Beyond Arms Sales: Whither the US-Saudi Relationship?


The firestorm of controversy that ignited this week over the arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other gulf states opens up an important debate that needs to be thoroughly explored, yet the thrust of the discussion–typified by Bret Stephens fulminating this morning against supposed Saudi malevolent intentions in his column “A Kernel of Evil“–has largely sidestepped the more important question: What do we want our relationship with Saudi Arabia to look like? Unfortunately when it comes to Saudi Arabia, analysts, commentators and in particular our Congress, have instead chosen moral antipathy and political theater with wanton disregard for our long-term strategic interests in the region.
Take for instance the House foreign ops bill from late June where a bipartisan amendment to prohibit use of funds for assistance to Saudi Arabia (mainly linked to counterterrorism cooperation), was adopted by voice vote with a whole eight minutes dedicated to a one-sided debate, or rather rant, on the evils of the Saudi government. The consequence of the amendment vote was not the money itself (just over $1 million) but the symbolic effect it has given the rhetoric that surrounded it.
Rep. Shelley Berkeley (D-NV) introduced the amendment stating:

The Saudis are not our allies. They’re not our friends…We cannot trust them and we should not fund them. That is why every year, more and more members of this body vote to cut off funding to the terrorist regime.

And Rep. Ferguson (R-NJ), who also stated that Saudi “is not a partner of the United States in any effort,” co-sponsored the amendment along with Reps. Weiner (D-NY) and Crowley (D-NY) and had sent out Dear Colleague letters titled “Top Four Reasons the Saudis are not American Allies” earlier that week.
Unfortunately these statements belie the rich history of US-Saudi intelligence and counterterrorism cooperation. In 2004, Coordinator for Counterterrorism Amb. Cofer Black testified before the House International Relations Committee stating:

The Saudis are a strong ally and are taking unprecedented steps to address an al-Qaida menace that threatens us both. We believe that they are headed in the right direction, are committed to countering the threat of al-Qaida, and are giving us extremely strong cooperation in the War On Terrorism. There remains, of course, much work still to be done, both singly and jointly, but we are optimistic that our efforts are paying off.

Given that Reps Berkeley and Crowley currently serve on the House International Relations Committee and did so at the time when this testimony was issued, they would have been wise to at least take the time to read and carefully consider the expert testimony before making sweeping judgments on the House floor.
Counterterrorism Cooperation
Anyone seriously evaluating Saudi intelligence and military cooperation needs to take a look at Anthony Cordesman’s testimony before Congress that dispels the accusations of most Saudi critics (which should be read in its entirety). One could only hope that House members had bothered to read his testimony from late 2005 which credits the invaluable role Saudi has played in military and counterterrorism cooperation and praises their strides, though acknowledging vast greater room for improvement, in reigning in the financing of terrorism, the education system, and the role of the clergy:

Saudi Arabia did not support our invasion of Iraq at the political or diplomatic level. The idea of such a war was (and is) very unpopular among the Saudi people. Moreover, the foreign minister warned us of the problems we would encounter in the aftermath of such an invasion, and the Kingdom’s fear it could destabilize the region.
Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia provided critical support to the US in the war against Saddam Hussein, in spite of the fact the Saudis had strong reservations about the war. Saudi Arabia opened up its airspace, made available its airbases, and housed special forces when Turkey reneged on basing US forces at the last moment. The town of Ar Ar on the Saudi border, for example, virtually became a US base.
Unlike Turkey, which was offered a $30 billion aid package for its support, the Kingdom did not ask for any compensation. In fact, it provided free and subsidized fuel to US forces.
We need to remember that that the United States put intense and consistent pressure on Saudi Arabia to aid Islamist freedom fighters in Afghanistan during the Cold War, and that the US then saw Saudi support of Islamists as a counterbalance to communism. We were both slow to see the risks of what we were doing and how extremist might take advantage of such efforts — just as Israel once made the mistake of aid Islamists as what it hoped would be a counterbalance to the PLO.
Like the US, Saudi Arabia was slow to commit itself to the struggle against terrorism and extremism, but it drove Bin Laden out of the country in the mid-1990s and helped push him out of the Sudan.
Saudi Arabia was slow in taking substantive action after 9/11 — and some Saudis lived (and still live) in a world of denial and conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, Saudi leaders immediately condemned terrorism after 9/11, as did leading Saudi clerics. Saudi cooperation with the US has steadily improved over time, and has become far closer since when Saudi Arabia came under attack in mid-2003.
Saudi Arabia is now actively involved in an internal battle with Al-Qa’ida terrorists. Many such terrorists have been killed or captured, and many Saudi security personnel have lost their lives in the line of duty. This battle is being fought with considerable US support, and US and Saudi cooperation has become much stronger in recent years.
The full scale of this cooperation, like Saudi cooperation with the US in the Iraq War, is highly sensitive. I have discussed this cooperation at length with US and Saudi officials in Saudi Arabia, however, I would urge the Committee to seek a briefing on the details from the Bush Administration in closed session, on why the State Department praised Saudi Arabia for its internal and foreign efforts to fight terrorism in the annual report on “Patterns in Global Terrorism” that it issued in April 2004. Ambassador J. Cofer Black, Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism, stated in his introductory remarks that: “I would cite Saudi Arabia as an excellent example of a nation increasingly focusing its political will to fight terrorism. Saudi Arabia has launched an aggressive, comprehensive, and unprecedented campaign to hunt down terrorists, uncover their plots, and cut off their sources of funding.”

