This past Sunday, 60 Minutes ran a report on
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."
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."
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.