Persuaded by Saudi Arabia?

by Berry Friesen (May 23, 2017)

How can I persuade you, dear reader, that President Trump is not the problem, but a vivid symptom of our fatal disease, which is empire?

Maybe paying attention to Saudi Arabia will help. Understanding its history * and role brings the empire into focus.  And it helps us see that the US embrace of the House of Saud has little to do President Trump’s authoritarianism and much to do with the brutal way the empire runs the world.

Supporting Terrorism

Remember the summer of 2014, when images of the Islamic State's massacres filled our screens?  Remember the hype from the media, the scare statements from US leaders? Secretary of Defense Secretary Hagel described ISIS as “a threat to every stabilized country on Earth, and it's a threat to us."

During that anxious summer—on August 17, 2014—Hillary Clinton wrote this to John Podesta, an advisor to President Obama:

“(W)e need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

Shocking?  Not to Clinton.  In December, 2009--before there was any talk about an Islamic State and al-Qaeda was still the #1 threat—Secretary of State Clinton wrote a secret cable to US embassies about cutting off sources of funding for terrorist organizations.  Here is what Clinton said:

“Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

How much funding?  In Syria alone several billion dollars; former Vice President Joe Biden described it as “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons.” That’s before adding in all the other countries where Saudi-supported Salafist fighters have been active.

Then there is Saudi support for Wahhabism, a strand of Sunni Islam that requires the elimination of variant forms of Islam and the domination of other religious faiths.  Over the past three decades, Saudi Arabia reportedly has spent about $4 billion per year on mosques, madrassas, preachers, students, and textbooks to spread this version of Islam.

Of course, Clinton was far from the first to learn of Saudi financial support for Islamic extremism.  Saudi financial support for the alleged 9/11 hijackers has been reported for years, but has never been pursued by top US officials.  Though litigation against Saudi Arabia is proceeding in US courts, plaintiffs report continuing high level efforts to deny justice to 9/11 victims.

And Saudi support for terrorism did not start with 9/11.  The militia assembled and trained in Pakistan during the early ‘80s—what evolved into al-Qaeda—was largely funded by Saudi Arabia. During the late ‘90s, Saudi money supported similar militias in the Balkans.

Donald Trump knows this history.  In his 2011 book, Time to Get Tough: Make America Great Again, Trump wrote this about Saudi Arabia:

“It’s the world’s biggest funder of terrorism. Saudi Arabia funnels our petro dollars, our very own money, to fund the terrorists that seek to destroy our people while the Saudis rely on us to protect them.”

And Trump spoke about the corrupt connection between Saudi Arabia and Islamic terrorism in his presidential campaign.  It’s safe to say he won votes by speaking this inconvenient truth so candidly.

Yet he eagerly traveled to Riyadh this past weekend to receive the royal treatment from Saudi officials.

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In this regard, Trump followed a well-trod path.  Starting with Richard M. Nixon, every US President (save short-termer Gerald Ford) has traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with its leader. George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush--renown for their close personal friendship with leading members of the House of Saud--each made the journey twice. Barack Obama went three times.   

Apparently, Saudi support for terrorism is not a major concern of US Presidents.  Indeed, when we consider the combination of Saudi-supported terrorism with US presidents kissing-up to the House of Saud, we cannot avoid a very unpleasant conclusion: support for terrorism is what makes Saudi Arabia such a valued member of the US-led empire.

Think for a moment about the countless deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, France and other places in recent decades due to Islamic extremism.  Or think of the citizens of Saudi Arabia who have lost their heads because they raised their voices for human rights. Saudi money paid for those deaths.

Or think about those 276 teen-aged Nigerian girls kidnapped and enslaved by Boko Haram during the spring of 2014.  Saudi money—some it channeled through al-Qaeda, some through private Saudi foundations—financed their captors.  

Selling Weapons

The highlight of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia was the inking of a $110 billion arms deal, the biggest ever.  It is expected to grow to $380 billion over the next ten years.