(In fact the Senate Foreign Relations Committee did receive closed member briefing which went into greater depth on Saudi counterterrorism cooperation in April 2004 and I suspect the same must have been offered to the House as well).
The difficulties the military has had in finding a location for the newly established AFRICOM demonstrates that strategic cooperation cannot be taken for granted, especially with declining public support for the US throughout the world.
With Saudi Arabia cultivating strong ties with China, and to a lesser extent with India, members of Congress and their advisors need to start taking a step beyond puerile tirades on the House floor, to asking themselves what we lose–in terms of security cooperation and a potential ally to help us regain some credibility in the Middle East–if Saudi Arabia continues to turn eastward.
And in terms of fighting extremism, the government has a vested interest in doing so. Saudi officials are well aware that al Qaeda’s endgame, after the US eventually withdraws from Iraq, is to topple the “near enemy”, and simply regime self-preservation will motivate the government to cooperate with the US to fight al Qaeda. And because they have to deal with the effects of Iraqi blowback, the Saudis have introduced novel approaches to fight terrorism at home and abroad waging a war of ideas through intensive de-radicalization programs and countering jihadist websites, methodologies we could stand to learn from through further counterterrorism cooperation.
Recently accusations have shifted to blame Saudis for the foreign fighters coming over the border into Iraq. First of all the accounts and blameworthiness of the Saudis are disputed by US intelligence officials as they have tried to control their borders and build a security fence. But given that Saudi shares an 814 km border with Iraq, most of it desert, it is small wonder that recruited, brainwashed extremists manage to find their way through to Iraq. Though we share a border with Mexico that’s four times longer, somehow over 485,000 Mexicans manage to evade border patrols and illegally make their way to the US.
Changes and Reforms, From the Symbolic to the Structural
Aside from the factually inaccurate and counterproductive statements during the foreign ops debate in June, the House displayed an acute propensity for exceptionally poor timing. The day before Interior Minister Prince Nayef, considered by Saudi scholars as one of the more conservative and orthodox princes in such a high position of power, strode in front the Saudi religious clerical establishment and denounced those who lent support to jihadists in Iraq or who sent hapless Saudis on suicide bombing missions going so far as to describe it as a “virus”. This was not as simple as it sounds–the Sauds’ reign rests on a deal struck with the clergy and to challenge it in such a fashion incurs great risk. Dispatching Nayef to confront the clergy signaled a public shift in Saudi stance. It was no longer sufficient to simply try and stop the flow of foreign fighters crossing into Iraq–now the Saudi government was making public strides and demanding the cooperation of the religious leadership.
This was not the first significant signal being sent by high-ranking government officials to go completely unnoticed–just three weeks earlier, Crown Prince Sultan announced that 1/3 of all government jobs would be filled by women. For a country that is often derided for its mistreatment of women, this is a significant departure, one that again fell on the deaf ears of the US Congress. I’m all but certain the voice vote made on June 23rd against the funding was made by Congress oblivious to the sea changes taking place around them. Instead, members dusted off talking points from five years ago to critique the Saudi Arabia of today.
During the Cold War, Sovietologists were highly valued for their ability to pick up on even the slightest domestic political movements of the Soviet Union to decipher their next moves and in turn, our next move. Despite the authoritarian nature of the Soviet regime, there was value in studying and encouraging moderate elements for at minimum, stability of relations, at best, changes in the nature and actions of the regime.
This valuable experience seems to be lost in today’s political climate where scoring cheap political shots is much easier than thinking through how we ought to re-define our strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia. Combing through key domestic political movements would reveal a distinctive pattern and significant shifts:
–the recent speeches by the two conservative prices staking out decidedly moderate or reformist positions,
–the plans underway to reinvent the Saudi economy and decentralize power away from the conservative heartland,
–the overhaul of investment in education, particularly science and engineering, and
–the reinstatement of journalist Dr. Jamal Khashoggi as editor of a leading daily Al Watan, years after his outspoken criticisms of the religious establishment’s extremist wing and the threat they posed to the country got him fired, as the editor of a leading Saudi paper. (I’ve been informed that all editorial appointments must be cleared by the King which means this was no mere oversight but a deliberate and significant maneuver to bring the reform debate back into the fold).
These events over the past year reveal King Abdullah to be firmly in control and calling the shots for his country. Since he formally assumed the throne in the summer of 2005, the King immediately began the heavy lifting for a reform agenda that included over 50 bureaucratic reforms to steer the country into the WTO and reap the rewards of the international trade regime. A moderate leader with a religious piety that secures him credibility both with religious leaders and his constituents, King Abdullah is a man who can produce real productive change for his country, the region, and the US-Saudi relationship, though it may be deliberately carried out below the radar.
The Strategic Fulcrum of the Region
The Saudi government has also emerged as what we have hoped of other players in the region–a responsible stakeholder with a significant capacity to move agendas. Its leadership on the Arab-Israeli conflict can be traced back to 2002 with the launch of the Arab Peace Initiative but in the past year, it has taken on a more active role facilitating dialogue with Hezbollah leaders in December of 2006 (despite Saudi being a Sunni state and Hezbollah a Shiite organization), brokering the Mecca deal for a Fatah-Hamas unity government earlier this year in the face of a failed Quartet policy to isolate Hamas, re-launching the Arab peace initiative with Syria present at the summit, and now as Clayton Swisher has detailed, indicating support for the fall conference that President Bush has called.
And contrary to the popular belief of oil windfalls recklessly squandered, there is good evidence to suggest Saudi’s constructive investments in the rest of the region affords it considerably political leverage. Dr. Steffen Hertog has analyzed the most current regional economic data that reveals a marked increase in cross-border investment by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states in the Middle East. As a result, he concludes the GCC, with Saudi as the most pivotal heavyweight, are poised to play a key stabilizing role in the region (particularly Syria and Lebanon) that would certainly be in America’s interest:

