(Denver, Colorado) -- Whither the U.S.-Saudi alliance?
A ferocious debate over this question is raging in Washington at this very moment, and the stakes are high.
On on side of the debate are many in the media, along with numerous former advisors to President Barack Obama. They have never liked how close Washington has been with Riyadh and they are freshly determined to smash the Saudis in the mouth because of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist.
Most of these voices had no problem with President Obama cutting a nuclear deal with Iran -- one of America's most dangerous enemies and certainly the worst terrorist state on the planet. Despite Iran's history of murdering thousands of their own people and others throughout the Middle East (now especially in Syria and Yemen), these voices saw no problem with providing the ayatollahs with $150 billion in cash, removing economic sanctions from Iran, or legitimizing Tehran's previously illegal enrichment of uranium. They never once during the process seriously tried to require Iran to stop funding terrorism, building longer range missiles, or sowing seeds of revolution and destruction throughout the Middle East. But the Saudis, oh the Saudis, these folks claim, these are the blood-thirsty despots who really need to be punished.
What's more, a growing number of Republicans on Capitol Hill are also ready to impose severe punishments on the entire Saudi government over the Khashoggi affair. Some are calling into question the nature of the alliance itself.
On the other side of the debate are those who fully agree that the Khashoggi murder was despicable and must be punished, but are calling for cooler heads to prevail when it comes to upending American policy in the Gulf region. They make the case that we need the Saudis to help us counter Iran and Russia in the Middle East, to help us fight the Radicals like al Qaeda, ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood, to keep oil flowing, and hopefully to advance Arab-Israeli peace.
They make the case that the 33 year-old Saudi Crown Prince is making bold, serious, and important reforms at home, and wants to work more closely with the U.S. and the West. Yes, he has made mistakes, even serious ones. But he should be helped, coached, encouraged, not cut loose.
What's more, these voices caution that punishing the entire Saudi government -- rather than targeting the operatives responsible for the crime -- would be a serious mistake, one that could rupture the alliance. Some worry that if Washington hits the Saudis too hard, this could drive Riyadh into the waiting (eager) arms of Vladimir Putin and the Russians.
Putin is headed to the G20 summit in Argentina and plans to meet with the Saudi delegation. He would absolutely love to flip Riyadh from the American camp into the Russian orbit. I don't believe Saudi King Salman or Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) are inclined at the moment to switch sides to the Kremlin. But I fully expect Putin to make a very tempting offer. And who knows where the king and his son might wind up if most of Washington loses focus on U.S. national security interests in the region, in addition to our enormously important human rights concerns.
At the moment, the anti-MBS/anti-Saudi faction is the loudest. Their articles, interviews and speeches are everywhere.
It's tougher for the average reader or viewer to find articles and statements by those who want to punish those responsible for the murder of Khashoggi but who also want to maintain or even strengthen the U.S.-Saudi alliance.
Here are a few worth reading, including the statement by President Trump just before Thanksgiving.
I found particularly insightful the columns by Elliott Abrams and William McGurn. Both urge President Trump to send a retired senior American statesman who is liked and trusted by the Saudis -- perhaps former Secretary of State James Baker, or former V.P. Dick Cheney -- to meet with MBS in Riyadh. They recommend such a statesman quietly recommend big, specific, immediate reforms MBS should make that would signal to the world just how serious he is about taking the kingdom in a different, better, more positive direction.
Interestingly, both cite the example of former President Nixon discreetly and very effectively communicating with the Chinese leadership in Beijing after the Tiananmen Square, warning them -- as a long-time trusted friend -- that the massacre was a huge deal and they simply could not proceed with their "business as usual" approach. First, Nixon personally traveled to Beijing to have off-the-record talks with the most senior leaders. Second, Nixon sent a follow up letter that was respectful, frank and specific -- a letter that was kept secret for decades. Abrams and McGurn argue Nixon's approach worked, helping both President George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton reengage with China on more positive terms for both countries, while not ignoring the atrocities that had been committed.
It was a joy to meet with and spend time discussing the trend lines in the Middle East with many dear friends, including Vice President Mike Pence, Family Research Council Chairman Tony Perkins, U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback whom I've known for a quarter of a century, and former Congressman Frank Wolf. Rep. Wolf is a genuine hero of mine and he was honored at a special gala dinner for his three decades of work fighting for religious liberty and against the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities.
