A national security expert says retaliation from the Saudis is likely following what he calls a "stunning" congressional override of President Obama's veto of the 9-11 victims' bill. But the threat posed by the Saudis, he adds, isn't what it used to be.
Last week – for the first time since Barack Obama moved into the Oval Office – both the House and Senate voted overwhelming to override his veto, passing a bill that would allow the families of those killed during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot. The vote in the Senate was 97-1; in the House, 348-77.
"It is a stunning defeat for the president," says national defense analyst Robert Maginnis, who serves as senior fellow for national security at the Family Research Council. "You only have to understand, though, that the president likely is privy to information that suggests that the retaliation by the Saudis will be relatively fast and potentially painful."
One 9-11 widow, however, beat the Saudis to the punch. On Friday, two days after the vote, Stephanie DeSimone – whose husband was killed during the terrorist attack on the Pentagon that day – filed a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia. She alleges in the suit that the Middle Eastern kingdom provided material support to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
While the president warned before the lawmakers voted that making the bill law would set a "dangerous precedent," Maginnis says for the sake of the 9-11 victims it's a risk Congress should be willing to make.
"Given that the United States is moving rapidly to energy independence – and this, in fact, may propel that – the Saudis' hand is not nearly as powerful as it once was," he argues. "And I think that those on the intelligence committees in both the Senate and the House understand that. So it's a risk that we should be willing to accept."
Maginnis expects some effort to reverse the impact of the law during the lame-duck session of Congress – depending on who wins the presidential election.