With its emerging role as the dominant economic hub of the region, the GCC arguably is a potential anchor of stability in the Arab world. Relatively weak in military terms, it has a vested interest in political calm, as it can then flex its economic muscle. At a time in which American hegemony has become of questionable value even to its “moderate” allies, the GCC might be willing to play a more assertive role based on its economic resources.
Needless to say, no amount of Gulf capital can buy stability amid a mess of epic proportions, as in Iraq (although Gulf money has been helping significantly to shore up the economy of the war-wrecked country). Still, the “soft power” of Gulf capital is not an academic point. As more and more GCC money is channeled into Syria, for example, Gulf political influence there is bound to increase. Its regime in rather dire economic straits, Syria will be increasingly reluctant to alienate Gulf governments–which are not capable of micromanaging the investment decisions of their business classes but can certainly use their moral suasion to indicate which investment destination is not palatable. Similarly, Gulf FDI imparts considerable soft power in Lebanon, where it will play an important role in reconstruction.

When Congress is ready to trade in petty ad hominems for a constructive approach to dealing with the Saudi Arabia of the 21st century, they ought to consult New America fellow Afshin Molavi and Georgetown professor Jean-Francois Seznec, who in their recent article in Foreign Policy, sketch the beginnings of a role the US and EU can play in ushering Saudi Arabia into the modern era and influencing the trajectory of their economy, and as a result their society:

Here’s where Europe and the United States can step in. Europe and the United States should embrace Saudi Arabia’s newfound economic openness with strategic investments and trade agreements aimed at bolstering the Kingdom’s manufacturing and industrial capacity, creating jobs for the country’s growing middle class. By doing this, Washington and Brussels will be supporting the civil service and merchants who favor modernization and contributing to the marginalization of Salafists. A growing, industrializing economy will provide a virtuous loop that reinforces education reform as more Saudis seek the skills to compete. Issue number one on the minds of many Saudis–nearly two thirds of whom are under 30–is unemployment. If the civil service, the merchants, and the reform-minded king can create new jobs, their new alliance will gain the legitimacy of success.
Part of the king’s jobs strategy includes the creation of six massive new special economic zones (essentially free-trade zones) that will provide much-needed diversification to an economy still dominated by oil. It will also contribute to the “backdoor” modernization that takes place as middle classes grow and economies become interlinked with the world. The zones are seeking joint ventures in research and high technology from the United States and the European Union, and the zones are also expected to be a freer environment socially as well.
A modernizing, moderate Saudi Arabia could be a lodestar for an Islamic world in turmoil. For most of modern Saudi history, the Kingdom has simply poured fuel on the burning oils of the Muslim world. Getting its own house in order by empowering the forces of modernization is a positive first step. But Europe and the United States need to realize that they have an important role to play in writing the country’s next chapter

Professor Cordesman closed his testimony summarizing our strategic options:

In short, any effective strategy to deal with terrorism and extremism means addressing two key strategic issues that go far beyond the so-called war on terrorism. One is whether the Arab world can recognize the need for reform and achieve it. The second is whether the West, and particularly the US, can learn to work quietly with nations for effective reform, rather than seek to impose it noisily, and sometimes violently, on an entire region.

