Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's Alleged 9/11 Connection Just One of Many Reasons the U.S. Ally is a Problem

It's past time to have the "Where is this relationship going?" conversation.

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This past Sunday, 60 Minutes ran a report on

Obama and Abdullah, 2014
Wikimedia

28 highly classified pages of a 838-page bipartisan joint congressional inquiry into intelligence failures surrounding the terror attacks of 9/11/01. The piece's primary interview subject, Fmr. Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fl.), was a co-chair of that inquiry and he repeated his long-held assertion that the pages — which are kept under lock and key in the Capitol — contain evidence that the Saudi Arabian government provided significant support to the 19 hijackers of four jet airliners who killed more than 2,800 people that fateful day in 2001.

Graham told 60 Minutes, "I remain deeply disturbed by the amount of material that has been censored from this report," and added:

I think it is implausible to believe that 19 people — most of whom didn't speak English, most of whom had never been in the United States before, many of whom didn't have a high school education — could've carried out such a complicated task without some support from within the United States.

Lawmakers from both parties, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have introduced legislation that would require the declassification of the 28 pages, and Congress is considering a bill that would allow terror victims' families to sue the Saudi government for "contribut(ing) material support or resources" to "acts of terrorism." The bill essentially removes the immunity currently enjoyed by officials of foreign governments from being held liable in US courts. 

The Saudi government has threatened to divest itself of up to $750 billion in American assets if the bill passes, and the Obama administration is currently lobbying Congress to not pass the bill, citing economic and diplomatic concerns as well as potential reciprocity against US officials and citizens.

President Obama is scheduled to make a state visit to Riyadh this Wednesday. The New York Times writes of the trip:

Policy makers across the kingdom have long said that they feel Mr. Obama does not share the country's regional interests. And after he criticized the Saudis as "free riders" last month, those suspicions have hardened into fears that he may be actively undermining them.

Mr. Obama may try to use his visit to mend relations, but it remains unclear how badly the ties that have long bound the United States and the Saudi monarchy have weakened, and whether the damage can be repaired.

The "special relationship" between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has always been complicated and fraught with unintended consequences. The kingdom allowed the U.S.-led coalition to station troops and bases on its soil during the 1990-91 Gulf War, which was cited by Osama bin Laden as one of his primary grievances against both countries and a motivating factor in the attacks of 9/11. It is not insignificant that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis.

The militant strain of Sunni Islam which ISIS imposes on its beleaguered subjects, Wahabbism, has no greater benefactor than the House of Saud, which finances the maddrassas teaching medieval theology and guerilla warfare to young boys throughout the Middle East and South Asia.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones wrote this past January that by executing a Shiite sheikh in a deliberate provocation to their regional adversary, Iran, the Saudis "hoped that it might scuttle the Syrian peace talks, maybe the Iranian nuclear deal too, and at the very least, create some chaos that they could take advantage of."

Drum adds:

Ladies and gentlemen, this is our great and good ally. They flog apostates. They export Sunni extremism. They treat women as chattel. They flog and imprison gays. They import slave labor from abroad. They have no truck with freedom of religion or freedom of speech. Their royal family is famously corrupt. And they really, really want to start up a whole bunch of wars that they would very much like America to fight for them.

You could argue that we are already fighting a war for the Saudis, or at the very least actively supporting them with both weapons and material guidance. As I noted last December:

Saudi Arabia has been leading a U.S.-backed Arab coalition in a devastating bombing campaign in Yemen, destroying hospitals, schools, homes and killing thousands of civilians, all in the name of battling Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who overthrew the Saudi-backed Yemeni government.

The U.S. recently resupplied the Saudi air-force to the tune of $1.29 billion in air-to ground munitions (including cluster bombs) and since the beginning of the conflict has flown hundreds of sorties to refuel Saudi jets mid-air. Now, PRI reports that the U.S. has begun to take an active role in the conflict as part of a "Joint Combined Planning Cell."

That's right, the U.S. presently has "boots on the ground" helping the Saudis in a sustained and relentless assault in Yemen which may end up getting the official "war crime" designation.

