US-Saudi relations stand at a tense moment after the US Congress rejected Obama’s vetoing of a law allowing the families of the victims of 9/11 to sue Saudi Arabia. In a difficult time in global politics, the US Congress seems to be out of touch with the complexities of international relations. The US and Saudi Arabia have been staunch allies in the Middle East for a number of decades now. The US has supported Saudi Arabia officially on its position on the Yemen and Syria wars as well as remaining silent on alleged human rights abuses within the Saudi kingdom. Despite alleged links between some Saudi officials and some of the 9/11 attackers, there has never been enough to suggest that the Saudi government orchestrated the attacks. The Saudi foreign ministry has confirmed that such a law would have many ‘unintended’ consequences, such as the erosion of sovereign immunity. The statement itself warns that this could expose the US itself, which is famous for meddling in the affairs of other countries. There is also the question of whether an American court would have jurisdiction over the Saudis.
If the US does actually damage its relationship with Saudi Arabia, it will fast run out of any allies in the region. At an important time in the Middle East, there is little that can be gained from more diplomatic tension between the US and Saudi Arabia. Moreover, Obama’s veto perhaps reflects the awareness that the US government itself could be subject to similar lawsuits in the near future if other countries decide to follow suit. What if an Iraqi citizen decides to sue the US government for wrecking the country? Or what if a Nicaraguan citizen decides to sue the US government for creating the right-wing militia, the Contras? Or what if an Afghan decides to sue the US government for funding the Taliban in the 1980s? The links between the US government and the destabilisation of a number of countries are far stronger than any links uncovered by the 9/11 inquiry commission between Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 attackers. The real consequence of the US law will not be on US-Saudi relations. It will instead be the erosion of sovereign immunity as a pillar of international relations that can have much more serious long-term ramifications.