It is apparent that the Saudi government, under the leadership of King Abdullah, has begun the quiet reforms. The jury is still out whether the US can carefully work with them on these efforts, as Molavi and Seznec suggest, or whether noisy theatrics like the ones experienced this summer are just too tempting for politicians who forgo the opportunity to be leaders.
–Sameer Lalwani


30 comments on “Beyond Arms Sales: Whither the US-Saudi Relationship?

  1. MP says:

    Lurker writes: “Speaking of conflating, I get so damn irritated when people tie the U.S. to Israel as if the latter entity, with a stated purpose of being only for Jews, is equivalent to the diversity and equal rights that everyone enjoys here in theory.”
    Is that why 20% are non-Jews?
    Is that why 2800 Darfurians have received asylum there?
    BTW, is France “only” for the French? How many non-Palestinians will be settling in Palestine? Or non-Syrians in Syria?


  2. Steve Clemons says:

    P Lukusiak — you have been a very long time reader of TWN. I’m surprised by your question — but the answer is “none.” I like Sameer Lalwani’s analysis – but it is his alone.
    Thanks for playing,
    Steve Clemons


  3. TonyForesta says:

    Word David N. The only people benefiting from the horrorshow in Iraq are cronies, cartels, klans, and oligarghs in, or beholden to the fascist in the Bush government. The rest of America and the world are subjected to ever increasinging and more costly bloody war, drainage of the public treasure, and wantoon profiteering by the fiends concocting this madness and mayhem in the Bush government.
    Nothing good can come of the Iraq debacle. It is and always will be a crime scene. The sooner, Americans accept this terrible truth, and begin working on remedying this horrorshow, – the better it will be for everyone, and particularly America.
    Iraq is about the Bush government wanton profiteering and nothing else. Nothing else! America must extricate ourselves from Iraq, and begin working in earnest to right the terrible wrongs wought by the fascsist warmongers, profiteers, and pathological liars in tbe Bush govenrnment.
    With regard to SA – flush out your helment troops, these creeps our our enemies, not our friends. Oil is the devious weapon these duplicitous wahabists use to extract support from American oligarchs, but SA, and the freakish malignancy of jihadist islam born and nurtured in SA madrasses and proselyitized by SA imams is the bane of America and the only real enemy we should be hunting, capturing or killing@
    “Deliver us from evil!”


  4. Carroll says:

    Color me ultra cynical but there are times when I think our ME policy is a WASP plot to get Jews and Muslims to kill each other off.
    Posted by Kathleen at August 10, 2007 12:24 PM
    There is only one’s non and multi ethnic. Membership requires you put greed, power or some tyrannical ideology above all else.
    However as a member you do have to sign a Law of the Jungle clause to hold the plot harmless if it finds it necessary to eat fellow members along the way.


  5. Kathleen says:

    Just like we couldn’t just kill all the Native Americans to steal their land and natural resources and had to couch our thievery in what Carroll calls “do-goodism” to disguise our true motives, we are doing that in the ME.
    We literally kidnapped Indian kids and put them in BIA schools far away from their families to teach them English, as though this was better than being raised by one’s own parents. Parents who refused to give up their kids voluntarilly were sent to Alcatraz and kids whose parents were in Alcatraz were never allowed to go home. They were taught to think of themselves as inferior unless they got with the program. Hence Native American children have the highest suicide rate in the world.
    All this to force Tribes to adopt a “Democratically elected” gov’t. This entailed greasing some palms and declaring those who accepted the money, the “real” Tribal representatives. Lest you think this is a thing of the past, it happened to the Pitt
    River Tribe in California as recently as 1972.
    All of Lassen National Park was once theirs. They resfused the settlement offered and fired the attorney assigned to them by the Dept of the Interior. They hired Marvin Belli but the Dept of the Interior would not aprove their choice of attorney, so they had to go through the process without benefit of legal counsel. When the Dept of Interior sent each member of the tribe a check for their puny share of the settlement, the checks were sent back. Then 3 days before Christmas, the checks were sent out again. Those who cashed their check were “recognized” by the US as the “true Tribal gov’t”. All to make their piece of paper “legal”. The resources from 3-1/2 million acres goes to power, timber, etc companies with no royalites to the tribe. Sound familiar?
    We will never leave Iraq until we have that silly piece of paper, making our thievery “legal”. They will pass that goddmaned oil law or else. That’s democracy.
    Color me ultra cynical but there are times when I think our ME policy is a WASP plot to get Jews and Muslims to kill each other off.


