Rough justice for President Obama and the Saudis
Throwing a stone at Saudi Arabia, where stoning women is the national sport, is great sport, and nobody deserves an occasional stoning like the Saudis, just to let the king and his legion of princes know how it feels.
They’re feeling the pain inflicted by Congress with the passage of legislation enabling the families of 9/11 to sue the Saudi government in American courts for damages, and they’ll soon be at the mercy of American trial lawyers. They can expect more pain.
Barack Obama can feel the pain, too. Feeling the pain of others is something of a presidential ritual now, since Bill Clinton first popularized the idea. Only four months before the happy day that President Obama is “out of here,” he felt the sting of the first override of a veto, and the vote was neither close nor even respectable — 97 to 1 in the Senate and 348 to 77 in the House of Representatives.
The president first sent his press agent out to express his disappointment. “I would venture to say that this is the single most embarrassing thing that the United States has done, possibly, since 1983,” said Josh Earnest, who has apparently been holding something embarrassing for 33 years. The Senate has had a lot of things to be embarrassed by over those three decades, and one of the most embarrassing — rising to humiliation — is letting Barack Obama get by with playing kissy-face with Iran and enabling the mullahs to continue their work on the Islamic bomb with which to torture the world. (Mr. Earnest didn’t say anything about that.)
Later in the day, the president, perhaps realizing that his anger over the veto could be seen as just more of his pandering to the Islamic world, stepped up the firepower of his disappointment. “The concern that I’ve had has nothing to do with Saudi Arabia per se or my sympathy for 9/11 families,” he told CNN News, “it has to do with me not wanting a situation in which we’re suddenly exposed to liabilities for all the work that we’re doing all around the world, and suddenly finding ourselves subject to the private lawsuits in courts where we don’t even know, exactly, whether they’re on the up and up, in some cases.
“So this is a dangerous precedent and it’s an example of why sometimes you have to do what’s hard. And frankly, I wish Congress had done what’s hard. I didn’t expect it, because if you’re perceived as voting against 9/11 families before an election, not surprisingly, that’s a hard vote for people to take. But it would have been the right thing to do.”
The president even has a point, but at the end of an unpopular presidency he can’t expect Republican senators, whom he has treated as if they were something on the bottom of his shoe, to fall in line now to do “the right thing” to help him. He’ll twist slowly, slowly in the wind for a little while. That’s always a delicious sight for an angry senator.
The argument that there’s no hard proof that the Saudi government was complicit in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, is irrelevant. The line between mosque and state in the Islamic world, particularly in Saudi Arabia, is so thin and dim as to be invisible. One author likens examining the al-Saud dynasty at work to watching a black widow spider snare its prey.
President Obama’s most persuasive point is that the legislation enabling Americans to sue Saudi Arabia breaks long-held tradition and takes the right and responsibility for “consequential decisions” away from presidents and conveys them to the courts and private litigants — in effect, to trial lawyers.
Indeed, observes The Wall Street Journal, “Democrats want another income stream for their trial-lawyer campaign funders, while Republicans stampeded because no one wants to be seen as defending Saudi Arabia in an election year.”
The legislation sets no limits on the operating room for the lawyers for the 9/11 families, and some of them will no doubt get rich. Some of the families might even collect something, though trial lawyers learn early how to limit what they must share with clients.
The Saudis, who have the best lawyers money can buy, are expected now to liquidate some of their holdings in the United States to prevent their becoming hostage to friendly courts and juries out to punish the Saudis.
All but one of the men who flew American airliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a bean field in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2002, were Saudi-born Muslims. Making the Saudi government pay up is a rough justice, but rough justice is something the king and his many princes can readily understand. Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.