Sen. Mike Lee used to be something of a conservative hero. More recently, he’s become heavy into working with Democrats. Not just any Democrats, but some of the most liberal, most stridently partisan Senate Dems.
He and Sen. Dick Durbin combined to sponsor the jailbreak legislation that may well be on the verge of passing the Senate. A few years ago Lee and Durbin collaborated on a jailbreak bill that was even broader. If Lee and Durbin had had their way, reduced sentences for drug felons would have applied retroactively, leading to the release of thousands more hard core criminals than under the somewhat less ambitious leniency legislation now pending. Fortunately, that bill failed.
Durbin is a leftist, to be sure. But at least he’s not a hard socialist who honeymooned in the Soviet Union. That would be Sen. Bernie Sanders, with whom Lee collaborated on legislation that would end U.S. participation in the Saudi-led war against Iranian elements in Yemen.
This legislation passed the Senate today by a vote of 56 to 41. Lee and just six other Republicans joined with every Senate Democrat to reject President Trump’s policy of combating Iran in Yemen.
The measure was prompted by justifiable outrage over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. That outrage was also expressed in a unanimous vote to blame the Saudi Crown Prince for the murder.
Passing the condemnation measure was the right thing to do. But changing policy in Yemen as a response to Khashoggi’s murder is ridiculous.
Either the war in Yemen makes sense as a means of responding to Iran’s efforts to dominate the Middle East or it doesn’t. If it does, then the Senate does the country a disservice by ending support for the Saudi war effort. As President Trump recognizes, U.S. foreign policy should be based on our geopolitical interests, not disgust over the murder of one guy.
Even Sen. Lindsey Graham voted against the Mike Lee-Bennie Sanders legislation. He didn’t do so for geopolitical reasons, but rather because of concern over invoking the War Powers Resolution. That’s another good argument.
Graham, though, insisted that the U.S. should change its policy towards Saudi Arabia. In a comment directed at President Trump, to whom he has been cozying up, Graham stated: “I think you’re wrong about what’s going on up here.” He added, “I’m never going to let this go until things change in Saudi Arabia.”
I doubt things are going to change meaningfully in Saudi Arabia, and it’s silly of Graham to hold his breath until they do. Certainly, the U.S. Senate can’t force the Saudis to change, and even the president’s ability meaningfully to do so is probably quite limited.
Thanks to American soft-headedness, manifested again today in the passage of the Mike Lee-Bernie Sanders legislation, Russia has rapidly been gaining influence in the Middle East. As part of its diplomatic offensive, the Saudis have sidled up to Putin.
This reality is a major driver of Trump’s decision not to go hard on Saudi Arabia. Ironically, our supposedly soft-on-Russia president wants to deprive Putin of an opening that his critics — the same ones who push the false Russia influence on Trump narrative — are determined to create.
Thanks to Mike Lee, Mr. Bipartisan, that opening widened today. Even more importantly, so did Iran’s opportunities in Yemen.