  6. FredG says:

    The mindless anti-Saudi posturing on the part of the Congress is meant to please one audience: AIPAC, which greases the palms of countless politicians and makes an intelligent middle eastern policy in this country impossible.


  7. karenk says:

    Since no one likes to be bullied, soft diplomacy/ empathetic diplomacy is what will get us further than the kick ass thing we’ve been doing-…But who do we have that has what it takes(strength and emotional/intuitive intelligence) to accomplish this? And how will the weapons manufacturers make any money if no one is fighting? Problems indeed.


  8. larry birnbaum says:

    Yes, our interests in the Middle East are a deep, dark secret. Oh, wait a minute, it’s the oil.
    Some argue, I guess, that the reason they dislike us so much is Israel. I agree that that’s in their minds to some extent, as a symbol of Western economic (or direct) colonialism, but even if it weren’t there, the reality of our relationship with the Arab world would be pretty much the same, and would look the same to them. I’m not sure what can be done about that, except to work as fast and as hard as possible to find ways to reduce the world’s need for oil drastically.
    Not that they’ll like that, either.


  9. JohnH says:

    Carroll–What a sensible idea: “What we really need and I would like to see as a post here is a TOTAL overview of all the competing interest in the ME by an objective expert.” Ever wonder why The Washington Note, with its experts and connections to the Center for American Progress, doesn’t see its role this way? As Hillary says, there are things you don’t talk about in foreign policy (like what motivates US positions or what vital strategic interests are).


  10. Carroll says:

    What we really need and I would like to see as a post here is a TOTAL overview of all the competing interest in the ME by an objective expert. You can’t discuss what is going on in one country like Saudi without discussing what is going on in all of them as a result of US policy and interference.
    Granted that would one looooong post.
    And the comprehensive overview should acknowledge off the bat that all the countries most under discussion, including the US are all criminal enterprizes in one way or another.
    The countries of the ME have internal and neighbor problems that are WITHIN their own borders and region.
    Along comes the Isrmerica cartel trying to establish which mob and it’s boss will have control of what country so as to serve the cartel.
    What is the basic difference between a US puppet regime and the Saudi regime or Iran regime…anyone seen any of our installed regimes that has up held all the human rights everyone here is screaming about?
    Saudi, Israel, Iran, Jordan, Egypt, etc are ALL operating on their OWN interest. Puppet regimes and friendlies are all under threat from what we have stirred up.
    Are any of the crime families or friendlies of the ME going to roll over for the US if this continues? Will Jordan opt for that while they try to fend off their own street and regional pressures? Will Egypt? The only one I see as rolling over when push comes to shove is Israel and only because they have no Arab street and without the US they perish anyway.
    Now that we have thrown more fuel on the insurgent and radical movement and Saudi feels the heat threatening their own throne…what would you expect them to do? Do we think they see a US installed puppet in Iraq as to their benefit? Maybe they thought so at first but now they see it’s chance of turning out to be a Shia and Iran friendly country as not desirable to say the least. Neither I think do they see the US having control of Iraq’s oil as a benefit to them.
    Suppose this US f*******-up keeps on and on and the unthinkable happens? That the House of Saud falls to the popular street? Or Egypt? Or Pakistan? Huummm?
    Just where would that put the US. And how would we counter this? More wur. Wur here, wur there, all wur, all the time just to get back to the old status quo of the so called ‘balance of power” we use to be satisfied with…and I don’t think we could even get that back any time soon, if ever.
    And whether it is hot or cold wur doesn’t matter except for he blood involved, it will drip,drip,drip and drain,drain,drain every penny of US resources while it pits allies with their own interest in the ME against us.
    Someone needs to decide real quick what the major US bottom line need is in the ME and for the US domestically and learn to live with the other compromises no matter who or what has to be thrown overboard in the meanwhile and what deals with any devils have to be made.
    In short…give up on this “reform” shit. They aren’t ours to reform first and foremost. Second, it won’t work. And everyone who constantly cries “reform” Saudi, reform Iran, reform this, reform that is either not realistic or has some interest in this FUBAR besides America’s real interest.
    Departing from the US’s real interest in favor of the neo world vision and empire under the guise of do-goodism is exactly why we are where we are.


