Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia, the U.S. Government's Embarrassing Friend

It's time to end support for a regime that sees beating as a merciful alternative to execution for dissenters.


Raif Badawi
YouTube screen capture

One of the sad facts of maintaining a role as a world policeman is that you have to keep some pretty scurvy company. That's fine if you're all-in with your imperial ambitions, like ancient Rome. Then local cruelties, corruption, and barbarities are only a concern if they get in the way of tribute and securing a Hun-free border. But if you've built your nominal national identity as an un-empire that champions liberty, democracy, and the open society, those associations can become awkward. One week you're celebrating the freedom to speak freely and scrutinize rules and rulers without fear of retaliation, and then you find yourself, once again, voicing unconvincing shock that a long-time ally is retaliating against one of its citizens for speaking and scrutinizing.

So it is when you get chummy with Saudi Arabia, an authoritarian monarchy with a long history of doing all sorts of things the United States supposedly opposes.

Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1,000 lashes for "insulting Islam" and already the unhappy recipient of 50 of them (pictured), is only the latest inconvenience in the decades-long U.S.-Saudi relationship. Badawi would have faced execution had he been found guilty of apostasy—unbelievably, brutal judicial flogging is a somewhat merciful outcome in his case. Assuming he survives. Hamza Kashgari also faced execution for tweeting disfavored religious thoughts, though he "only" spent two years in prison, without trial.

Not that the country's rulers are shy about exercising capital punishment for a variety of offenses and "offenses." The judicial system imposes the occasional dismemberment, too.

Saudi Arabia's medieval laws and penalties are deeply rooted in the country's official Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam, which is a less than tolerant theology by any standard. It's an intolerance that not only taints the kingdom, but has been exported abroad. Writing just months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Cato Institute's Ted Galen Carpenter noted:

The Saudi government has been the principal financial backer of Afghanistan' s odious Taliban movement since at least 1996. It has also channeled funds to Hamas and other groups that have committed terrorist acts in Israel and other portions of the Middle East.

Worst of all, the Saudi monarchy has funded dubious schools and "charities" throughout the Islamic world. Those organizations have been hotbeds of anti-Western, and especially, anti-American, indoctrination. The schools, for example, not only indoctrinate students in a virulent and extreme form of Islam, but also teach them to hate secular Western values.

Carpenter insisted, "if Washington is serious…it ought to regard Saudi Arabia as a prime sponsor of international terrorism."

Since then, having been on the receiving of some terrorist acts spawned by the intolerance it employs at home and shares abroad, the Saudi government has hedged its bets a bit. It now funds some antiterrorism efforts and makes an effort to discourage terrorist ties. Which is a good thing.

But Saudi Arabia isn't just a country with an unpleasant government in a world full of too many such places. It remains a throwback kingdom that enjoys very tight relations with the government of the world's leading liberal democracy. The kingdom makes enormous purchases of arms directly from the United States government. The United States also provides training and support for the Saudi Arabian National Guard in the name of "regional stability."

The association makes the United States government look just a bit less than sincere when it touts peace, free speech, and elections. The contrast between the rhetoric and the reality of floggings and beheadings is hard to reconcile.

Americans in their private actions should be free to associate and do business with Saudis as they do with people who live under all sorts of regimes, nasty, decent, and in between. But now, as Saudi Arabia makes the transition to what Emma Ashford describes in The National Interest as a "new leader; same medieval state," the U.S. government should take the opportunity to end the policy of supporting a regime that sees beating as a merciful alternative to execution for those who voice the occasional words of dissent.

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  1. Technically the Romans wanted a Goth-free border. The Huns arrived on the scene later. The Goth tribes were the ones that sacked the city.

    1. You know who else invaded Italy?

      1. Gypsies?

      2. Hitler?

        It’s always Hitler.

      3. Hannibal, goddamit.

        1. I loled…

      4. Napoleon?

  2. “Americans in their private actions should be free to associate and do business with Saudis as they do with people who live under all sorts of regimes, nasty, decent, and in between”.

    Yeah, like giving flight lessons to aspiring jet airline pilots who don’t want to learn how to land.

    1. WTF was the point of this post? Fuck you, Homple.

      1. Point being that one should be careful of what kind of business one freely does with whom.


          1. See something, say something. But not too often, or they’ll haul you down to the precinct.

            1. I think the flight school teacher did say something and it was ignored.

        2. careful to the point of not being allowed to do it?

          1. “careful to the point of not being allowed to do it?”

