By Rishab Chatty
Jamal Khashoggi was brutally assassinated by Saudi agents just over four years ago. Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime (in particular, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman), was tortured, suffocated, and dismembered in a Saudi consulate, with his chopped-up remains carried out in a plastic bag.
An October 2021 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, withheld by the Trump Administration, found unequivocal evidence that the crown prince was behind the assassination. It has been over a year since these findings, and the United States has yet to hold accountable the man responsible for the brutal killing. In fact, on November 17, 2022, the Biden Administration requested sovereign immunity for the prince.
When he entered office, President Joe Biden pledged to prioritize human rights in his foreign policy. According to a February 2021 press statement by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the United States would be “committed to a world in which human rights are protected, their defenders are celebrated, and those who commit human rights abuses are held accountable.”
To this day, the Biden Administration has seldom stayed true to this statement.
Just a month after Blinken’s statement, Biden decided against punishing the crown prince for Khashoggi’s murder. In fact, Biden rewarded the Saudi government with two arms sales totaling over $1.5 billion in late 2021 and a $3 billion sale of Patriot missiles awarded in August 2022.
Saudi Arabia has taken full advantage of these sales, carrying out over 24,000 airstrikes in Yemen as of January 2022, only 32 percent targeting the military. The United States has continued to support these Saudi atrocities while criticizing Russia for conducting similar strikes against Ukrainian civilians.
Saudi Arabia and its partner in war crimes, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have also reportedly transferred US weapons to al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Yemen. According to a 2019 CNN investigation, the Saudi-UAE coalition was selling American-made weapons “as a form of currency to buy the loyalties of militias or tribes.” The coalition also sold weapons to Abu al-Abbas Brigade, whose founder the United States sanctioned for financing al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in 2017.
Moreover, the Pentagon has repeatedly alleged that the UAE funds the Wagner Group’s activities in Libya. A November 2020 report by Sean W. O’Donnell, lead inspector general for counterterrorism operations in Africa, cited findings by the Defense Intelligence Agency and State Department that not only found evidence that the UAE may have been funding the group but were likely transporting weapons to the Libyan National Army and may have sent military forces or mercenaries to Libya themselves. These arms sales violated a 2011 United Nations embargo and a January 2020 summit agreement, which proposed sanctioning countries that violated the previously agreed upon embargo.
These incidents serve as hard evidence that American arms sales are going to established state sponsors of terrorism. The State Department, unfortunately, refuses to recognize these incidents due to its overreliance on said countries for fossil fuels and oil.
The Biden Administration has lapsed on its commitment to human rights in its relation with numerous other countries, especially regarding our ‘strongest’ ally in the Middle East.
Though Palestine is not devoid of human rights abuses, war crimes, and terrorism itself, the State of Israel is undeserving of any claim to victimhood. Israel claims moral superiority and prides itself on having the most moral army in the world, but systematically tortures (minors), rapes, and murders innocent civilians and journalists, the most notable of which was Shireen Abu Akleh.
Numerous investigative outlets, including Bellingcat and the Intercept, have ruled that the Israel Defense Forces were almost certainly responsible for Abu Akleh’s murder. In fact, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) itself admitted that it was likely its own doing. However, it refuses to charge those responsible, and the Biden Administration continues to support its actions. In a Joint Declaration of a strategic partnership between both countries, President Biden spoke of our “unbreakable bonds” and commitment to our “shared values” without mentioning Israel’s unforgivable human rights abuses months after it murdered the American journalist. More so, Secretary Blinken proudly boasted the $3.3 billion in foreign military financing and $500 million in missile defense the United States has provided Israel with annually since Biden took office.
If the United States wants to maintain any claim to exceptionalism and its pride in being the bastion of human rights and freedom, the Biden Administration must act to ensure our policies are in line with the ideals we promote. The United States can follow the example of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN). This human rights group is currently advocating for the implementation of Leahy Law sanctions on the Israeli Army’s Netzah Yehuda Battalion. There are also arguments for applications of Senator Leahy’s 1997 bill to US relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE or the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 to all the aforementioned countries.
Attempts, though unsuccessful, were made during the recent passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY23 to prevent US support of abusive regimes. Representative Ro Khanna introduced two amendments, one that would make any commitment to military security guarantees for Saudi Arabia and the UAE a treaty (which would require a Senate supermajority for approval) and another that would require a report on potential downsides to air defense cooperation with certain countries. Representative Ilhan Omar also introduced an amendment requiring Congressional approval for security guarantees to Saudi Arabia or the UAE.
The United States cannot pride itself as the leader of the free world if it continues to base its exceptionalist approach to foreign policy on such hypocrisy. The days of American hegemony are coming to an end, and the United States continues to lose its global influence due to this hypocrisy. To maintain any semblance of power, it is necessary for the Biden Administration to live up to the standards it claims to personify.
Rishab Chatty is a regular writer for the Review. He majors in Global Studies and Political Science at Arizona State University.