  11. Lurker says:

    The real target of the “Clean Break” paper written by Feith, Perle and the Wurmsers for Israel’s Likud Prime Minister Netanyahu, was Saudi Arabia, so may of you are just buying into the Likud / neo-con game plan.
    Beyond that, there’s a huge logic hole on this board — many of the September 11th hijackers (if you believe the official narrative) were Saudis, but the vast majority of U.S. troops slaughtering innocent Iraqis are AMERICANS.
    Yet, we are supposed to conflate the actions of a small group of Saudi fanatics (the Sept. 11 hijackers, again, only if you believe the official fairy tale) with the horrendous state-sponsored terrorism that we as a nation have inflicted on the Iraqis and Afghans.
    Speaking of conflating, I get so damn irritated when people tie the U.S. to Israel as if the latter entity, with a stated purpose of being only for Jews, is equivalent to the diversity and equal rights that everyone enjoys here in theory.
    Same with the whole “Judeo-Christian” meme — Islam is closer in many respects to Christianity than Judaism is, for instance the veneration of Mary, which the Catholic church shares.
    BTW: 80 of our so-called congressional representatives are headed to — one guess which country??? in August.
    Why don’t they just stay there as they’re already members of the Knesset… That’ll save us the trouble of kicking them out once Americans wake-up to the fact that we no longer have a country, just a police state conducting an endless “war on terror” courtesy of our fealty to our non-ally, Israel.
    And since I’ve lurked on this board for a long time I know that the usual suspects are going to come out with one of their non-arguments about the “only democracy in the Middle East” BS, so Israel-firsters, don’t waste your typing fingers.
    Hey, but thanks to recommendations from this board I now watch Mosaic (Middle Eastern news on Link TV), Democracy Now, and, after that on FreeSpeech TV a news show comes on called I.N.N. World Report, which is terrific.
    I wish every American would watch these news shows, maybe we could get our country back from the thugs, traitors and fascists in both parties…


  12. p_lukasiak says:

    I just want to know how much Saudi money is being funnelled to the New America Foundation to support this kind of blatant PR crap.
    As Kathleen pointed out, the Saudi monarchy is just one big crime family. Like all crime families, the do provide certain social benefits (e.g. you pay the syndicate for ‘protection’, you get protection — any independent criminal who tries to rob your store will be hunted down and killed.)
    Right now, the Saudis are scared to death of Iraq being controlled by its Shiite majority and being heavily influenced by Iran. Saudi Arabia has its own Shiite minority who are treated as second class citizen — and the Saudis don’t want them getting any ideas.
    The Baathist terrorists (who we are now calling “sunni tribesmen” because they are bathmouthing Al Qaeda in Iraq) are being funded and armed by the Sauds while the US looks the other way. US policy seems to be aimed at ensuring that once the US leaves Baathist terrorists can prevent a shiite takeover of Iraq — and thus “contain” Iranian influence.
    (I mean, we are demanding that the Iraqi government disarm the militias — but Petraeus is supporting and training Sunni militias that are openly hostile to central government forces. Obviously, Petraeus in NOT interested in a political solution in Iraq…. all he is interested in is ensuring the greatest possible bloodbath in Iraq once the US leaves so Bush can say “I told you so”.)


  13. David N says:

    Continuing our dialog from another thread:
    You have given a reasoned and thoughtful reply to my frustrated ranting about voting third party.
    What I am truly frustrated about — more than the Democratic fecklessness or the Republican lawlessness — is the constrained thoughtlessness of the whole political process in this country.
    Basically, politics in America is defined as if it were sports teams. (I appreciated J. Alter talking about that on tonight’s Olbermann.) There is the left, and when you’ve said that, you supposed to have completely described all these people believe. There is the right, same thing. And there’s the center, which picks points from either side and calls itself moderate. And those are the only choices allowed. Where are the ideas that don’t fit in either category, and just might stand a better chance of working?
    There have been attempts to break out of this. There was the comment that “there are more than 2.0 sides to any question.” There was, in fact, the founding of the NAF, on the promise of finding an alternative to the left-right quagmire of politics. But all have foundered on the shoals of media simplifications and insider syncophancy.
    Just think:
    Conservatives believe in limited government that leaves people alone, avoids foreign adventurism, balances the budget, and lets the free market decide winners and losers. This administration, by any of those measures, is not conservative, as John Dean has repeatedly said, and no one has noticed.
    Liberalism, as a philosophy, is basically the same thing, but has been characterized in the media as communism lite, which no one believes.
    Talk to any actual citizen of this country, and they don’t subscribe to either school of thought. They just want answers, and some of us want answers than are real, and not simplifications dumbed down for the rubes. We’re still waiting.
    Thus, politics has been reduced to class warfare. Yet when John Edwards says that, it is characterized as nothing but a campaign slogan, and the media spends more time writing about his wife’s illness than his real policy proposals. Then they complain that citizens don’t know about his policy proposals.
    When the day comes, you are right, and I will no doubt vote Democrat, even if it is a DLC Democrat-lite like Clinton. Because you are absolutely right, we cannot stand another term of Republican fascism. And I use that word precisely.
    But what really steams me is the idea that the Democrats are not moving to impeach even Cheney and Gonzales because, much as they rail against the BushCo abuse of power, they salivate at the prospect of getting their hands on those same powers, and “using them for good.” THAT is my real fear when thinking of supporting the Democrats. That is what has me thinking about voting for a candidate that, frankly, does not exist and has no prospect of existing.
    Our democracy has always depended on the fact that the government really could not gather undue power. Technology has removed that protection, and we stand naked before our own inadequacy as citizens.
    Our only protection is to restore a real adherence to the Constitution, which the party that says it believes in “strict constructionism” is gutting every single day.
    Goedel was right.