This for an ally who lags far behind Iran when it comes to using some of its munitions on ISIS, and who may have actively supported the murderers who committed the most devastating terror attack on U.S. soil which directly sucked the nation into a war in Afghanistan that simply refuses to end, as well as regional conflicts where the U.S. is funding factions who have now taken the fight to each other

Though the waning months of President Obama's tenure are unlikely to affect any meaningful change in U.S.-Saudi relations, his upcoming trip would be an ideal time to have the proverbial "Where is this relationship going?" conversation with one of our most problematic allies.

NEXT: Balkin and Solum on "Our Republican Constitution"

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  1. “well as potential reciprocity against US officials and citizens.” I like how the US basically admits it supports terrorist presumably in places like Libya, Syria, etc.. This whole thing disgusts me.. they should just release the pages and get Russia on board with never selling them a weapon again and cut off all aid.

    1. But we need them. If it weren’t for them it would have been harder to trump up reasons to invade the middle east, oh, oops, my bad, to “nation build.”

  2. Everyone pretty much already knew the Saudis were involved. There were members of the Saudi royal family who sent money to family members of the hijackers in the weeks after 9/11.

    “This for an ally who lags far behind Iran when it comes to using some of its munitions on ISIS”

    Well, that’s because the Saudis are Sunni, like ISIS. It’s not like Iran is attacking ISIS out of any moral obligation, it’s all based on religious affiliation and the Iranian militias in Iraq aren’t actually behaving themselves much better than ISIS, what with all the ethnic cleansing they’ve been doing. I’ll agree the Saudis are worse than Iran on virtually every issue though and most modern terrorism is based on an ideology partially invented by members of the House of Saud and which they’ve exported using oil money.

    1. More specifically, it’s because the Saudi religious authorities are batshit-crazy Wahhabis, just like ISIS.

  3. It also raises the question why? What did the Saudis know? It was prince Bandar’s wife who was sending money to Atta. he wasn’t just some private citizen but embassador to the US and later intelligence chief. If they didn’t know the plan, what was the rationale for sending money? Why these them? Which leads me to believe they knew of the attack.. Almost feel like tinfoil hat types got a little justified here. They 28 pages theory was only maintained on the internet for the past 15 years as a point raised by conspiracy theorists..

  4. Obligatory:

    Romancing the Sunni: A US policy tragedy in three acts

    Act I
    Act II

    1. Stupid two-link limit.

      Act III

      1. Codavilla summarizes the root of the problem well in just two sentences, which can be combined into a single sentence:

        US foreign policy establishment’s perennial, ignorant practice of categorizing foreigners as “moderates” or “extremists” eliminates the bother of learning what foreigners actually have in mind.

  5. We start a little domestic fracking and all the sudden we’re confident enough to out the Saudis?

    1. The US doesn’t really get much in the way of oil from the middle east, most of it comes from domestic production, Canada and Mexico. The Europeans do get a lot of oil from the middle east, but that’s their problem.

      1. Oil is fungible. The Saudis know quite well who to blame for the sudden increase in oil output: Iran (released from embargoes) and fracking.

      2. That’s not really what matters. The reality is that a lot of powerful and wealthy interests in the UK made a lot of money from the production of Saudi oil. Doesn’t matter who the end user is.

    2. The fact is that the Saudis (like other oil producing nations) need to pump every barrel of oil they do and convert it into currency. This is demonstrated by the OPEC’s failure to come to agreement to cut production over the weekend–sending the price of oil down internationally.

      Much of our thinking is still stuck in the Cold War era. Back then, every barrel of oil the Soviets got was a barrel that stayed off the world market. When Iran allied itself with the Soviet Union, that was a big deal for that reason. Now that the world oil market isn’t broken into communist and market blocs anymore, it doesn’t matter as much as it did.

      Perhaps our biggest foreign policy problem since the end of the Cold War has been finding a way to unwind our Cold War alliances. If strategic alliances make for strange bedfellows, how weird it it when you don’t need the alliance anymore?

  6. “The Saudi government has threatened to divest itself of up to $750 billion in American assets if the bill passes.

