The urgent need to reshape America’s Middle East policy

Saudi Arabia is the Western world’s greatest security threat

Published November 30, 2018 5:00AM (EST)

Jamal Khashoggi (AP/Hasan Jamali)
Jamal Khashoggi (AP/Hasan Jamali)

This piece originally appeared on The Globalist.

The brutal murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul is all but the latest reminder of the danger that the outlaw regime of Saudi Arabia represents.

The latest incident provides Americans with a potent reminder as to who was responsible for the 9/11 mass murder, despite the best attempts at the time to whitewash Saudi criminality by the George W. Bush administration.

The Bush family, as is well known, has long maintained a close relationship to the Saudis and oil. Thus, the fact that 9/11 was supported and financed by Saudis, did not matter much. Nor did the very inconvenient fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, as was Osama bin-Laden, the mastermind behind the attack.

On the eve of Thanksgiving, America’s biggest holiday of the year, President Trump mastered to exceed even the most cringeworthy acts of his reign by thanking Saudi Arabia – and indirectly the mastermind behind the Khashoggi slaughter, Crown Prince Mohamed bin-Salam – for lower oil prices.

While his whitewash of the Crown Prince is a slap in the face of human rights as well as the findings of his own intelligence service, he is far from being the first president closing his eyes to Saudi atrocities at home and abroad.

In fact, the close American relationship with the barbaric regime goes back as far as a meeting in 1945 between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Giving the Middle Ages a bad name

Since Abdulaziz began his rule in 1932, whichever king ruled, he and his rapidly growing clan of princes, who are now in the many thousands, have strictly applied Sharia law. Unspeakable cruelty has been the mainstay of the country. To suggest that Saudi Arabia lives in the Middle Ages gives a bad name to that period of human history.

The Faustian bargain between the United States and Saudi Arabia was and is primarily about the country’s enormous oil reserves, the largest in the world.

With time, under presidents representing both political parties, the United States has also made itself economically dependent on Saudi Arabia, selling trillions of dollars in military equipment to the country’s corrupt leadership.

One-sided U.S. policy in the region

For several decades, there was a crucial balancing factor: The United States pursued a balanced approach to the region’s major powers. While forming an alliance with Sunni Saudi Arabia, the United States also had very close relations with Shia, but secular Iran during the brutal dictatorship of Shah Reza Pahlavi.

Both countries have abominable human rights records. Both countries were and are competing for regional dominance. In the interest to preserve their U.S. relationship, both contained their expansionist ambitions at the time.

As stomach-churning as such relationships might be from the vantage point of human rights, maintaining strong relations with both of these despicable regimes served a greater benefit — contributing to stability in the region.

The U.S.’s fault in Iran’s tumble

All of this began to come apart when successive U.S. governments ignored signs of rising discontent in Iran in the 1960s and 1970s. Iranians’ opposition to the Shah regime was fed by two very different political forces. One was the desire for a steadily modernizing Iran. Supporters of that camp dreamed of a freer society, akin to life in some Western democracies.

The other group of the Shah’s opponents were made up of Shia extremists for whom the modernization of Iran under the Shah had gone too far. At first, this group was the weaker of the Shah’s opponents.

But the United States and other Western powers neglected to support the more democratically inclined opposition. They were too wed to the status quo of the Shah regime.

By the time the Shah’s regime had become truly unsustainable, the Ayatollahs had taken over the resistance at the popular level. Accordingly, it was them who overthrew the oppressive regime, only to replace it with an oppressive regime of their own.

Still no enlightened U.S. policy toward Iran

The die had been cast. The United States became the Ayatollahs’ arch enemy. U.S. support for the Shah until the very end, made chants of “Death to America” a rallying cry during the revolution.

Even secular Iranians chimed in. After Iranian students and other extremists occupied the U.S. Embassy for 444 days starting in 1979, an action clearly sanctioned by the new Iranian leadership, the break was complete.

It was thus back in 1979 that the United States all but abandoned its balancing role in the region and put all of its eggs in the radical Saudi basket.

Wedding the United States to the Saudis was certainly understandable, since state-sponsored hostage-taking of diplomats ranks among the more serious violations of international convention. But strategically it was unwise.

What is insufficiently appreciated to this very day is that the United States at the time essentially just repeated the mistake previously made with the Shah. As a matter of fact, aligning with the Saudis was – and is – the closest move to sticking with the murderous Shah – only that the “Shah” now has a Saudi passport.

Looking at 9/11 one more time

All of this was made worse after 9/11. Instead of going after the perpetrators — Saudi princes, for their private joy, dabbling in financing Saudi terrorists — the United States turned a blind eye to the source of the heinous crimes committed in New York City and Washington, D.C.

To distract from the indisputable Saudi criminal track, the George W. Bush administration effectively turned itself into the subcontractor of a Saudi PR campaign.

For no justifiable reason and certainly not because of any connection to the terrorist attack, it created a fake narrative to invade Shia majority Iraq and removed the Sunni dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in that country.

Strengthening Iran by invading Iraq

This move underscored the fallacy — and total emptiness — of so-called U.S. “strategy.” Saddam’s removal indirectly strengthened the hand of Iran. It was as if the mighty United States turned itself into the subcontractor of Iran’s Ayatollahs.

Little wonder then that, a while later — after the full, but inadmissible lunacy of the U.S. invasion of Iraq became fully apparent even to the long-time denialists — Iran had to be made out as the culprit of everything the United States doesn’t like in the Middle East.

Who can be a future ally?

None of this analysis is to make light of the manifold crimes of Iran’s Ayatollah regime. But it is important to note that the U.S. narrative — just blame Iran — is far too self-serving and, once again, strategically irrational.

After all, Iran has long had a vivid civil society, on which a future, peaceful Iran can be built. It likely accounts for close to half of the country’s population. Saudi Arabia has next to none of that.

By Uwe Bott


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Foreign Policy Iran Jamal Khashoggi Middle East Saudi Arabia The Globalist