WASHINGTON, D.C. – A former top aide to a Republican president and a left-wing senator have both blasted the White House for its response to the feud between Canada and Saudi Arabia, calling it weak and evidence of President Donald Trump’s affinity for autocrats.
In an article earlier this week, Elliott Abrams, who was deputy national-security advisor to George W. Bush, said the Saudis’ aggressive response to human-rights criticism from Canada was “an unforced error,” and the lack of U.S. back-up for the Canadians indefensible.
From the other side of the political spectrum, Sen. Bernie Sanders told the National Post Trump himself should have defended Canada and echoed its criticism of the Saudis.
The States’ strategic alliance with the Arab power is no reason to go easy on its human-rights transgressions, he said.
“What the United States government should have done is joined Canada in telling Saudi Arabia that it is not acceptable in a country that has received huge amounts of support and military arms from the United States to be imprisoning human-rights activists,” he said in an interview.
“We have a president who time and time again seems to be more comfortable with authoritarian-type governments than with democracies,” Sanders said. “And I think that is a very sad state of affairs.”
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The diplomatic clash started when first Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, then Global Affairs Canada issued tweets criticizing Saudi Arabia for jailing rights activist Samar Badawi and others. Badawi’s brother Raif was earlier sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for running the website “Free Saudi Liberals.” His wife and children live in Canada and recently became citizens.
In response, the Saudis threw out Canada’s ambassador, ordered a halt to further trade and called back thousands of students and medical patients from Canada.
The Canadians violated “basic international norms” by meddling in Saudi Arabia’s internal affairs, its government said.
Trump, who made his first foreign trip as president to Riyadh, has not made any comment on the affair. He has touted the Saudis as an important ally in opposing Iran and fighting extremism, and a lucrative trading partner. He has also praised Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de-factor leader, for the liberal reforms he has spearheaded.
The U.S. State Department said it has asked the Saudis about the situation with Canada, and encouraged it to respect due process and be transparent about the fate of people taken into custody. But it has not publicly criticized the arrest of the activists, nor the aggressive response to Canada.
The European Union has taken a similarly neutral stance.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House on March 14, 2017.
Abrams, who now heads the Council on Foreign Relations, dismissed the Saudis’ contention that other nations have no right to criticize its domestic affairs.
“That’s an …read more