After three decades of internecine war, Abdul-Aziz bin Saud, allied with the fundamentalist Wahhabist Islamic sect, consolidated the House of Saud’s dominance over Arabia in 1932 with the tacit support of regional imperial power Great Britain. The bedrock of the Saudi Arabian economy, the massive pool of oil in the Al-Hasa region along the Persian Gulf coast, was discovered in 1938 and development began in 1941. Towards the end of World War II, President Roosevelt and Abdul-Aziz reached a handshake deal that has governed relations between the two nations ever since: Saudi Arabia would guarantee the flow of oil to the US at a reasonable price; the US would protect the Saud regime.
Like so many born into wealth, the House of Saud has mistaken fortuitous circumstances for divine favor, haughtily condescending to a world that goes along with its pretensions because of its oil. Saudi Arabia is dependent for its security and armaments on the west, particularly the US. No particular skill is necessary to extract (its reserves are among the world’s shallowest and easiest to tap), transport, or export its oil. It exports most of its oil because it has little industry, although its riches have made it a financial center and funded one of the world’s most generous welfare states. Much of the actual labor is performed by immigrants. The partial diversion of oil revenues has kept the non-House of Saud population pacified.
Oil has made the House of Saud one of the wealthiest extended clans in the world. It retains this privileged position by virtue of US military and intelligence support and its relationship with the Wahhabist clerics. Essentially, the clerics give their unwavering support to the regime, and the regime faithfully executes Sharia law (and those who violate it) in accordance with the dictates of the clerics.
It is an unfortunate tendency of the silver-spoon set not to confine itself to philanthropy, collecting art and fast cars, and other harmless pursuits. They seem compelled to tell the rest of us how to live and think. The Wahhabists make the do-gooders plaguing America look benign. It may be true that some sects of Islam are peaceful and only want to live and let live, but not the Wahhabists, it’s their brand of Sunni Islam or nothing. Everyone else is an infidel, to be converted or beheaded. So rather than just building big palaces in the desert, praying five times a day, and shopping in Paris, London, New York, and Beverly Hills, Saudi silver-spooners export their Puritanical Islam and expect obsequence from the rest of the world.
The US government promised Saudi Arabia that it would remove the military bases it erected there during Gulf War I after Saddam Hussein had been vanquished from Kuwait. It did not do so. Fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Osama bid Laden, a native of Saudi Arabia from a wealthy and well-connected family, had been happy enough to accept aid from the US. His anger at the bases and the broken promise reportedly sparked the 9/11 attacks.
Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabians. Twenty-eight classified pages of a 2002 Congressional 9/11 investigation may well show that they received assistance from members of the Saudi Arabian government and royal family. Family members of 9/11 victims have long pressed for their release, although it will not, because of the sovereign immunity doctrine, help them in their efforts to sue the Saudi government. Senate Bill 2040 would declassify the 28 pages and suspend sovereign immunity for any government found complicit in a terrorist attack that kills Americans on US soil.
The Saudis have cranked up their greasy US lobbying apparatus to stop the bill, and have threatened to dump $750 billion in US debt if it becomes law. The 28 pages should be released because it will add to what we know about 9/11, but there is no chance Senate Bill 2040 will become law. President Obama has pledged to veto the legislation if it passes, and went to Saudi Arabia last week to “reassure” its leaders. Even if it didn’t upset the apple cart of the US-Saudi Arabian alliance, it would open the door to other nations and multinational bodies suspending the US’s sovereign immunity for say, drone strikes and indiscriminate bombings that have killed innocent people, arguably terrorist acts.
Unfortunately, the 9/11 imbroglio will probably not be the catalyst for a rupture in the alliance. Further exposure of Saudi duplicity would underscore an argument SLL has repeatedly made: the Saudis play a double game with the US. They have funded al Qaeda and its offshoots, notably ISIS, and have underwritten the world-wide export of Wahhabism and its doctrines of jihad and Islamic domination. The US friendship with the Saudi regime undercuts its claim of moral exceptionalism; the regime is among the world’s most repressive. Its Sharia law outlaws homosexuality and makes women chattels. Civil liberties are nonexistent, and lashings or beheadings await those who dare to speak out against the regime.
The proper US response to the Saudi’s threat would have been the middle finger. Ever-happy-to-monetize central banks and the world’s capital markets can handle a $750 billion sale of US debt. There would be a price concession as markets soaked the Saudis, but after the sale prices would rally and there would be no permanent damage. That the US would allow itself to be threatened illustrates what happens when a confederated empire rests on borrowed money. How long can an empire last that succumbs to its creditors’ threats? (China has a lot more US government debt than Saudi Arabia.)
Mostly what the US response illustrates is what happens when you have a government run by eunuchs. A bipartisan, bought-and-paid-for coalition of chicken hawks sends in bombers, drones, special forces, and the NSA to wage
lucrative, costly, bloody, doomed-to-fail, civil-liberties-destroying wars against terrorist “threats,” but sucks up to an empty-robe regime that has indoctrinated, funded, and armed al Qaeda and ISIS. What would the Saudis do with their oil if the world’s largest oil consumer bought elsewhere, especially as the low oil price bleeds Saudi Arabia’s foreign currency reserves? What would their military—which can’t take out fourth-rate Yemen—do if the world’s number one arms supplier refused to sell to it? What would their corrupt and tyrannical alliance of mosque and state do if the US denounced the corruption and tyranny? What leverage would the Saudi’s have after they sold their $750 billion in debt?