JASTA: An unwise move
Talk about dropping the ball. The US Congress and Senate seem to have thrown it out of the park regarding the issue of the overturn of the veto by President Obama on the 9/11 bill.
Even before the echo of the vote has faded misgivings are beginning to rise about the ‘rush job’ and the manner in which populist concerns to please the electorate eclipsed the use of plain common sense.
Anyone hearing President Obama explain to US military troops on Friday his fears that such an act will have repercussions would have acknowledged the folly behind moving it. It would leave Americans, both civilian and military, open to similar legal actions as envisaged in the bill which allows families to sue Saudi Arabia over the 9/11 attack and makes a pudding of sovereign immunity.
That Saudi Arabia leads the fight against terrorism is an overriding factor which has been temporarily forgotten. Add to this the fact that Saudi Arabia is also a major victim of militancy at this very moment and the bill loses its relevance entirely. There has never been any shred of evidence that the government encouraged, directly or indirectly, the Sept. 11 terrorists.
There is no surprise, therefore, that after basking in the first glow of chauvinism and as Obama said ‘showing one’s constituents the scars have not healed in this election year’ being a politically understandable stance, the House and the Senate are now beset by grave doubts.
It is to Riyadh’s great credit that it has maintained a dignified silence on the issue and still remains confident that better sense will prevail.
Let us be clear about one factor. The doubts do not arise from any countermeasure put forward by Saudi Arabia which it has been gracious enough not to articulate. Not that grounds do not exist. For example, such a bill could create a schism in the combined fight against terrorism which would be a sad but tangible and tragic irony. Saudi investments in the US might suffer a blow. America’s trade deals would be negatively impacted upon by other Middle East nations also made to feel vulnerable after such a precedent is established. Perhaps scores of Saudi students would feel that same sense of dismay and leave the States to study elsewhere. Saudi-US business ventures would be hurt. It is a long list when an ally’s sensibilities are arbitrarily bruised.
Even if most of Congress and the Senate have not yet taken on board the enormity of these issues the members are now concerned that their soldiers would be exposed to similar actions in countries where they are officially dispatched.
Bringing to the fore the new concerns is House Speaker Paul Ryan who now believes that the bill in its present form is noxious and needs to be reworked. And Senate majority leader Mitch Mitchell from Kentucky who hit the headlines in 2013 by opposing airstrikes in Syria is the spearhead of a swiftly increasing group that now blames President Obama for not bringing the members of the House and Senate into confidence and sharing the entire details with them. The core argument is that he did not allow enough opportunity for debate.
This confession of ignorance on a bill they voted for vehemently is awkward for the elected reps since it indicates a knee jerk response on the floor. That said, Obama himself would not mind being the lightning rod to absorb this accusation. This is his twelfth veto and the first of his presidency that has been overturned. If the Congress and the Senate can find a face-saving option in blaming the White House for poor briefings and it leads to freezing the 9/11 law and ends this unedifying drama Obama will take it.
Not only does it smoke out a political wasp’s nest but allows him to end his presidency on a high note but it stops a toxic development.
Perhaps the statement from Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry should be circulated to the policy makers in the US.
"We hope that wisdom will prevail and that Congress will take the necessary steps to correct this legislation in order to avoid the serious unintended consequences that may ensue."
Time to read the writing on the wall, place emotion on hold and do the right thing for the right reasons.