  14. Bill R. says:

    Your points are well made, Steve. However, you don’t address the Saudi regime’s long time involvement in funding and supporting extremist Wahabi ideology and its hatred of anything Jewish or Western. The Saudi regime is an enemy of human rights and a fomenter of hatred of America and Israel, a mainstay of the ideology that fuels Al Qaeda. Maybe they like having the U.S. military as their guarantor, but they also like appeasing the islamists who want to take us all down. The Saudi regime continues to propagate hate in their own textbooks and in the madrassas of Pakistan. When will that change?


  15. PeterE says:

    Do you know what arms manufacturer and middle men will profit from the arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, etc? Following the money may not be important (worse: it may be vulgar;lower the tone) in analyzing the political meaning of the sales– but the information might be a useful footnote.
    It might also be interesting to know whether the Saudis et al. will have the training and manpower to use the arms they receive.


  16. PissedOffAmerican says:

    I see the Pentagon has contracted for 8,000 of these new vehicles that have the vee shaped bottom to deflect blasts. The cost? 12 billion dollars. Now, I ain’t gonna do the math right now, but I’d sure like to see the specs and the blueprints for one of these puppies, because I kinda think I could farm all the components out, make an assembly plant, and build one for what it costs to buy a coupla Ferraris. And thats one hell of a sight cheaper than what some fuckin’ thief is selling these things to us for.


  17. Mstessyrue says:

    Despite the record low approval ratings, President Bush and his administration are still arrogant and blinded by the Iraq War. The people of this country are fed up with Bush’s senseless war and the lack of domestic policies. There are much more important issues in this world that the US should be taking part in, such as global poverty. According to the Borgen Project, whose goal is to fight global poverty, US is one of the nations pledged in the Millennium Development Project. MDP is aimed at eliminating world poverty in half by the year 2015. However, this country has done anything but reducing poverty. The war on “terror” has created more poverty, more hunger and more violence within Iraq and the United States. It is time for this country’s president to rethink the direction where this great nation is going. Perhaps the second lowest approval rating since Watergate will be a wake up call to President Bush.


  18. downtown says:

    Shelley Berkeley answers to a higher authority. Her motives are suspect.


  19. ... says:

    kathleen – bingo.. no need for a lot of big words in a long post.. you have captured the spirit behind it..


  20. Erica says:

    The United States’ current administration has not been smart with their foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. They’ve funded at 340 billion dollar war and have ignored and actually impeded international humanitarian efforts. It’s not suprising to see they are being stubborn with the Saudi Arabia realtions as well.


  21. MP says:

    Posted by Kathleen at August 8, 2007 11:50 AM


  22. Kathleen says:

    Wither the US-Saudi relationship?
    To the bank, no doubt. Considering that the majority of the 9/11 highjackers were Saudis who entered our country through the Embassy in Riyadh, and learned to fly at Pensacola, I’d say business as usual.
    And didn’t Israel serve as a conduit for arms to Iran for hostages? The only thing that makes sense to me is that NeoNutzis use conflict in the ME as a cover to justify their arms sales to all sides of a conflict. There is no morality, or even patriotism. Only grotesque profits for the same gluttonous families.
    These guys make The Mob look like saints.


  23. ... says:

    the picture is hilarious.. it is a real statement to human nature wanting to fit in and not be ostracized. i suppose westerners do the same thing, as do many muslims and sikhs, etc. etc.


