Is Trump’s Saudi relationship bad for America?

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“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

What’s happening

A deadly shooting rampage by a Saudi Air Force student at a Florida naval base has drawn attention to President Trump’s relationship with the oil-rich Gulf nation.

In one of his first public statements on the shooting, Trump tweeted that he received condolences from the Saudi royal family and emphasized that the suspect “in no way shape or form” represents the Saudi people. He later echoed those sentiments in comments to reporters. Investigators are still determining a motive for the shooting in which three victims died, and whether the attack was an act of terror.

Trump’s quick defense of Saudi Arabia is seen by some as part of a pattern in which he has consistently sided with the country during his time in office. The president has repeatedly refused to blame the royal family for the killing of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, despite the CIA’s assesment that his murder was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Trump also said the U.S. military was “locked and loaded” to attack Iran in response to drone attacks on Saudi oil fields in September.

Trump has only used his veto power five times while in office. Four of those vetoes were used to stop bills that would have punished Saudi Arabia for its ongoing war in Yemen, which has caused what the United Nations called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

Why there’s debate

Trump’s critics have accused him of undermining America’s interests by serving as a “spokesperson for a Saudi regime that is struggling to maintain international legitimacy. The president is willing to overlook the country’s abuses, they argue, in order to continue buying Saudi Arabia’s oil and selling them weapons. Others say Trump’s actions are likely guided by personal financial interests that the public doesn’t know about because he has refused to disclose his financial interests.

The president’s defenders argue that maintaining a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia is an important part of advancing American interests abroad. Although the U.S. has reduced its reliance on Saudi oil, the health of Saudi Arabia’s fossil fuel industry is crucial to keeping global gas prices down, some argue. The Saudis are also America’s most powerful regional ally against Iran, a nation that is seen as a direct threat to peace in the Middle East.

What’s next

As the investigation into the shooting in Pensacola, Fla., continues, the Pentagon has suspended training programs for Saudi military students. A military spending bill passed in the House last week was reportedly stripped of measures that would have placed sanctions on those believed to be involved in Khashoggi’s murder and barred the sale of some weapons used in the war in Yemen. That bill is expected to be taken up by the Senate next week.

Perspectives

Trump has given the Saudis a free pass to commit any number of abuses

“Driven by oil, money, weapons sales, a good deal of Saudi feting and flattery, Trump has created a virtually impenetrable zone of immunity for Saudi Arabia.” — Middle East negotiator David Allen Miller to New York Times

Trump may be protecting his personal financial interests

“It’s a fishy situation that naturally raises questions about Trump’s personal financial relationships with Persian Gulf monarchies — questions he and his allies in Congress have been successfully stonewalling for years.” — Matthew Yglesias, Vox

Maintaining a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia is important for security

“As President Trump has commented, the relationship is a two-way street. The U.S. wants the billions the kingdom wants to spend, and if the purchases are not made in the U.S., the Saudis will turn to Russia or China.” — Nic Robertson, CNN

The same behavior by any other president would not be tolerated

“As more details emerge, it’s hard not to ask whether Trump will give even terrorism a whitewash if his business partners are involved. The attack in Pensacola is front-page, headline news. Imagine if Obama had brushed an attack like this off as a matter of compensation.” — MSNBC contributor Joyce Vance

Trump views international relationships as business deals

“The president has been especially blunt in describing his transactional approach to foreign affairs, particularly in the Middle East, where his interests in oil, arms deals and terrorism intersect.” — Toluse Olorunnipa and Josh Dawsey, Washington Post

Overlooking Saudi abuses has been part of presidential practice for decades

“Trump is not the first American president to show undue deference to the kingdom's monarchy.” — Joel Mathis, The Week

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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Kingdom Council / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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