National Security

Saudi Arabia Might Be Worse Than Iran, Paul Says

Kentucky Republican senator defends his hard line against Riyadh regime in wake of columnist Jamal Khashoggi's killing

Image Credit: MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/Getty Images & Drew Angerer/Getty Images

U.S. foreign policy should take a hard line against Saudi Arabia, even if it undermines President Donald Trump’s goal of isolating Iran, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Tuesday.

Paul said on “The Laura Ingraham Show” that this month’s killing of Washington Post opinion columnist Jamal Khashoggi (pictured above left) makes that clearer than ever.

“The Saudis are bad. They have been doing this for decades, and we sort of turn a blind eye and say, ‘Iran, Iran, Iran. We have to support the Saudis,’” he said. “I’m not so sure the Saudis are less evil than the Iranians, to tell you the truth.”

Trump has been under pressure from leaders in both parties to take strong action against Saudi Arabia over the death of Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey. Turkish officials contend senior Saudi government officials planned the murder days in advance.

Saudi authorities have arrested 18 people in connection with the murder, but Paul (above right) and other critics are not satisfied.

“I would call the Saudis the largest state sponsor of radical Islam. You know, they teach it throughout the world. The people who attacked us on 9/11 weren’t Iranians; they were Saudis.”

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“The killing of Khashoggi by the Saudis is just one more instance of things that they do that are not good for America,” he said. “They’ve spent over $100 billion over the last several decades supporting madrassas around the world that teach hatred of Christianity, Judaism and Hindus.” A madrassa is a school for Muslim youth, and some are recruiting centers for radical Islamic terrorists.

Paul said Saudi Arabia has funded 10,000 madrassas in Pakistan alone and has planted the seeds of radical Islam by funding the religious schools in Indonesia, which traditionally has been home to moderate Muslims.

Paul, a longtime critic of selling arms to Saudi Arabia, said the country has used those weapons to inflict terrible suffering in Yemen’s civil war and has funded the most anti-American elements in Syria’s civil war.

“I would call the Saudis the largest state sponsor of radical Islam,” he said. “You know, they teach it throughout the world. The people who attacked us on 9/11 weren’t Iranians; they were Saudis … If we want to stop terrorists, we need to quit aiding and abetting the Saudis in creating chaos.”

Paul also rejected Trump’s contention that preserving the U.S.-Saudi relationship is good for America because arms sales create jobs.

“I don’t see our arms trade as a jobs program,” he said. “It’s about our national defense.”

Paul’s stance has not made him popular with the Saudis. The country’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, criticized the senator for blaming Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Khashoggi’s death.

Related: Saudis’ Khashoggi Explanation Hits Wall of Bipartisan Skepticism

The prince deserves the “presumption of innocence until proven guilty,” Al-Jubeir told Fox News on Sunday. That, Paul said, is a Western concept that the Saudis reject.

“I’m not too excited to be lectured by some autocrat from a dictatorship,” he said. “You know, the Saudis have 3,000 people in prison right now without trial. So he says, ‘Oh, we should presume the crown prince to be innocent until otherwise proven.’ Well, what about the 3,000 people in your country that you’ve locked up in jail and you don’t give a trial to?”

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