  24. rich says:

    That’s a long post.
    We know this much:
    1. Guns and money are flowing across the Saudi-Iraq border in vast quantities.
    2. Sunnis allied with Saudis are responsible for the vast majority of attacks on US forces.
    3. We’re about to sell $20 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia.
    That’s hardly bright or steady reasoning.
    Granted, the situation is more complex than a few basic facts would seem to indicate–as it is in any country. At the same time, anyone who can’t do the math at that basic level does the US a disservice and is too clever by half.
    Witness Cordesman, mealy-mouthed: “Saudi Arabia did not support our invasion of Iraq at the political or diplomatic level. . . . Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia provided critical support to the US in the wawr against Saddam Hussein.”
    Support for America’s judgment re Iraq hardly speaks well for the Saudis. At minimum, the opportunism inherent in bleeding BOTH the US AND Saudi al-Quaeda forces–does not win the Saudis any ribbons and bows in American quarters.
    Now, obviously, cooperative and decent Saudis and the strong US-Saudi alliance coexist with the clear Saudi imperative to pursue their own interests. But let’s not kid ourselves. An ally does not a friend make.


  25. john somer says:

    I am personally skeptical about Muslim adaptation to modern life, Call it the “Inch Allah” (God willing) factor which seems t inhibit all devout Muslims’ endeavours. India has been a secular democracy since 1947, excep for less than a decade of right-wing Hindu government, and yet the position of Muslims in India has steadily declined to a level where they are now lower than the untouchables (“dalits”). See the Sachar commission report for full details


  26. Carroll says:

    Posted by daCascadian at August 7, 2007 09:10 PM
    I know “flacking” when I see it and I don’t see this as flacking for the Saudis.
    He is simply analyzing and offering theories on the stituation.


  27. Carroll says:

    Nine times out of ten all the Saudi bashing is from the Israeli whore congressmen earning their AIPAC check.
    I saw their asshole behavior when the King of Jordan spoke before them…they were disgusting….and the King made a excellent and moving speech to me.
    But it’s all soooooo interesting…the whole obsession with the ME and the ginned up “Green Peril”. It should be written up in a psychiatric journal as the first case of national Munchausen’s Syndrome by proxy that was contagious to everyone on the same floor.
    It has been fasinating to watch the neos and Israelis infect the patient(s) to get attention and play doctor at the same time.
    The US has only one legitimate interest in the ME or Saudi, buying oil.
    Not spreading democracy and ‘reforming” other countries. Or installing Israel as top doggie in the region. 99% of the terrier problem visa via the US, we created ourselves. OBL and the radicals of Islam would have been a “local” problem for certain Arab governments, not the US, had we not stirred shit and stirred shit for a long time. And every time the USA inteferes in or on behalf of the Saudis or other ME countries own internal affairs and problems it gets worse.


  28. daCascadian says:

    Your flacking for a Middle Eastern crime family is very revealing of where your heart lies. Care to reveal your dagger before stabbing “We the people…” in the back ?
    No, of course not. No guts appears to be the only behavior in D.C. that exists.
    Peddle your propaganda elsewhere
    “…you cannot save your face and your ass at the same time…” –


  29. JohnH says:

    Whither the Saudi relationship? Well, it’s the oil and has been ever since Roosevelt made the kingdom a US protectorate. Once again the fundamental, mutual strategic interest in protecting Saudi oil and gas gets overlooked. But oil and distribution of oil wealth permeate everything. For the Saudi royals, terrorism threatens the cash cow that gives them power and supports the lavish lifestyles of thousands of princes and their families. The terrorists might distribute the oil and its wealth differently, so the obvious strategy is to pre-empt them and strive to build a society of happy campers. Assuming that the reforms mentioned by Cordesman result in a more equitable distribution of wealth and broad prosperity, then, yes, the Saudis should pursue them and they should be supported by the United States. However, pursuing ‘economic development’ as an end unto itself will not necessarily protect the oil assets, since authoritiarian capitalism can easily exacerbate the current situation of extreme wealth co-existing with a large, disenfranchised underclass, sensitive to injustice and amenable to hosting terrorism. If the Saudis are serious about effective reform, they might well study the experiences of Norway and Venezuela in building capitalist societies that broadly distribute oil wealth.


  30. wwz says:

    How does this square with Robert Baer’s take on the Sa’ud’s in his book, Sleeping With the Devil?
    In it he describes a dysfunctional, crime-family like dynamic among the royals.
    The Royal Family is not monolithic in its views toward the US. Indeed, it would appear to be a temporary –relatively moderate King Abdullah is quite elderly– bit of fortune that one much more hardline and anti-west isn’t already seated on throne.
    Arabia is a world order catastrophe in the making, no?


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