            Absolutely not. The onus for care is on the vendor and customer.

        3. That would be poignant if it were true. The idea that the 9/11 hijackers “didn’t want to learn how to land” is complete horseshit.

          “Nothing in the cable indicated that an event was imminent. The cable it sent to the FAA simply said that Mr. Moussaoui wanted to learn how to, “take off and land a 747.” It did not, and I repeat it did not say that he only wanted to learn how to take off, and was not interested in learning how to land. The cable to the FAA said, rightly or wrongly, the only pilot training he wanted was how to take off and land. So take off and landing are the only two things that a suicide bomber is not interested in. So based on the nature of all this information, the FAA decided the threat was general and nonspecific enough that it would wait for further information from the FBI before it should notify stakeholders in the aviation community.”


          1. I’m really confused by this idea that he didn’t want to learn how to land the damned thing. It’s not like people can just get a license to fly the largest jets in existence. You have to go through a shit ton of prior training at much smaller classes of aircraft prior to even thinking about making the move to a 100,000 ton, $300,000,000 aircraft. During which you would have performed a huge number of landings. I’m sorry, but this objection about landings makes no sense whatsoever. It seems to be made by people whose only experience with flight training is playing Microsoft Flight Simulator, where you can hop behind the controls of a jumbo jet on your first play. The real world doesn’t work like that. Try to take it into account before positing ridiculous conspiracy theories.

    2. Great point Homple.

      And I would like to add that private citizens have needed the U.S./Saud relationship to protect their billions invested in oil interests there.

      Like private citizens could have stopped someone like Saddam from invading Saudi Arabia in 90/91.

      1. “Like private citizens could have stopped someone like Saddam from invading Saudi Arabia in 90/91.”

        Well, the private citizens must have been effective in preventing Saddam from invading Saudi in 90/91 because he invaded Kuwait instead.

        As far as I care, people can invest wherever they want, I just don’t want to be taxed or otherwise forced to help bail them out if their investment goes bad. This include financial institutions too big to fail.

        1. No, it was the Saudis buying millions/billions in U.S. weaponry that kept Saddam from invading, and after the invasion of Kuwait the U.S. military presence in Saudi.

          Operation Desert Shield

  3. Drill baby, drill.

    1. Dig, Baby Dig!


      1. Chop, Baby Chop!

        -British Columbia

  4. Yeah, USA and the House of Saud have been allies of geopolitical convenience for decades due to our mutual distaste of Iran and, more importantly, our usually-compatible interests in oil markets. It is in neither country’s interest to end the alliance.

    1. It is completely in America’s interests to end this awful relationship. Oil is fungible and we can get it from anywhere. Opposing Iran is not worth Saudi Arabia’s far more insidious funding for maddrassas and other indoctrination centers.

      1. We can’t get it from as easy a place as Saudi Arabia. The oil is just about right under the ground. It’s not this good to get (low costs) elsewhere. So we and the whole world will continue to get it from there until it is all gone.

        1. We don’t need a special relationship for that. Oil is fungible.

          1. The point of the special arrangement for the US is the price of oil exclusively in dollars. Which creates outsized demand for them.

        2. What’s Canada? Chopped liver?

          1. Compared to Saudi Arabia it is. Yep.

            1. Compared to anything really.

            2. What about the good old US of A? Third to only Russia (#1) and Saudi Arabia. And it’s not that far behind the Saudis.

      2. “we can get it from anywhere.” Sure, on paper. We can get it domestically, too, and yet we don’t. At least we don’t from govt-owned land. The Iranian opposition is based on fear of a nuclear Tehran and the notion that Persians would just as soon over-run all the Arab states. However, cracking down on the export of that Saudi indoctrination would be nice.

  5. Saudi Arabia might be the worst enemy of America out there right now. Iran sponsors terrorist organizations but Saudi Arabia generates the terrorists in madrases. The root cause of Islamic terrorism is the state sponsors of terrorism such as Saudi Arabia. No blowback, just indoctrination.

    1. As I said before, being allied with the regime makes us an enemy of the people.

      1. So why the bad reception America got in Iraq?

      2. No it doesn’t, but America should consider arming Shi-ite militants in SA someday in the future.

        1. You’re talking about a two-cats-of-Kilkenny scenario, right?

    2. Does Iran still sponsor “randomly blowing stuff up” style terrorism, or is it more Iran sponsors the irregular combatants that our irregular combatants are fighting and that we call terrorism so we can pretend their meddling is totally different from our meddling?

