Donald Trump has just vetoed a bill passed by the US Congress which would have ended American financial support for the Saudi led coalition in the Yemen conflict. When the bill was passed by both the House of Representatives and Senate, many were surprised that an otherwise pro-war and pro-interventionist group of politicians would support something that was seemingly anti-war. However, to assume that the majority of votes were motivated by an anti-war sentiment is to deny the very specific circumstances behind the bill’s passage.
In the United States, both main political parties have incredibly strong relations with Saudi Arabia. Yet among the US public, this “special relationship” is far more controversial than the fact that both US parties also have strong ties to Saudi Araba’s de facto ally Israel. While Israel and Saudi Arabia are both known for pursuing internationally controversial foreign policies, among the US public, Israel is generally viewed in a positive light while Saudi Arabia is not. As such, whenever an opportunity comes along for American politicians to virtue signal against Saudi Arabia without actually changing US foreign policy in a meaningful way, such an opportunity will be acted upon. Trump himself virtue signalled against Saudi Arabia during his 2016 election campaign.
When it became clear that elements of the Saudi “deep state” were responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and when after that it became clear that Donald Trump was not going to do anything to punish Riyadh for the Khashoggi murder, many in the opposition Democratic party sought to take advantage of a public opinion that had soured even further against Riyadh in the aftermath of the infamous murder which took place in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate.
In this sense, the vote to cut funding to the Saudi coalition in Yemen was a largely symbolic measure that most who voted for it knew would be vetoed. Making matters all the more stark, it can be assumed that some of those who voted for the bill even wanted it to be vetoed as the intention was only ever to virtue signal to an American public that had become somewhat upset in the aftermath of the Khashoggi murder. The bill was never actually meant to change Washington’s pro-Riyadh/anti-Tehran position vis-a-vis Yemen.
In this sense, while some are blaming Trump for prolonging the crisis in Yemen because of his veto, the reality is that Trump was handed a bill intended as a virtue signalling provocation rather than a genuine call to end the conflict in Yemen. As such, Trump responded in the way that virtually anyone in his position would have done.