    That’s a good enough reason by itself to end our relationship with the Saudi government.

    Congress is supposed to represent the American people. The Saudi government shouldn’t threaten our Congress that way.

    Who do they think we are–The Clinton Foundation?!

    1. The Saudi government has threatened to divest itself of up to $750 billion in American assets if the bill passes.

      OK, sure. Exactly what would that entail?

      First, what are these assets? I’m guessing mostly dollars and Treasuries. They dump those, and it will drive down the price of the dollar (how much and for how long, I don’t have a clue), but the dollar is still the safe haven currency, so there will be buyers. Treasuries can be sucked up by the Fed, if need be, to stabilize their price.

      And what will they get in exchange? More dollars? Some other currency? Which one?

      This is a cut-off-your-nose threat. Either its a bluff, or it will wreck what’s left of their assets and economy. I say bring it on.

      1. If they sold everything they have at once, it would be devastating to themselves, not matter the asset category, no doubt. Point taken.

        Just as a point of interest, though, I think they’re talking about SAMA assets, Saudi Arabia Monetary Agency, which is supposedly worth more than $700 billion. It’s a sovereign wealth fund meant to diversify their government’s sensitivity to oil price fluctuations.

        Look at their investment categories here:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Saudi_Arabian_Monetary_Agency#Balance_sheet

        We’re mostly talking about gold, money market funds, cash deposits, and securities.

        In addition to cutting off their nose to spite their face, like you said, diversifying away from U.S. dollar denominated assets would hurt them. They need to hedge themselves against the price of oil–not necessarily against the U.S. dollar. Oil is denominated in U.S. dollars, so they need to be in dollar denominated assets that aren’t as sensitive to fluctuations in oil prices. They’d really be hurting themselves if they divested.

        We should tell them to go fuck themselves.

  7. Is it time for Obama to get another Nobel Peace Prize?

  8. gtfo and stfo

  9. I’m just glad it’s not like Hillary deleted an email showing intelligence that Saudi Arabia was behind Benghazi or anything.

    That would REALLY shake my confidence in our alliance.

  10. It should be noted, too, that Saudi Arabia still gets money courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer, and that doesn’t count all sorts of military assistance. We spent billions deterring attacks by Iran and Saddam Hussein prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. How’s it feel to know your paychecks are going to pay for the defense of Saudi Arabia–and they’re trying to blackmail our Congress into not telling us the truth?

    Also, I was half-joking about the Clinton Foundation, but we give all sorts of other kinds of military aid to the Saudis, too.

    “On October 20, 2010, the U.S. State Department notified Congress of its intention to make the biggest arms sale in American history ? an estimated $60.5 billion purchase by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. – See more at: http://jcpa.org/article/arms-f…..ysNBh.dpuf

    Yeah, in 2010, Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State and she championed/approved this sale; meanwhile, the Saudis have made plenty of contributions to The Clinton Foundation both before and after Hillary was the Secretary of State.

  11. “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and Independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”
    John Quincy Adams 1822

    We should have listened to his advice.

    1. The thing I keep thinking about is the XYZ Affair.

      “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute”, resonated back then.

      Nowadays, Saudi Arabia tries to blackmail Congress, and it’s a story on page 5.

  12. Yes, it’s well past the time to have the “where is this relationship going?” conversation.

    And that conversation ought to end with some variation of “Sorry, but this just isn’t working anymore. No, no, it’s not you, it’s me. You know I still care about you as a friend, but I’m just not feeling it romantically, and I think we both know that’s been the case for quite some time — since around 2001, to be honest. So, I will gather up your toothbrush and your other stuff and ship it to you. Okay, how about giving me back that key now?”

    How’s that for international diplomacy?

    Of course, so long as they currently paid up with the Clinton Foundation, this talk will never happen.

    1. Should probably end in some sort of call to the police. Transcribing the US/Saudi relationship to a human one only ends up looking like an abusive relationship.

    2. But we can still hold hands, right?

  13. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is our great and good ally”

    no, it isn’t.