As the closing speaker of the afternoon session, I was asked to share my observations as an Evangelical follower of Jesus living in Jerusalem of the latest trend lines and key leaders in the Mideast, including:
Egyptian President el-Sisi and Jordan's King Abdullah II and the Delegation of Evangelical leaders I took to Cairo and Amman last November.
The leaders of the United Arab Emirates, one of the least discussed but most interesting American allies in the region.
And the rising Iran threat -- including Russia's dangerous alliance with Iran -- and how this is fundamentally reshaping the geopolitics of the region.
I've not made a full transcript of my remarks, but here are a few excerpts:
These [Sunni Arab] countries realize that the threat to the region is not the United States, it's not Israel even, it's not Christianity -- it's Iran and Iran's radical Islamism. And it's causing a fundamental recalculation of every leader in that region, 'Who is my friend and who is my foe?'....
Now, I make things up in novels. But this is real life. Things are happening -- Russia is forming an alliance with Iran, Turkey, Qatar. So, to the north, wickedness, evil, danger. To the south, something new: an American, Israeli, Sunni Arab alliance. It's not perfect. It's not fully formed. But something is happening that has never happened in history.
We need to encourage it. We need to nurture it. We need to be grateful that this current administration understands it in a way that the last administration certainly did not.
And we need to continue to pray -- for peace in the region, peace for Jerusalem, and that we can be salt and light in every aspect of life, from foreign policy to human rights and the gospel most importantly....
Later today, I head to New York City for meetings with a number of world leaders on the sidelines of the opening Fall session of the United Nations General Assembly. I'd be grateful for your prayers this week, and will report what I can when I can.
[Note: Though the C-SPAN graphic mentions The Joshua Fund, I was speaking at the Summit as a private individual, not in my capacity as TJF's Founder. TJF is a strictly non-partisan, non-political organization.]
Join us on our podcast each weekday for an interesting story, well told, from Charisma News. Listen at charismapodcastnetwork.com.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met the head of the Anglican church in London on Thursday and promised to promote interfaith dialog as part of his domestic reforms, the British faith leader's office said.
Prince Mohammed is making an official visit to London to promote Saudi Arabia as a tolerant, modernizing economy and build a wider trade and investment relationship with Britain, a long-term defense ally.
On the second full day of his first foreign tour since becoming heir apparent to the Saudi throne last year, Prince Mohammed also had meetings with finance minister Philip Hammond, bankers and lawmakers, and was due to dine with Prime Minister Theresa May at her country residence later.
State oil giant Saudi Aramco, whose lucrative stock market listing Britain is vying with the United States to attract, signed a preliminary deal to pursue international gas opportunities with Royal Dutch Shell.
Prince Mohammed began the day with a symbolic visit to Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion of millions of Christians globally, at Lambeth Palace in central London.
"The Crown Prince made a strong commitment to promote the flourishing of those of different faith traditions, and to interfaith dialog within the Kingdom and beyond," a statement from Lambeth Palace said.
"The Archbishop shared his concern about limits placed on Christian worship in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and highlighted the importance for leaders of all faiths to support freedom of religion or belief, drawing on the experience of the UK."
Saudi Arabia does not tolerate non-Muslims practicing their faith publicly, forcing Christians to risk arrest by praying in private homes.
Prince Mohammed and Welby viewed early texts from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths, including fragments of a Koran manuscript found in a Birmingham University library in 2015 that is thought to be among the world's oldest.
Earlier this week, Prince Mohammed met Coptic Pope Tawadros II at Cairo's largest Coptic cathedral, part of his drive to rid the Gulf Arab kingdom of its reputation as a global exporter of an ultra-conservative brand of Islam.
Welby also "voiced his distress" at the humanitarian situation in Yemen, the statement said. A Saudi-led coalition is fighting a war in Yemen in which 10,000 people have died and 8.3 million people have been left dependent on food aid.
May, whose government has drawn widespread criticism for approving 4.6 billion pounds ($6.35 billion) worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, was likely to repeat her own concerns over the humanitarian situation in Yemen during a private dinner.
That criticism over the Yemen war and noisy demonstrations have contrasted with the warm welcome from the British government given the crown prince.
On Wednesday, Prince Mohammed met Queen Elizabeth for lunch and later met May to agree to target a 65 billion pound ($90 billion) increase in trade and investment ties.
A government spokeswoman said Prince Mohammed met with Hammond on Thursday, and two sources said there was also a meeting with Standard Chartered group chief executive Bill Winters and HSBC CEO John Flint. No further details of either meeting were available.