Senate Dem calls for shift to get tough with Saudis

Senate Dem calls for shift to get tough with Saudis
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One Senate Democrat is calling for a tougher line with Saudi Arabia and criticizing his own party for refusing to confront the dangers posed by radical interpretations of Islam.

In remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations on Friday, Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Murphy faces criticism from GOP challenger over fundraising email Democrat: Republicans who believe in more gun control afraid of being 'politically punished' MORE (D-Conn.) proposed a relatively dramatic change of posture of American foreign policy.

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“Increasingly, there are more and more things not to like about the state of our relationship,” Murphy said.

At the top of that list is the Saudi kingdom’s involvement in Yemen, which has been called a proxy war against Iran-backed rebels.

“Our government says that its top priority in Yemen is defeating AQAP,” Murphy said, using an acronym for al Qaeda's branch in the Arabian Peninsula that has been described as its most dangerous. “But this ongoing chaos, it’s created a security vacuum in which AQAP can thrive and can actually expand.”

Murphy also took aim at Wahhabism, an extreme branch of Sunni Islam that dominates Saudi Arabia and which has been linked to the ideology of radical groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“The United States should suspend supporting Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen, at the very least, until we get assurances that this fight does not distract from the fight against al Qaeda and ISIS,” he proposed, “and until we make some progress in the Saudi export of Wahhabism.”

Until Saudi leaders change their tune, Murphy said, Congress should oppose arms sales to Riyyadh.

“If we are serious about constructing a winning strategy to defeat ISIS and al Qaeda, then our horizons, they do have to involve a strategy that looks beyond the day-to-day, the here and now, the fight in Iraq and Syria,” Murphy said.

“We have to admit that there is a fight for the future of Islam, and we can’t just sit on the sidelines in that.”

By refusing to criticize extreme versions of Islam, Democrats were as guilty of Republicans in failing to respond to that fight for Islam’s future, he claimed.

“It’s a disservice to the debate for Republicans to brand every Muslim as a threat to the West,” Murphy said.

“But it’s also a disservice for Democrats to refuse to acknowledge that though ISIS has perverted Islam to a degree that is unrecognizable, the seeds of that perversion are rooted in a much more mainstream version of the faith that derives in substantial part from the teachings of Wahhabism.”