The Confusion of US Policy Towards Saudi Arabia

The current visit of President Barack Obama to Saudi Arabia and the GCC has highlighted a number of elements of confusion in US policy towards the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has been a longstanding strategic ally of the United States in the region, albeit with reservations when it has pursued its singular interests. However, so has our ally Israel, which has consistently put its own interests first when they have clashed with US policy interests. They have consistently defied all US attempts to halt the expansion of the settlements in the West Bank. Their lack of co-operation with fair-minded efforts by various administrations to create some workable structure to diminish, if not resolve the dispute with the Palestinians in pursuit of their own objectives is hardly the action of a friend. In fact, they have gone so far as to have actually launched a sanctioned military attack on a US Naval vessel which resulted in the deaths of 34 US servicemen and the wounding of 171.

Since 1990 in particular, Saudi Arabia has been a close strategic ally of the United States, first in the war against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and then through the 90s against Al Qaeda and particularly since 9/11 against Al-Qaeda and other extremist Islamic groups such as the Islamic State.

The question of whether there was any official Saudi support of the 9/11 hijackers is one that is still haunting the relatives of the victims of that attack today and that is before Congress and on the desk of the President. Like our ally Israel and like the Palestinian situation the reality of politics in the region is incredibly complex.

First off, Saudi Arabia is an absolutist feudal monarchy ruled over by a family who would be overthrown and put to death if the Islamic elements such as Al Qaeda were to obtain power there. In that respect, that makes them our allies in the fight against Islamic extremism. On the other hand, the Al Sa’ud also owe their power in part to conservative Islamic elements within the country particularly the religious establishment known as the ‘ulema’a.

Given the hostility that exists within Islam to the kind of royal authority exercised by the Al Sa’ud family I find it extremely unlikely that there was any kind of official government support for the 9/11 hijackers. The Prophet Muhammad himself, famously declared, “There is no kingship in Islam!”

However, as there are over 3,000 princes in the royal family, it is not inconceivable that a few of them, who are fundamentalist Muslims might have given money to Osama Bin Laden, particularly in the context of his jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan and irrespective of his political views of the Sa’udi monarchy

Another complication that exists in understanding what happened arises from the fact that although they were carrying Sa’udi passports 18 of the 19 hijackers were Yemenis and not Sa’udis. King Abdelaziz Al Sa’ud conquered parts of the Yemen in the 1920s. The southern provinces of Asir, Najran and Jizan which are de jure now part of Sa’udi Arabia are ethnically, tribally and culturally part of Yemen. Osama bin Laden and the Bin Laden family are also Yemenis and specifically Hadhramis. It is owing to this fact that his main recruits were also Yemenis. These were all people who oppose the Al Sa’ud regime.

It is highly understandable that the relatives of the victims of the 9/11 attacks want both justice and vengeance. The whole country wants vengeance but the current Sa’udi regime is the wrong target. The US Congress overwhelmingly authorized George W Bush to exact that vengeance. Instead of correcting problems in the region he squandered the opportunity trying to correct his daddy’s mistake of not getting rid of Saddam at the end of the 1990-91 Gulf war and in his fatuous and foredoomed attempt to create a pluralistic democratic state in Iraq.

The net result of that misadventure was further to destabilize the region and to increase the power of Iran which is now engaged with both the US and the Sa’udis in proxy wars in Iraq, Syria and the Yemen. The current administration seems determined to compound the problem created by Bush-fils  (or Buwaish to use an Arabic diminutive form) by further enhancing Iranian power through the misguided nuclear agreement, elements of which the Iranians are already flouting without any adverse consequences to themselves.

Based on his actions over time starting with apologizing for an American “colonial” influence in the Middle East that never existed, an unwillingness to label Islamic terrorism “Islamic”, giving Iran additional resources to achieve their political ends in the region; Obama has time and again shown himself to be a Crypto-Muslim but he now appears amazingly to be a Crypto-Shi’a-Muslim.

It is this that appears to lie at the heart of the current confusion of American policy throughout the region in general and towards Sa’udi Arabia in particular. For all of their faults, the Sa’udis are absolutely a key player in the fight against the Islamic State and against Iran. There are elements within the power structure in Sa’udi that are not only on our side but that are inclined towards the kind of change that make them a productive policy partner to the United States in the region. There are none in the power structure in Iran and Obama and whoever is involved in this tilt to Iran are not only deluding themselves that the Mullahs will respond positively to the US are also risking undermining an extremely useful ally.

We need to destroy the parastatal entities that are involved in terrorism in the region such as Hizbollah, Hamas, Taliban, AQAP, Daesh as well as the overt state sponsors of terrorism. The Sa’udi government is not one of them.