Populism Wins in US Congress’ Veto Override of 9/11 Bill

The rejection by the Senate of President Obama's veto on legislation allowing relatives of the victims of the September 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia will not only greatly undermine the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States, but could also lead to Saudi retaliation, Robert Legvold, Professor Emeritus at Columbia University and Director of the Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative, told valdaiclub.com.

According to Legvold, this is a sign that populism is gaining priority over national interests in US politics on the congressional level. As a result, the already troubled US-Saudi relations may become even more strained.

“The Obama administration is already having great difficulty managing the relationship with Saudi Arabia for a variety of reasons that have to do with Saudi support for radicalism in the Middle East and the like,” Robert Legvold told valdaiclub.com.

According to Legvold, the new development will open the US to potential lawsuits from abroad, using the new law as a precedent in international relations.

“The Saudis have threatened retaliation if lawsuits are actually filed, but it also raises questions about the same kind of thing happening with other countries, and the extent to which the United States could then be subject to the same kind of action in other countries,” he added.

Legvold said that he sees the new law as a result of populism spreading in both the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States. Congressmen, even when informed of the consequences, chose to side with the popular sentiments regarding lawsuits against Saudi Arabia by September 11 attack victims.

“The administration fought very hard to prevent it, for reasons of national interest, but this is a popular issue in the United States, and these days, politicians, both Republicans and Democrats are playing to that popular sentiment,” he said.

“They were not prepared to listen to the president when he said that it is in our national interest not to do this. Their answer was no, this is what the American people want, and that was both parties. It took both Republicans and Democrats,” he added.

According to Legvold, the new law will negatively impact US-Saudi relations in the short to medium term.

“It will depend on how much the legislation is actually enforced, that is, how many families affected will take their cases to court and try to sue the Saudis. If that becomes a phenomenon, then it’s going to be very disruptive in US-Saudi relations,” Legvold concluded.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.