    I mentioned this story last week =

    The US Has No Gulf Allies

    The point is that no one except the US uses the term “ally” to describe what are, at best, occasional partners whose interests we’ve sometime supported, and sometime actively worked against.

    The author points out how this is not just some diplomatic semantic-niggle, but a fundamental problem with US attitudes in its approach to regional security. Pretending to have lots of “friends” does not make it so, and no matter how much we might aid the Saudis with things like their little Yemen war, our recent moves to unshackle Iran have far more dire consequences for the relationship.

    1. Fuck our relationship with theocratic head-choppers. Why not seek to befriend ISIS while we’re at it??

      1. well, the point was that if we don’t/shouldn’t care about the relationship, then we should stop pretending we have allies in the region that we in fact don’t.

        it was the have-cake/eat-cake attitude which i was drawing attention to.

      2. That’ll be next week.

    2. Waitaminnit… Saracen mohammedans send men with guns to enforce strict laws against pregnancy termination and dangerous narcotics like beer, wine, malt liquor and spirits. No forking way do women get to be king over there, either. How can they not be allies of the Republican party that now dominates Congress?

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  15. It’s bad enough that our “allies” are destroying Yemen, but we’re refueling their jets? Are you shitting me?

    1. we’re refueling their jets? Are you shitting me?

      We were pointing this out last April. repeatedly.

    2. We’re giving them our *ammunition* also. Well, I don’t know about in Yemen but we’ve been doing it in Syria because countries like Russia won’t spend their expensive guided munition and like pushing barrels of explosives out of helicopters and dropping cluster munitions inside cities.

  16. “all in the name of battling Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who overthrew the Saudi-backed Yemeni government.”

    Has their been any actual evidence outside of the Saudi’s assertions that the Houthis are being supported by Iranians?? Traditionally, Twelvers and Fivers don’t exactly get along with one another. It’d be a bit like Calvinists funding a Lutheran anti-Catholic uprising. In that I could see it happening, but it would be a bit strange.

    1. It isn’t a religious thing, it’s a strategic thing. The Houthis give the Iranians a chance to fight the Saudis on their own peninsula, all while maintaining plausible deniability.

      They aren’t friends, but who needs friends when you have mutual enemies?

  17. “The Saudi government has threatened to divest itself of up to $750 billion in American assets if the bill passes, ”

    By Christ I wish I was rich – I could get me some cheap assets.

  18. While I doubt that 9/11 was sponsored by or implemented with the knowledge of the Saudi government per se, that government is a family oligarchy with an enormous penumbra of connected relatives and hangers-on. I suspect that there are contributors to bin Laden and ISIS and other Islamist terror organizations in that web, such as would be embarrassing to the group and government as a whole.

    That said, I’d love to see them dump their Treasuries, suffer the economic consequences themselves, and eliminate a large part of their economic clout with respect to the US.

  19. unconstitutional and all participants are COMPLICIT….

    1. But why is Randall Paul defecting and backstabbing his fellow islamochristians? Could it be he is really turning into a science-believing, dollar-worshipping libertarian?

  20. Maybe we should send James Taylor abroad again so he could reprise “You’ve Got a Friend” as he did with the French diplomatic corps.

  21. Deutsche Bank proudly states on their Kingdom of Saudi Arabia webpage:
    “Deutsche Bank is well recognized for its leading role on some of the most prestigious domestic [Saudi] transactions, and is the recipient of several regional awards in recognition of its achievements in investment banking and Islamic finance.”
    https://www.db.com/mea/en/content/1634.htm

    Deutsche Bank is proudly doing business in Saudi Arabia, yet making a stink about North Carolina. That’s nearly hypocrisy at its best, trumped only by our own Uncle Sam’s pandering to the kingdom.

    Perhaps the “most transparent administration in history” would declassify those 28 pages? Or maybe they’ll turn up on Hillary’s computer?

    1. Hey, it’s the market. It ain’t hypocrisy if you are only in it for the money. It used to be good business to cozy up to the Klan, now it isn’t.

      If there wasn’t a massive shift in public opinion regarding transgender people, they wouldn’t have gave a shit. By the time businesses boycott you, you are already on the losing side

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