President Trump got no small amount of grief for suggesting Sunday that he would let Saudi Arabia decide what military action, if any, the "locked and loaded" U.S. should take against Iran if Tehran turns out to be behind an aerial attack on a major Saudi oil facility. But Trump's tweet has some strategic merit, argues Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East studies at the University of Oklahoma. Here's the kernel of Landis' argument:
Congress, of course, has the explicit constitutional authority to declare war, and Saudi Arabia obviously does not. And Landis isn't arguing that Iran wasn't behind the attack — in fact, Iran has a clear motive — but he notes that the Saudis have been more cautious in assigning blame to Iran than the Trump administration has, and Trump was more cautious than Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Trump also appears less than eager to get into another war in the Middle East — for good reason:
If Saudi Arabia is willing to gamble U.S. forces on an attack against Iran — calling Trump's bluff, in Landis' telling — Riyadh will foot the bill, Trump says. "The fact is that the Saudis are going to have a lot of involvement in this if we decide to do something," Trump said Monday. "They'll be very much involved, and that includes payment." Does that mean Trump has essentially turned the U.S. military into a Saudi mercenary force? Again, not necessarily, Landis says.
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