Saudi Arabia Doesn't Need U.S. To Defend It Against Iran, Rand Paul Says: 'Why Do We Always Have to Get Involved?'

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are urging President Donald Trump to step back from potential conflict with Iran following last weekend's attack against vital Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure, which both Washington and Riyadh have blamed on Iran.

Trump is currently considering how to respond to the strikes, which are believed to have used drones and cruise missiles to hit the Abqaiq petroleum processing facilities and Khurais oil field in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Yemen's Houthi rebels—currently fighting against a Saudi-led coalition as part of Yemen's civil war—claimed responsibility for the attack, which caused a spike in oil prices and forced Saudi Arabia to shut down half of its oil production operations.

The initial U.S. reaction was bellicose, with Trump declaring the country "locked and loaded" to respond and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo branding the operation an "act of war." But the administration now seems to be moving away from the military option, instead pursuing diplomatic measures.

This may ease the concerns of Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who had urged the White House not to escalate the situation and end up in an unwanted and costly conflict with the Iranians.

On Thursday, for example, GOP Kentucky Senator Rand Paul suggested that long-time ally Saudi Arabia does not necessarily need American protection, given the amount the conservative kingdom spends on its armed forces.

"If you add Saudi Arabia's military budget to all their allies, all these Gulf sheikdoms that surround Saudi Arabia, they spend eight times more on military than Iran," Paul told the One America News Network Thursday.

"So they're more than capable—I think—of holding off Iran, retaliating against Iran," he added. "That's the real question, why does it always have to be the U.S.? Why do we always have to get involved?"

The weekend's attacks are spillover from the ongoing civil war in Yemen, in which the Saudi-led coalition is fighting against the Iranian-backed Houthis on behalf of the deposed government.

The conflict has resulted in one of the worst humanitarian disasters in living memory, with more than 90,000 people killed, more than 3 million people displaced and some 14 million more at risk of starvation.

Paul has been involved in bipartisan efforts to end the fighting—and U.S. support for it—in Yemen, which he said was effectively a "proxy war" between the Saudis and the Iranians. Yemen is perhaps the clearest example of the regional struggle between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran, a rivalry that is felt across the Middle East.

"I've been an advocate of trying to find a diplomatic way to come to a resolution of the Yemeni civil war," Paul said, noting that with the latest round of escalation "it doesn't look like we're going more towards diplomacy."

Saudi Arabia, Iran, military, fighter jet, war
A picture taken on November 16, 2015 shows a Saudi F-15 fighter jet landing at the Khamis Mushayt military airbase, Saudi Arabia. FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images/Getty