Senator Murphy speaks to Brookings about revisiting US-Saudi relations

Chris Murphy (D-CT), the US senator who introduced a bill earlier this month to impose limitations on the transfer of US munitions to Saudi Arabia, spoke to the Brookings Institution about why the US should reassess its policies towards the kingdom. In his discussion with Brookings Senior Fellows Bruce Riedel and Tamara Wittes, Murphy acknowledges the important alliance that exists between the two countries, but says that “as time goes on it’s harder and harder to ignore the holes in the relationship,” including Saudi support for an “intolerant brand of Islam” that is often the inspiration for the exact terrorist groups the US aims to defeat.

Senator Murphy cites the war in Yemen as an example of how unwavering US support for the kingdom is sometimes at odds with constructive American foreign policy.

“I think the war in Yemen is example A of a military objective by the Saudis that does not run in accordance with US national security interests…We are overt in our support for this engagement given that it is US munitions that are being dropped, it is US refueling planes that are allowing the missions to continue, and it is US intelligence that is providing information for the targeting.”

The Yemen case provides us with the opportunity to, frankly, reset this relationship because I think it is very hard, if not impossible, to argue that the way in which this war is being conducted today is in the best interests of the United States.

Riedel emphasized that the US does have the power to end the war in Yemen: “If the United States of America and the United Kingdom tonight told King Salman, ‘this war has to end,’ it would end tomorrow because the Royal Saudi Air Force cannot operate without American and British support.”

Riedel added that “what Saudi Arabia has been doing for the last year in Yemen is effectively driving drunk. It’s time for the United States to get out of the back seat and tell the Saudis, “let’s find a way to end this war, which is in our mutual interest.”

Here is a summary of the Murphy-Paul bill that was introduced to Senate on April 13, which would require certification that a number of conditions were met before transferring US weapons to Saudi Arabia.

Congressmen Ted Lieu and Ted Yoho introduced a supporting bill to the House on April 20. H.J. Res 90 would limit the transfer of munitions until Saudi Arabia can demonstrate that it is taking “all feasible precautions” not to harm civilians and making “demonstrable efforts to facilitate the flow of critical humanitarian aid.”