U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia. This past week, the U.S. Senate took the dramatic step of passing a resolution calling for an end to U.S. support of the Saudis in Yemen.

The argument against aiding Saudi Arabia is that it legitimates the regime’s brutal treatment of dissidents like Khashoggi. But in cutting off the Saudis, the United States would be sending a signal to Iran that their support of terrorist groups in neighboring countries will go unchecked.

Ultimately, the Trump administration decided to continue its current level of support for the Saudis in spite of the Khashoggi killing. It took the necessary step of sanctioning the 17 Saudis involved in the murder, but to many critics of the President, the administration has fallen short in denouncing the killing and holding the Crown Prince accountable. To those critics I ask: what’s your solution?

Do you ignore the wishes of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Adbel Fatah Al-Sisi, who, according to The Washington Post, personally lobbied President Trump to maintain his current level of support for Saudi Arabia? Do you ignore the ramifications of enabling a genocidal dictatorship in Tehran by withdrawing support for the Saudi-led operation against the Houthis in Yemen?

Ultimately, U.S. foreign policy is not a zero-sum game. One can abhor human rights violations and oppressive dictatorships while at the same time maintaining steadfast support for Saudi Arabia in their efforts combat Iranian aggression.

Yes, the Trump administration should have been more forceful in condemning the Crown Prince for the Khashoggi killing. But those who demand unequivocal support for human rights among all U.S. allies have a naïve view of the world. The fact is that only a handful of countries, among the likes of Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Australia, share America’s level of commitment to freedom and democracy. American allies situated in the Middle East, whether it be Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia, do not, yet they have skin in the game in terms of fighting terrorist groups like ISIS and standing up to Iranian proxies.

Now is not the time for the United States to abandon its commitment to its allies. Perhaps a long-term reassessment of our relationship with Saudi Arabia is warranted in light of the Khashoggi killing, but the type of blatant end to U.S. involvement in the region that many on the left are calling for would do nothing but embolden the power-hungry mullahs in Iran.

As the ancient saying goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

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