      1. The reason I ask is that it seems to me that, absent political history, Iran would be a much more natural ally to the US than Saudi Arabia is.

  6. Countries do not have friends,they have interests.oh, and the Saudi’s suck.

  7. I blame it all on BOOOOSH the first. If he had let Saddam absorb Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the only people worse off compared to now would be the royal Sauds.

    BOOOOOOSH! the elder.

  8. You know how neocons like Jennifer Rubin are always prattling on about wild-eyed extremists who dare suggest that marginally stepping away from an all-intrusion-everywhere foreign policy might be worth exploring? Supporting Saudi Arabia is the sort of level-headed, common sense policy these assholes support.

    1. Ding! We have a winner!

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  10. Embarrassing friend? You mean like Riblet?

  11. Yes, the Saudi Arabian government sucks in a lot of ways (duh, it’s a government, of course it sucks). Sadly though, it’s like pretty much every other country in that barbaric region: the only thing even worse than the existing government would be its most likely alternative replacement.

    I would simply hope that Reason isn’t so foolish and disconnected from reality that they still somehow haven’t managed to figure that out by now.

    1. Sadly though, it’s like pretty much every other country in that barbaric region: the only thing even worse than the existing government would be its most likely alternative replacement.

      No SA is substantially worse. They export indoctrination and terror. It’s a medieval state at least the UAE has Dubai.

      1. Yeah, a bunch of ill-mannered extremists sitting on a quarter of the planet’s oil is just dandy.

        No, we need to manage our relationship with SA very carefully.

        1. Have we considered a full-blown takeover?

          How much effort would it take to just bomb their leaders into a smoking hole, again and again, until they’re all gone, and then plant a flag in the crater?

          I know, I know, I’m channeling cytotoxic.

        2. SA produces around 12% of the world’s oil, not 25%. Not sure about reserves, but I highly doubt they come remotely close to the enormous Russian or Canadian oil fields.

      2. Dubai… built by serf like labor.

        1. You need a hyphen.

    2. Sadly though, it’s like pretty much every other country in that barbaric region: the only thing even worse than the existing government would be its most likely alternative replacement.

      No it is not.

      It is the source of great evil, which is integral to the foundation of the Saudi state.

      It’s basically an corrupt and evil alliance between completely insane Wahhabists and a group of gangsters (the Sauds). The Wahhabists give the Sauds legitimacy in exchange for the Sauds giving the Wahhabists funding and free reign to promulgate their evil ideology.

      1. I have two Saudi friends, one of whom has a father close to Salman. They HATE the oppression of the Kingdom and the hypocrisy of the ruling class. Yet they tacitly refuse to ever make any attempt of change for fear of…..death. Then they go party like animals with their oil money. Sounds like the Sauds have nothing to fear from within….and America gives them no reason to fear from ‘without’. Nice gig, if you can get it.

    3. Simply untrue. The Saudis and the Iranians are pretty much the only ones who have explicitly adopted the truly backward form of Islam known as Wahhabism.

      1. Iranians are not Wahhabists on TWO counts: 1) Arab, 2) Sunni.

        What Iranians and Saudis have in common is religious extremism, but they’re as unlike and opposed as the Catholics and Protestants were back in the days of Bloody Mary and going forward.

  12. Saudi Arabia and Israel are not our friends. We are their friend.

  13. Why don’t we just quit supporting everyone.

    1. Too obvious. NEXT….

  14. To Saudi you are the sort of friend who borrows money all the time and never, sort of, you know, pays it back. For sure you do help them out, do little jobs, ignore their bad habits and generally be friendly. But the money never quite seems to be repaid.

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  16. Since most of the terrorists involved in 9/11 were Saudis and the House of Saud funds many of the current terrorist cells in the world, I’ve often wondered why we haven’t nuked them out of existence. At least send in a couple of covert teams to steal the magic rock in Mecca. We could cut it up and sell pieces on eBay.

    1. Oh man. And have a contest on the most ingenious uses of the pieces.

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  19. I think technically a beating is more merciful, and less permanent, then death.

    And it’s foolish to think SA is our friend. We occasioanly share interest, but friend is a horrible choice of words to describe our relationship. What I find ironic is that ISIL/IS/ISIS have been attacking SA. The irony.

  20. Again, on Sunday I heard another White House spokesman refer to Islam as a “good and honorable” faith. Again, I ask, “Where’s the evidence of that?”

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