Senator Rand Paul took sharp aim at Saudi Arabia in his keynote speech at The American Conservative’s fifth annual foreign policy conference Thursday, in particular blaming the Kingdom for the destruction of Yemen, for spreading extremist ideology across the globe, and for the grisly murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Republican senator from Kentucky is one of the leading advocates for foreign policy realism and restraint in Congress and often contributes to TAC.
In his speech, Paul discussed his efforts to rein in the Saudi war campaign in Yemen, which he called “a particular tragedy because they’re one of the poorest countries on the planet.”
Paul noted that Saudi Arabia’s role in the Middle East was overall a destructive one. Riyadh, he noted, has spent $100 billion exporting extreme Wahabbist Islam to places as far away as Indonesia and funding madrassas that teach hatred in nations like Pakistan and India.
“So if you ask me who’s the worst at spreading hatred and trying to engender terrorism around the world, it’s Saudi Arabia hands down,” Paul said. “And if you say which people is probably more likely to come to Western ways and more likely to train with us and like the West, it’s probably Iran.”
But just because he disapproves of Saudi Arabia doesn’t mean he supports slapping them with sanctions or even an embargo. He said he preferred that America respond by declining to repair the Saudi planes that are now wreaking so much havoc on Yemen, as well as stopping the flow of American weapons into Riyadh.
In that vein, Paul refuted a popular talking point on America’s relationship with the Saudis.
“People say if you don’t sell them arms, Russia and China will,” he said. “They have all American planes. If they want to fly American planes and fix them with Russian parts, let them do it. It will be a quicker end to their air force than we ever could have imagined.”
When asked if he would be willing to re-engage the U.S. in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear agreement, he said he would be willing to consider it. He expressed disbelief that somehow Iran’s behavior was worth cutting off all negotiations in favor of crippling sanctions and a hard diplomatic freeze, while turning a blind eye to the Saudi’s regional aggression and humanitarian crimes. “I’m just not sure who’s more evil, Iran or Saudi Arabia,” he quipped.
Paul also addressed America’s relationship with Russia, which he said was being hampered by “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” Even if Trump wanted to thaw American-Russian relations, it couldn’t be done because the electoral pressure from Democrats is too strong, he added.
Finally, Paul addressed Trump’s widely derided call for a military parade through Washington, D.C.
“I thought it was a dumb idea,” he said, “but I said, you know what, I’m for it. If you bring everyone home from Afghanistan, I’ll show up for the parade.”