Until recently, the U.S. relationship to Saudi Arabia has been one of those things that we're not allowed to do anything about. There's death and taxes, and the U.S. is joined at the hip to Saudi Arabia. Move along, nothing to see here.
But the world has changed. We're at a discontinuity now, and nobody knows what's on the other side of the discontinuity. President Obama slags on Saudi Arabia in an interview in the Atlantic. A big bi-partisan group of Senators is poised to pass legislation that would limit the sovereign immunity of the Saudi government from lawsuits over the 9/11 attacks. Here's Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, describing how the world has changed:
"Very bluntly, they no longer have us in an energy straight jacket," said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, referring to growing domestic oil production that has made the United States less reliant on the Saudis. He added that the American government now knows more about Saudi Arabia's historical funding of extremist groups and that "Americans are also increasingly concerned about Saudi Arabia's human rights record."
Into this discontinuity, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul have introduced a bipartisan bill that would place new conditions on U.S. military aid to Saudi Arabia. Like so many Washington reform initiatives, the actual text of the bill is not revolutionary. It doesn't say you can't transfer weapons to Saudi Arabia anymore. It just adds a step to the existing notification process. The new step is: the President has to certify that Saudi Arabia is acting to protect civilians from its military actions - for example, in Yemen - as it is required to do under international law and U.S. law anyway - and the President has to certify that Saudi Arabia is cooperating with the U.S. against ISIS/Al Qaeda terrorism.
What's revolutionary is that Murphy and Paul are formally challenging the taboo against publicly asking questions about the U.S. military relationship to Saudi Arabia and inviting other Senators to join them.