Rough jus­tice for Pres­i­dent Obama and the Saudis

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

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.

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