National Security

Experts Warn Against Regarding Saudi Arabia As Committed Ally Against Terrorism

US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan /US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan /
US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan / Getty Images

A group of Middle Eastern affairs experts advised lawmakers to adopt legislation aimed at tempering the United States' recent renewed support for Saudi Arabia at a House Foreign Affairs committee hearing on Tuesday.

The hearing focused on where the United States' and Saudi Arabia's interests align in their fight against the spread of terrorism in the Middle East and how the United States should conduct itself with regard to the Saudi Arabia's local SaudArabian influence. These questions have become pertinent following President Trump's recent visit and Saudi Arabia's opposition to the Kingdom of Qatar's open support for the terrorist group Hamas.

"It's deeply concerning that, in the face of mounting international pressure, Qatar has doubled down on its relationship with Hamas. Just a day ago, Qatar's foreign minister called Hamas ‘a legitimate resistance movement,'" said committee chairman Ed Royce (R., Calif.).

Although its opposition to Qatar coincides with the United States' current national security interests, the experts warned against regarding Saudi Arabia as a committed ally against terrorism.

"With respect to the current crisis over in Qatar for example, there's absolutely a legitimate concern about the country funding terrorist groups, but I think it would be unsafe to assume that this is the principle guiding our relationship with the kingdom, given Saudi Arabia's own extremely complicated—to say the least—relationship with extremism. Our interest lies in seeing that this situation is resolved peacefully with legitimate concerns about terrorist financing addressed by all sides, rather than encouraging a split among our partners," said former Assistant Secretary for Democracy Tom Malinowski.

Additionally, Malinowski said that the United States should discern its interests from Saudi Arabia's own regional interests with regards to fighting terrorist activities fomented by Iran.

"This is about opposing the policies of the current regime in Iran. It's not in our interest to be seen more broadly as supporting Saudi Arabia opposing Iran per se in some kind of existential struggle between Sunnis and Shia Muslims," Malinowski said.

The president declared during his trip to Saudi Arabia that the United States would no longer sanction the country for human rights violations. Experts at the hearing advised the committee that a focus on bolstering Saudi Arabia's economy might actually lead to social change that would inevitably reduce human rights violations.

"Saudi Arabia itself is at a crossroads, and the country will necessarily devote its energy primarily to addressing internal challenges in the coming years. Through diplomacy, the U.S. can contribute to the kind of economic and social initiatives that will enable political reform, leading Saudi Arabia to a more open and democratic society," said former Ambassador to Yemen Gerald M. Feierstein.

Members of the committee remained wary of the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, particularly with regards to its alleged involvement with the 9/11 terror attacks and its continuing human rights violations.

"I don't think we can cross our fingers and pretend that things are happening. I think there's been a lot of irrational optimism that's gone into our relations with the Saudis over the years," said committee member Dana Rohrbacher (R., Calif.).