The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives both delivered a high-profile rebuke by a margin of over two-thirds of Obama’s veto regarding the law that would allow 9/11 victims and their families to sue countries that supported and financed the terrorists. Although the law does not name a particular country, it is widely understood to point to Saudi Arabia.
The Senate overturned Obama’s veto by a vote of 97 to 1, which showed a majority of Democratic senators standing in opposition to the party’s own president. The House of Representatives’ ratio was 348 to 77, with many Democrats also “throwing in the towel.” Obama has become sort of a loner. That this law will march on without his signature is a serious blow to him.
The Saudis are critical U.S. allies in the Middle East, and there is already serious discord with Washington over the agreement with Iran signed by the Obama administration. A gradual drift from the West is becoming increasingly clear. America’s newest law could very well result in numerous U.S. households bringing Saudi Arabia to trial, in turn leading to American courts freezing certain Saudi assets in the United States. Riyadh has warned that if America passed the law, it would liquidate up to $750 billion worth of debt in retaliation. This affair necessarily complicates Saudi-American relations. Another important Middle Eastern ally to the U.S., Turkey, has seen a “fissure in relations” because of the abortive coup d’état and subsequent demand to extradite Muhammed Fethullah Gulen.* The base for American influence in the Middle East is wobbling.
It may be that allowing Americans to directly sue Saudi Arabia opens up a Pandora’s box. America has indiscriminately bombed places all over the post-Cold War globe, resulting in mass casualties of innocent civilians. Those harmed and their families could theoretically utilize the method encouraged by new American law and attempt to sue the government itself.
Sept. 11 occurred more than 15 years ago. This law was only just passed, and the president’s veto was overridden by a revolt of Democratic members of Congress. This reflects not only the hatred Americans have for terrorism, but it also reflects the fact that the citizens do not care to think about larger geopolitical circumstances. They have had enough with countries that have produced large numbers of terrorists, like Saudi Arabia. The majority of those who implemented bin Laden’s 9/11 attack were Saudis, and this left a stronger impression on Americans than Saudi Arabia’s help in implementing U.S. policy in the Middle East.
America’s internal contradictions are bursting to the forefront; it is clear that Americans are obstinate and want it all without being able to sort their priorities. And all of this has happened in the era of declining American control of the world. Although there are many in mainstream American society who oppose Trump, the 9/11 law and Trump’s advocacy go hand-in-hand. The passage of this law will be good for his election prospects and make things all the more awkward for Hillary Clinton.
Saudi Arabia is the oldest nation in the Gulf; changes in Saudi-American relations and internal Saudi affairs could very well cause a sort of domino effect in the region. The effects of and changes caused by the Iraq War and the Arab Spring continue to develop today, and the vicissitudes of the Middle East will be even more serious than the world has expected. The world already lacks the ability to take a solid hold of the region to begin with.
American reliance on Middle East oil has lessened, and the Obama administration has less interest in interfering in Middle East affairs, so Obama’s attention has turned to the Asia-Pacific. However, the significance of the Middle East is certainly not confined to oil, since it is there that the world stages its fight to overcome terrorism. That Obama has brought the “War on Terror” to a close is of extreme significance, as he wishes to shift America’s focus back to the addressing the suppositions of great power enemies. Yet the ability to curb violence in the Middle East is only so strong; in the last two years, terrorists arriving in the wave of refugees heading to Europe have attacked the continent, challenging Obama’s push for a “pivot to Asia.”
The 9/11 law is a stick poking the hornet's’ nest in the Middle East. It will soon be seen how Americans elect to use this stick in the future.
*Translator’s note: Muhammed Gulen is a Turkish dissident living in the United States.