This is Trump’s plan to reindustrialize America.  We’re going to build more weapons for the world!

William D. Hartung, researcher for the Center for International Policy, reports that the Obama Administration set records of its own. Writing in December 2016 (just before Trump took office) Hartung said:

“Since taking office in January 2009, the Obama administration has offered over $115 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia in 42 separate deals, more than any US administration in the history of the US-Saudi relationship.”

Why does Saudi Arabia need so many weapons?  One factor is its war of aggression against neighboring Yemen, launched in March, 2015.  The Saudis have targeted schools, hospitals, markets, transportation infrastructure, weddings and funerals. It has embargoed Yemen, cutting off its access to imported food.  According to Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin, the war has resulted in acute malnutrition and disease, leaving a Yemeni child dying every 10 minutes.  The war is primarily victimizing civilians, yet the US continues to support Saudi Arabia, providing wapons, training, targeting and surveillance.

Then there is the upcoming war with Iran, date to be announced.**  During the '80s, the US and Saudi Arabia teamed up with Saddam Hussein against Iran.  Saddam provided the invasion force, the House of Saud provided the money, and the US provided the arms and technical assistance in how to use them (chemical weapons included). Part two of that ongoing effort to end Iran's obnoxious resistance to the empire is coming soon.

Controlling Global Economics

In 1973, during the final months of the Nixon Administration, the US and the House of Saud made a deal.  The US would stand behind this autocratic clique as legitimate rulers of Saudi Arabia, provide military security for Saudi oil fields and sell the Saudis needed military equipment.  The House of Saud, in turn, made three promises of their own:  sell its oil worldwide exclusively in US dollars; use its influence to avoid another oil embargo; and invest its US dollars in US Treasury notes and other US investments.

The agreement—now in its fifth decade—has resulted in huge inflows of investment dollars into the US economy and lots of business for US weapons manufacturers (see here and here and here).  It also has enabled the US to directly influence world oil prices.  A recent example is the Saudi-US decision in 2014 to increase Saudi production, thereby halving the cost of oil and punishing Russia, Iran and Venezuela, three big oil producers that stubbornly refuse to follow US leadership.

Partnering in Deception

In his speech to the assembled House of Saud and guests, President Trump spoke of “a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil.”

He went on to name the “evil:” ISIS, Hezbollah, Iran, the Assad government in Syria (he did not mention al-Qaeda).  Meanwhile, the “good” sat assembled before him: the autocratic and unaccountable House of Saud, funders of terrorism, aggressors in war, hoarders of wealth, the blood of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen dripping from their hands.

Trump is the perfect messenger of such mind-bending pretense and hypocrisy.  Deceit is his comfort zone; he excels in brazenly calling wrong right and right wrong.  Iran had a fair and free election on the day Trump arrived in Riyadh; 70 percent of the Iranian people voted.  Iran has never invaded a neighbor; at the invitation of the Syrian government, it is fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria.  In contrast, Saudi Arabia has never had an election; it has invaded its neighbor (Yemen) and is supporting ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria.

But Trump is only the messenger.  He did not have a part in creating the corrupt world on display in Riyadh;*** he only amplifies its lies and carries out its plans.  We dare not believe a word he says, nor think for even a moment that our problem would be solved by getting rid of Trump.

Can we recognize the difference between a symptom and the disease?  Our very existence depends on it.
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*  For a brief history, see Nu'man Abd al-Wahid's "The Myth of Bitter Lake: Why the British Empire Foisted Saudia Arabia on the US" or Frontline's chronology of Saudi history (1932 - present). For a more detailed analysis, see Adam Curtis' BBC documentary, "Bitter Lake."

** See  "There's an alliance growing between Saudi Arabia and Israel--and Iran should be worried" in Business Insider.

*** Mark Curtis documents the dysfunctional relationship between the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia in his May 24th essay, "The British establishment is putting our lives at risk:  Our state's key ally is a major public threat."