Whoever said there is no such thing as a stupid question has never met Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
When asked why he joined 19 Democratic senators in writing a letter to President Joe Biden voicing their “concerns” over the administration’s efforts to broker a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Welch responded, “If we’re going to have an arrangement with Saudi Arabia, which has had a bad human rights record, where they flirt with China and stick it to us on the oil price … what is in it for us?”
The short and simple answer to his short and stupid question is:
- Ending the Arab-Israeli conflict.
- Strengthening America’s most reliable ally and increasing the probability that the Jewish state will be able to normalize relations with other Muslim countries around the world, like Indonesia.
- Establishing a bulwark against Iranian aggression in the Middle East.
- Creating a bulwark against Russia’s malign influence in Syria and the region at large.
- Pushing China out of the Middle East.
- Increasing America’s influence over oil prices and, by extension, the ability to influence China’s economy, which is dependent on that oil.
- Building the confidence of our allies in the region, who are concerned that America is in full retreat in the wake of our catastrophic surrender in Afghanistan.
- Pushing back against the new axis of evil composed of China, Russia and Iran.
- Making America more secure.
Welch and his colleagues profess to have four primary concerns about any such agreement: American security guarantees to Saudi Arabia, the development of a Saudi “civilian” nuclear program, the Saudis’ human rights record and Israel’s perceived failure to make “meaningful and enforceable” concessions to the Palestinians.
The Saudis want a security guarantee because it needs protection from Iran. One of the reasons it needs this protection is that many of the same senators who signed the letter supported efforts by the Obama and Biden administrations to give the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism a legal path to a nuclear weapon, a ballistic missile system to deliver it and cash to fund its terrorist network and underwrite its hegemonic goals in the region. Given that, it’s difficult to take the senators’ hand wringing over a security arrangement with the Saudis too seriously.
The senators might have a point on a Saudi “civilian” nuclear program, if they weren’t so supportive of Iran’s military nuclear program. Clearly, they remain wedded to safeguarding Iran’s military ambitions. Imagine how this is perceived in Riyadh.
As for human rights, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is the best we’re going to get. If the Saudi monarchy were to fall tomorrow, it would be replaced by either a failed state run by radical Islamic terrorist groups like ISIS or an Iran-backed government. In either case, human rights violations would get exponentially worse and an enemy state in the heart of the Middle East would pose an existential threat to Israel and our Sunni Arab allies.
However, the senators’ misgivings on these issues are largely irrelevant, because they have made their approval of any deal contingent on Israel making “meaningful and enforceable” concessions to the Palestinians.
In other words, for these senators, the Palestinians have veto power over any Saudi-Israel agreement. The problem is that there is no concession short of Israel agreeing to cease to exist that will satisfy the Palestinians. Clearly, these senators intend to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians and reserve for themselves the right to determine what “meaningful and enforceable” concessions Israel must make. No one knows what they will insist upon as they attempt to appease the radical progressive wing of their party, which is openly hostile to Israel.
Israel’s previous peace agreements were made possible because the Arab countries involved would not give the Palestinians a veto. Saudi Arabia is willing to do the same if the Biden administration and these 20 senators will let them. But Saudi Arabia cannot appear to be less concerned about the Palestinian cause than an American president.
The senators’ demands on the Palestinian issue appear designed to derail Saudi-Israel normalization. Worse still, they seek to ensure that Israel will be blamed for failed negotiations. The senators will disingenuously claim that, if only Israel had made concessions to the Palestinians, there would be peace. Wittingly or unwittingly, they are putting Israel in the position of choosing between peace with Saudi Arabia and protecting its citizens from Palestinian terrorism.
A final irony is that any normalization agreement between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. will be presented to Congress as a treaty. As they should, the senators in question are insisting on it. Yet many of these same senators remain steadfast in their belief that it was not necessary for former President Barack Obama to present his Iran nuclear deal or Biden’s arrangement with Iran to the Senate for approval. We would not be in this position had Obama followed the Constitution and presented his deal to the Senate. It would have been voted down and the Middle East would be a very different place today. Odds are that Saudi Arabia would not need American security guarantees or a nuclear program as part of its efforts to normalize relations with Israel. This seems to be lost on the letter writers.
As the wise sage Forrest Gump said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” This letter and the question posed by Sen. Welch are as stupid as stupid does.