In a surprising (read: hypocritical) turn of events, President Donald Trump, the champion of connecting every act of terrorism with Muslims, changed his tone for the very same community during his address in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The petulant president, currently on his first foreign trip, also signed a massive arms deal reportedly worth more than $100 billion with Saudi Arabia to combat militant groups.
“This package of defense equipment and services support the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian threats,” a White House official said. It will also bolster the kingdom’s “ability to contribute to counter-terrorism operations across the region, reducing the burden on the U.S. military to conduct those operations,” the official added.
Taking a jab at former President Barack Obama and his strategies with the U.S. ally, Trump said, “We are not here to lecture, we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be or how to worship.”
“But we can only overcome this evil if the forces of good are united and strong, and if everyone in this room does their fair share and fulfills their part of the burden...the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them,” he added.
However, Trump’s billion-dollar deal with the kingdom might be illegal, according to a legal analysis, which also suggests it is against human rights.
Saudi forces have allegedly been involved in the killing of civilians in Yemen over the years.
“The U.S. cannot continue to rely on Saudi assurances that it will comply with international law and agreements concerning the use of U.S.-origin equipment,” Michael Newton, a prominent Vanderbilt University law professor and former military judge advocate general, said in an opinion sent to the full Senate by the human rights arm of the American Bar Association. He cited “multiple credible reports of recurring and highly questionable [air] strikes’’ by the Saudi military that resulted in killing civilians.
Newton mentioned the strikes have continued “even after Saudi units received training and equipment to reduce civilian casualties” in a 23-page assessment. U.S. personnel or contractors could be vulnerable under international humanitarian law if the military sales continue, he suggested. The armaments could be used in an anticipated Saudi assault on the Yemeni port of Hodeidah, which would have a damaging impact on millions.
Previously, Obama signed a more than $115 billion arms deal with the Saudis over two terms — it resulted in nothing but killing of more innocent civilians.
The Saudi-led war against the Houthi armed group in Yemen was reportedly fueled in part by American weapons, intelligence and aerial refueling, but it repeatedly hit civilians, including schools, marketplaces, weddings, hospitals and places of worship. The United States backed a Saudi-led campaign that killed more than 1,600 civilians, leading to approximately 10,000 civilian deaths with 40,000 injured.
The previous administration later pulled out arms deal and suspended a sale of precision-guided bombs to the monarchy.
Now Trump’s deal with the kingdom, which is already one of the largest consumers of U.S. arms, failed to mention the role both of these powerful countries would play in the controversial Yemen war. Instead, the commander-in-chief’s major highlight was to ask Gulf States to counter the Islamic State jihadist group, taking a hardliner at Iran.
Despite vocal complaints by lawmakers suggesting this is a human rights atrocity, Saudis suggested total unity on the issue, despite the war crimes allegations.
“There are many who try to find gaps between the policy of the United States and that of Saudi Arabia, but they will never succeed,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in a statement. “The position of President Trump, and that of Congress, is completely aligned with that of Saudi Arabia. We agree on Iraq, Iran, Syria and Yemen. Our relationship is on an upward trajectory.”