The American Conservative ran an interesting piece this week, headlined, “Meet the senators who took Saudi money and then voted against the measure that would get America out of the Kingdom’s war in Yemen.” Interesting, that is, because right there, front, center and beaming in an accompanying photo of the top takers from U.S. lobbyists for the Saudis, is Missouri’s own Sen. Roy Blunt.
The bipartisan but nonbinding Yemen resolution advanced without Blunt’s vote. The measure itself, which calls for the U.S. to stop refueling Saudi fighter jets and withdraw our military presence, is expected to pass in the Senate this week.
That would be a welcome but mostly symbolic step toward ending our misbegotten involvement in Yemen, which began under President Barack Obama. More than 85,000 children under the age of five have already died of starvation as a result of the Saudis’ and Emiratis’ brutal proxy war against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Some 14 million Yemenis remain at risk of starving to death just as needlessly in a humanitarian crisis of almost unfathomable proportions.
Thirty of the 37 senators who voted against advancing the measure have received contributions from the Saudi lobby. And the best compensated recipients of this largesse were Republican Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, who was defeated in November, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Blunt, who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
During the last two years, Blunt received $19,250 from Saudi lobbyists.
Whether they got their money’s worth, of course, is for them to say. But Blunt has been out front in supporting the Saudis, even sounding notes of neutrality after the gruesome Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman-ordered assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
Maybe there are other reasons for Blunt’s notably pro-Saudi stance than those dollars from the Saudi lobby. But his office did not answer our requests for a response to the issue raised in the American Conservative piece by Ben Freeman, director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy.
On ABC’s “This Week, Blunt tried to minimize the meaning of the CIA’s ”high confidence” that the crown prince personally ordered the live dismemberment of a U.S. resident and columnist for the Washington Post: “I think a smoking gun would certainly help, if you actually did have that specific thing that is unlikely to be out there or unlikely to be found, where someone gave a specific direction and you know that happened. I think the ‘high confidence’ doesn’t mean that you actually have what you need, if that’s the term that the CIA is using ... it means that we don’t quite have all the information we’d like to have yet.”
Blunt did, however, criticize several of his fellow Republicans for speaking ill of the Trump administration’s refusal to accept the findings of the intelligence community linking Mohammed to Khashoggi’s murder. “I’ll tell you what I did think: I think when you have a classified CIA briefing, you don’t come out of the room and talk about it.”
Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas also voted against advancing the Yemen measure, while Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri voted for it. Moran deserves credit for raising concerns about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen with the Trump administration, which continues to argue that backing out of Yemen would embolden Saudi Arabia’s rivals in Iran.
Among other Republicans who want us to withdraw is Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who said our involvement there “engenders more terrorism. I think it’s actually a risk to our national security to be involved with the Saudis.”
In March, when the Senate first voted on the resolution to withdraw American military support, Mohammed bin Salman visited Washington to lobby against it in person. That in itself should shame Blunt and other Saudi flag-wavers at this point.