The vicious murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul has been a source of a serious headache for Trump’s relationship with Riyadh. Although a CIA report points to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the instigator of the Khashoggi murder, Trump is avoiding making any changes in his policies about Saudi Arabia.
The Senate, which is controlled by the Republicans, cautioned the U.S. government with the first voting of a resolution suggesting the government to end the military support given to Saudi Arabia in Yemen. In this voting, 63 voted in favor of the bill, while 37 voted against it. Fourteen Republican senators voted in the favor of the resolution and gave a message to Trump to “reconsider his Saudi Arabia policies.” Although Trump announced that even if the Congress passes the resolution and sends it to the White House that he will veto it, it will not be so easy.
In this voting, the Republicans in Congress demonstrated that they stopped sharing the same views as Trump about the “U.S.-Saudi alliance.” However, when a resolution was voted for in March 2018 to stop the military support given to Saudi Arabia in Yemen, 55 voted no and 44 voted yes. Although not officially, in practice the U.S. is at war in Yemen. The authority to declare war is in the hands of the Congress. However, the “Khashoggi murder” and the humanitarian disaster in Yemen is forcing the U.S. Congress to limit the support given to Saudi Arabia.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who attended the informing sessions before the voting at the Senate defended the support the U.S. gives to the Saudis. CIA Director Gina Haspel, on the other hand, did not attend these sessions. Even the Republicans reacted against Haspel for not coming to the Senate. Many senior senators, including the director of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Bob Corker, wanted Haspel to attend the sessions.
The practices of the Senate requires the director of the CIA to participate in the sessions concerning “national security.” According to a claim, the White House did not allow Haspel to attend the sessions in the Senate. Trump’s National security advisor John Bolton, on the other hand, did not accept the claims that White House pressured her in an interview he gave to journalists. However, Bolton couldn’t give a satisfactory answer to the questions as to why Haspel did not attend the session.
Haspel’s absence in the session affected the outcome of the voting. In another session that is expected to take place next week, there will be a search for a two-partied compromise for the possible sanctions that can be imposed on Saudi Arabia, including on “arms sales.” Even if the Senate makes a decision that would upset Trump, it needs to be approved in the “House of Representatives.” Since the Republicans are the majority in the House of Representatives, Trump thinks that the resolution will not be approved. However, in the elections that took place on Nov. 6, the Democrats got the majority of the seats in the House of Representatives. The House, which will be controlled by Democrats starting from January 2019, may force Trump to make changes in his Saudi Arabia policy with a new resolution. So, the Saudi case doesn’t seem to be closing.
It is obvious that the message given by the Senate affected Trump seriously since he did not meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 summit that took place in Argentina. Trump made a great effort not be in the same photograph with the crown prince. The crown prince shook hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin with great joy, however he didn’t get a similar gesture from Trump. Even in some photographs, it is seen that Trump and his daughter Ivanka were not wearing their happy faces while looking at the crown prince who was talking to other people. While the family photo for the G20 summit was taken, it was noteworthy that he did not shake hands with bin Salman and Putin. Body language is important: while Trump’s words say that the crown prince is not guilty of the “Khashoggi murder,” his attitude and body language at the summit showed that he thinks the exact opposite.