The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), President Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin all gathered at the G20 summit in Argentina this past Friday. This was the first time the three leaders met since the CIA reported that MBS knew, and approved of, the killing and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In a move that stunned politicians leaders, and citizens around the world, Mohammad and Putin embraced each other with an enthusiastic and overly-friendly high-five. On the surface, it seems like a natural greeting between two war-criminalizing, oppressive authoritarians. Putin, an ex-KGB spy, also has a history of leading a regime that soullessly assassinates critics.
When taking a deeper look at the “bro-five” though, it was a direct message to President Trump and the United States Congress.
In 2017, Trump and Saudi’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, MBS’s father, signed an arms deal in which Saudi Arabia promised to buy 110 billion dollars’ worth of American arms immediately, and 350 billion dollars’ worth over the next 10 years. This deal, while incredibly profitable for the U.S., dangerously provided Saudi Arabia with tanks, missiles and combat ships during its controversial war with Yemen. It is also important to note that according to CNN, Saudi Arabia has only followed through with $14.5 billion so far.
It also gives Saudi Arabia considerable leverage over the United States. Why should our leaders care about one death when criticisms and sanctions could jeopardize 460 billion dollars? MBS knows the power him and his money hold.
This is precisely the controversy behind the bro-five. Prince Mohammad, by embracing Putin in such a friendly and positive manner, is sending a message to President Trump. He’s making sure it’s clear that if any sanction or punishment halts the 2017 arms deal, Saudi Arabia would go straight to Russia with their deep pockets, leaving America billions and billions of dollars poorer.
President Trump got this message loud and clear, even before the bro-five. Commenting on the CIA’s findings, Trump stated that the CIA had “feelings” MBS was behind the murder, but no clear conclusion. “Do people really want me to give up hundreds of thousands of jobs?” Trump then remarked. “And frankly, if we went by this standard, we wouldn’t be able to have anybody as an ally,” he added.
What does this say about the state of our country? Are we willing to overlook the most gruesome of crimes as long as there’s a big enough paycheck backing the murderer?
Maybe not. Even Trump’s most loyal congressmen and women are turning their backs on the President to publicly rebuke the Saudi Arabian government. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) plans to vote to advance a resolution into the United States’ involvement in and support for the Saudis’ war in Yemen.
“It is wrong to suggest that maintaining U.S. alliances consists of mutually exclusive choices between power and principles,” Graham wrote. “Extrajudicial killing of a journalist in a diplomatic facility is nothing if not uncivilized.”
For a Trump loyalist to come out this strongly against a nation that our president is publicly defending, there must clearly be a disconnect between what’s going on in front of America’s eyes and what is happening behind the scenes of the White House.
While the Yemen vote is delayed due to the passing of former president George H.W. Bush, the CIA is briefing key senators on the details surrounding Khashoggi’s murder. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) was one of the senators that were briefed and afterward came out strongly against MBS and the Saudi government. Directly after his briefing, Corker exclaimed that “if the crown prince went in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes.”
This vote will not only publicize key opinions on the power Saudi Arabia’s money holds over our democracy, but will also prove whether or not democratic senators will vote as left in foreign policy as they do domestically. A vote to move forward with the resolution only needs a simple Senate majority to do so, which would only require two Republican senators to vote in favor, assuming every Democrat and Independent would do so as well.
President Trump may still display public, enthusiastic support for MBS and his country, despite despicable crimes, but our Congress has the chance to defy him. The Senate may see the bro-five as a challenge, and a vote to move forward with the resolution to cease support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen would present the United States as a country that does not waiver in the face of blackmail.
As for our president though, it’s apparent that cowering in the face of obvious blackmail may be something he is very susceptible to. After all, it is the very same strategy Trump’s used in his personal dealings. Let’s hope our country is above succumbing to its president’s shady business tactics.
Claudia Hanover, ’21, is a columnist for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected].