Saudi Arabia a Force for Stability? Dream On!
January 8, 2016
Robert Parry / Consortium News & William Boardman / Reader Supported News & Middle East Eye
Saudi Arabia likes to distinguish itself from the head-choppers of the Islamic State but the recent mass executions, including decapitating a top Shiite dissident, reveals the Saudi royals to be just better-dressed jihadists, while creating an opening for a US realignment in the Mideast. The UK has sold$8.2 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia since David Cameron became Prime Minister, despite widespread human right concerns.
Saudi Game-Changing Head-Chopping
Robert Parry / Consortium News
(January 5, 2016) -- For generations, US officials have averted their eyes from Saudi Arabia's grotesque monarchy -- which oppresses women, spreads jihadism and slaughters dissidents -- in a crude trade-off of Saudi oil for American weapons and US security guarantees. It is a deal with the devil that may finally be coming due.
The increasingly undeniable reality is that the Saudis along with other oil sheikhs are the biggest backers of Al Qaeda and various terrorist groups -- helping these killers as long as they spread their mayhem in other countries and not bother the spoiled playboys of the Persian Gulf.
President George W. Bush -- and then President Barack Obama -- may have suppressed the 28 pages of the congressional 9/11 report describing Saudi support for Al Qaeda and its hijackers but the cat is thoroughly out of the bag. Mealy-mouthed comments from the State Department spokesmen can no longer hide the grim truth that US "allies" are really civilization's enemies.
The big question that remains, however, is: Will Official Washington's dominant neocon/liberal-interventionist claque continue to protect the Saudis who have built a regional alliance of convenience with Israel over their shared hatred of Iran?
Inside Official Washington's bubble -- where the neocons and liberal hawks hold sway -- there is a determination to make the "designated villains," the Iranians, the Syrian government, Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Russians. This list of "villains" matches up quite well with Israeli and Saudi interests and thus endless demonization of these "villains" remains the order of the day.
But the Saudis -- and indeed the Israelis -- are showing what they're really made of. Israel has removed its humanistic mask as it ruthlessly suppresses Palestinians and mounts periodic "grass mowing" operations, using high-tech munitions to slaughter thousands of nearly defenseless people in Gaza and the West Bank while no longer even pretending to want a peaceful resolution of the long-simmering conflict. Israel's choice now seems to be apartheid or genocide.
Meanwhile, the Saudis -- though long-hailed in Official Washington as "moderates" -- are showing what a farcical description that has always been as the royals now supply US-made TOW missiles and other sophisticated weapons to Sunni jihadists in Syria, fighting alongside Al Qaeda's Nusra Front.
Using advanced US-supplied warplanes, the Saudis also have been pulverizing poverty-stricken Yemen after exaggerating the level of Iranian support to the Houthis, who have been fighting both a Saudi-backed regime and Al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate. Amid the Saudi-inflicted humanitarian crisis, Al Qaeda's forces have expanded their territory.
And, at the start of the New Year, the Saudi monarchy butchered 47 prisoners, including prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr for his offense of criticizing the royals, or as the Saudis like to say -- without a touch of irony -- supporting "terrorism." By chopping off Nimr's head -- as well as shooting and decapitating the others -- the Saudis demonstrated that there is very little qualitative difference between them and the head-choppers of the Islamic State.
The Usual Suspects
Yes, the usual suspects in Official Washington have sought to muddle the blood-soaked picture by condemning angry Iranian protesters for ransacking the Saudi embassy in Tehran before the government security forces intervened. And there will surely be an escalation of condemnations of anyone who suggests normalizing relations with Iran.
But the issue for the neocons and their liberal-interventionist sidekicks is whether they can continue to spin obviously false narratives about the nobility of these Middle East "allies," including Israel. Is there a limit to what they can put over on the American people?
At some point, will they risk losing whatever shreds of credibility that they still have? Or perhaps the calculation will be that public credibility is irrelevant, power and control are everything.
A similar choice must be made by politicians, including those running for the White House.
Some Republican candidates, most notably Sen. Marco Rubio, have gone all-in with the neocons, hoping to secure largesse from casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson and other staunch supporters of Israel's right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On the other hand, real-estate magnate Donald Trump has distanced himself from neocon orthodoxy, even welcoming Russia's entry into the Syrian conflict to fight the Islamic State, heresy in Official Washington.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the most closely associated with the neocons and the liberal hawks -- and she has dug in on the issue of their beloved "regime change" strategy, which she insists must be applied to Syria.
She appears to have learned nothing from her misguided support for the Iraq War, nor from her participation in overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi's secular regime in Libya, both of which created vacuums that the Islamic State and other extremists filled. (British special forces are being deployed to Libya as part of an offensive to reclaim Libyan oil fields from the Islamic State.)
A Sanders Opportunity
The Saudi decision to chop off Sheikh Nimr's head and slaughter 46 other people in one mass execution also puts Sen. Bernie Sanders on the spot over his glib call for the Saudis "to get their hands dirty" and intervene militarily across the region.
That may have been a clever talking point, calling on the rich Saudis to put some skin in the game, but it missed the point that -- even before the Nimr execution -- the Saudis' hands were very dirty, indeed covered in blood.
For Sanders to see the Saudis as part of the solution to the Mideast chaos ignores the reality that they are a big part of the problem. Not only has Saudi Arabia funded the extreme, fundamentalist Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam -- building mosques and schools around the Muslim world -- but Al Qaeda and many other jihadist groups are, in essence, Saudi paramilitary forces dispatched to undermine governments on Riyadh's hit list.
That has been the case since the 1980s when the Saudis -- along with the Reagan administration -- invested billions of dollars in support of the brutal mujahedeen in Afghanistan with the goal of overthrowing a secular, Soviet-backed government in Kabul.
Though the "regime change" worked -- the secular leader Najibullah was castrated and his body hung from a light pole in Kabul -- the eventual outcome was the emergence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, led by a Saudi scion, Osama bin Laden.
Though Sanders has resisted articulating a detailed foreign policy -- instead seeking to turn questions back to his preferred topic of income inequality -- the latest Saudi barbarism gives him a new chance to distinguish himself from front-runner Clinton. He could show courage and call for a realignment based on reality, not propaganda.
President Obama, too, has a final chance to refashion the outdated and counter-productive US alliances in the Middle East. At least he could rebalance them to allow a pragmatic relationship with Iran and Russia to stabilize Syria and neutralize the Saudi-backed jihadists.
Standing Up, Not Bowing Down
Instead of being supplicants to Saudi riches and oil, the West could apply stern measures against the Saudi royals to compel their acquiescence to a real anti-terrorist coalition. If they don't comply immediately, their assets could be frozen and seized; they could be barred from foreign travel; they could be isolated until they agreed to behave in a civilized manner, including setting aside ancient animosities between Sunni and Shiite Islam.
It seems the European public is beginning to move in this direction, in part, because the Saudi-led destabilization of Syria has dumped millions of desperate refugees on the European Union's doorstep. If a new course isn't taken, the E.U. itself might split apart.
But the power of the neocon/liberal-hawk establishment in Official Washington remains strong and has prevented the American people from achieving anything close to a full understanding of what is going on in the Middle East.
The ultimate barrier to an informed US public may also be the enormous power of the Israel Lobby, which operates what amounts to a blacklist against anyone who dares criticize Israeli behavior and harbors hopes of ever holding a confirmable government position or -- for that matter -- a prominent job in the mainstream media.
It would be a test of true political courage and patriotism for some major politician or prominent pundit to finally take on these intimidating forces. That likely won't happen, but Saudi Arabia's latest head-choppings have created the possibility, finally, for a game-changing realignment.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America's Stolen Narrative.
Saudi Arabia a Force for Stability? Dream On!
Enabling Saudi militancy is an irrational US policy
William Boardman / Reader Supported News
(January 7, 2016) -- The Saudi mass beheadings on January 2 proved nothing new to a world that well knows Saudi Arabia is still a tribal police state with a moral code of medieval barbarity. Saudi Arabia is a Sunni-Muslim country that executes people for witchcraft, adultery, apostasy, and homosexuality (among other things).
And the Saudi regime is perfectly willing to torture and kill a Shi'a-Muslim cleric for the crime of speaking truth to power, knowing that that judicial murder will inflame his followers and drive the region toward wider war. The Saudi provocation is as transparent as it is despicable, and yet the Saudis are held to no account, as usual.
Yes, the predictable reaction in Iran included street protest and breaching the security of an annex to the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Protestors ransacked the annex and set it on fire. Police responded quickly, put out the fire, and arrested some 40 protestors. No Saudis were hurt or taken hostage. (This was not Iran taking US hostages in 1979, despite the ritually repeated echo of that event as the Times wrote falsely: "ransacked and set fire to the Saudi Embassy . . . .")
As such things go, the annex attack was pretty much a non-event -- but it was enough for diplomats and media to create a false equivalency, as if vandalizing an empty building carried the same moral weight as the ISIS-style execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr for nonviolent protest against a brutal dictatorship.
Hiding behind this false equivalency, governments around the world call for both sides to act with restraint, even though Iran has acted with restraint all along, while Saudi Arabia threw restraint to the winds from the start with the deliberate provocation of a political murder.
Of course there's nothing inherently wrong -- ever -- with both sides exercising restraint, it's just a meaningless bromide as applied here, with a caution bordering on cowardice. These are, after all, the same people who mostly say nothing in opposition to the Saudi coalition's brutally aggressive war against Yemeni fighters and civilians alike in daily violation of international humanitarian law.
The speed with which Saudi Arabia seized on the embassy attack as a pretext for cutting off diplomatic relations suggests that this was a Saudi goal from the start. The diplomatic break also complicates (or even scuttles) this month's peace talks that contemplated Saudi Arabia coming to the same table with Iran to discuss the wars in Syria and Iran.
The Saudis are fighting in both wars. Iran has fighters with Iraqi and US forces fighting the Islamic state in Iraq, and Iraq has something like "advisors" supporting President Assad in Syria. The Saudis allege that Iran has troops in Yemen on the side of the Houthis there, but there is no persuasive evidence that this is true.
Whatever the reality on the ground, any restraint on Iran resulting from the Saudi provocation would likely help the Saudis in their unrestrained wars, neither of which is going all that well.
The Saudis unilaterally ended the ceasefire in Yemen, killing more civilians there the same day it beheaded 43 prisoners and shot four others at home.
When Does US Complicity in
Saudi Violence Come to an End?
The long game for the Saudis -- regional dominance -- requires relative Iranian weakness. The sanction-enforced weakness forced on Iran in recent years is about to end as a result of the multinational nuclear agreement between Iran and most of the civilized world (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the US -- the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- plus Germany and the European Union).
The return of Iran to the world community can only increase its challenge to Saudi regional hegemony. Whether this is good or bad for the rest of the world is arguable, but the current Western conventional thinking that Saudi Arabia is a force for stability in the region is pure fantasy.
There is not a lot of moral high ground in the Middle East, where the most democratic nation is Israel, which treats its Palestinians worse (perhaps) than the Sunni dictatorship of Bahrain treats its Shi'a majority (with the blessing of the US 5th Fleet based there).
When it comes to executing people, Iran and Saudi Arabia are #2 and #3 globally, behind China, and followed closely by Iraq, North Korea, and the US.
In the midst of this moral quagmire, President Obama once again has an opportunity to actually earn that Nobel Peace Prize he received in 2009 in anticipation of his someday doing something to deserve it. He can act to contain and calm the nations of the Persian Gulf.
Instead of relying on mealy-mouthed bromides from low-level State Department officials, the President of the United States could step up to defend his administration's signal accomplishment to date, the multinational nuclear agreement with Iran, by telling the Saudis to behave like a mature nation and stop beheading clerics just to annoy the neighbors.
The White House website has no searchable comment about recent Saudi actions. On January 4, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest commented on the mass beheadings with seemingly helpless plaintiveness more reflective of weakness than any kind of leadership:
"And, you know, this is a concern that we raised with the Saudis in advance, and unfortunately, the concerns that we expressed to the Saudis have precipitated the kinds of consequences that we were concerned about."
Well, if the White House had been truly concerned about heading off mass executions, or even just heading off the beheading of Sheikh al-Nimr, the White House could have done any number of things to give the Saudis pause, something other than what it did, including approving another $1.2 billion in arms sales.
US has the choice of not abetting Saudi war crimes in Yemen
Instead of weeping for American children already beyond his help, President Obama could act immediately to save still-living Yemeni children by withdrawing US support of the Saudi-led war on Yemen (carried out with weapons from the US and others). President Obama has been complicit in the Saudi criminal war since the US helped launch it in March 2015.
The US could end its role in the naval blockade that keeps Yemenis from fleeing the war zone, a blockade that keeps food and other humanitarian aid from Yemeni children and adults alike, a blockade that enforces mass hunger and one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. For the US merely to abstain from its active role in crimes against humanity in Yemen would allow it to seize something like the moral high ground in a region where almost none exists.
Pulling back from mindless support for one of the most depraved governments in the Middle East would seem, by contrast, like reaching a moral mountaintop. Why does the US support the Saudis anymore anyway, when the Saudis are most useful now for heating the world beyond habitation?
The Saudis have demonstrated time and again that the US has no significant influence on Saudi Arabia. In 2001, when Saudis hit the World Trade Center, Saudi Arabia (with the connivance of President Bush) withdrew its people from the US before the FBI could have a word with any of them, even those who had had contact with the dead terrorists.
Again and again, the US bows to Saudi pressure on issues large and small (with some magnificent exceptions like the multinational nuclear agreement with Iran). At some point the US should ask itself: if we have so little influence with Saudi Arabia, why should we let the Saudis make us look like their puppet?
Saudi Betrayals of Trust and
Good Will Have a Long istory
There has been no doubt about Saudi duplicity at least since 1996, when the Khobar Towers bombing killed 19 Americans (wounding some 500) and the Saudis obstructed the FBI and other American investigators every step of the way, even though the Saudis knew from the start the identity of the Saudi terrorist who planned the attack.
Even so, the US eventually indicted 14 people (13 Saudis and one Lebanese), but blamed it all on Iran. Iran denied any involvement, and also promised no further attacks. Having obstructed the investigation, after the indictment Saudi Arabia refused to extradite any of the suspects.
According to Bruce Reidel, then a deputy assistant secretary of defense, at that time the Saudis were most worried about the US starting another Gulf War by attacking Iran and acted to avoid that escalation:
"In my meetings with senior Saudi officials in Dhahran in the days immediately after the attack, they pointed the blame at Saudi Hezbollah. It became clear the Saudis had a great deal of information on the group and had probably foiled an earlier bomb attack without telling Washington. The Saudis were certain it was not the work of Osama bin Laden. They knew Mughassil was the mastermind from the start."
Now, in 2016, President Obama asks in vain for the Saudis to join the peace talks on Syria, but authorizes billions of dollars of arms sales to Saudi Arabia to pursue its covert support for the Islamic State (ISIS) and its criminally brutal war on Yemen. And Secretary of State Kerry asks in vain for the Saudis to spare the life of a cleric whose crime is speaking truth to power, but Saudi Arabia cuts off his head along with 42 others, just to make a point.
Saudi Arabia has long since broken with the US whenever it felt like it. Will the US finally get it this time that our Saudi ally is not only unreliable but is not an ally?
The multinational nuclear agreement with Iran is, if it holds, an actual achievement worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize. Yet this President acts as if the Saudi kingdom of corruption and war is somehow more worthy of protection and support than a world with a diminished threat of nuclear war.
William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
UK Has Sold $8 Billion of Arms to Saudi Arabia in Five Years: Report
Campaign Against Arms Trade says kingdom is one of 24 'countries of humanitarian concern' to which UK has sold weapons since 2010
Middle East Eye Staff
(January 7, 2016) -- The UK has sold £5.6bn ($8.2 billion) of arms to Saudi Arabia since David Cameron became Prime Minister, despite widespread human right concerns, a new report has shown.
Cameron's governments have since May 2010 overseen the sale of Hawk fighter jets and bulk sales of machine guns, bombs and tear gas, according to research released on Wednesday by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) .
The report says that the UK has sold arms to 24 of the 27 states that it considers to be "countries of humanitarian concern".
According to reports in The Daily Telegraph, published in May, Saudi Arabia has access to twice as many British-made warplanes in its bombing campaign in Yemen than the entire Royal Air Force.
British-made Tornado GR4 ground attack fighters and Eurofighter Typhoons are playing a central role in the Royal Saudi Air Force's bombing campaign in Yemen.
While the Saudi's boast of having 100 battle-worthy planes for the operation, around 50 percent of which are believed to have been manufactured in the UK, the UK could only muster 36 Tornado GR4 bombers if it were to conduct a similar air campaign, military experts told The Telegraph.
The UK has been carrying out air strikes in Iraq since 2014 and in December last year MPs voted to expand air strikes against Islamic State group targets in Syria. Before the extension to Syria, however, the Commons Defence Select Committee criticised the RAF by saying that it had only committed "strikingly modest" military resources to the US-led campaign.
Bombs and ammunition, which were originally intended to be used by the British Army, have also been diverted to Saudi Arabia, military sources toldThe Telegraph in July.
Saudi Arabia sparked widespread international concern on Saturday when it executed prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others, sparking protests in Iran and Bahrain as well as unrest in Saudi's restive Shia majority Eastern Province.
Qatar on Wednesday became the latest country to back Saudi Arabia in its diplomatic row with Iran following the executions by recalling its ambassador to Tehran. Djibouti also on Wednesday followed Bahrain and Sudan in cutting ties with Iran.
Jordan summoned the Iranian ambassador to protest against the embassy attack. And Kuwait earlier recalled its ambassador to Tehran and the United Arab Emirates reduced its diplomatic presence.
Riyadh has also come under fire for its role in the bombing campaign in Yemen aimed at rolling back the country's Houthi militias and their supporters, with Amnesty International accusing the largely Arab coalition of war crimes.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that 2,795 civilians have been killed and 5,324 wounded since Saudi Arabia and its allies began bombing in March.
Amnesty International has accused the UK of fuelling the civil war in Yemen and breaching domestic, European and international law by selling munitions and bombs to Riyadh.
"The overriding message is that human rights are playing second fiddle to company profits," CAAT spokesperson Andrew Smith told The Independent.
"The income of BAE is being put over the rights of people being executed and tortured. It's completely inconsistent to condemn these regimes while signing off on billion-pound arms deals."
The UK government, however, has defended its relations with Riyadh.
Tobias Ellwood, a junior minister at the Foreign Office, on Tuesday said that London had repeatedly raised human rights concerns with Saudi authorities but that it was a delicate balancing act.
"Saudi Arabia is a relatively young country and we recognise change cannot happen overnight," Ellwood told MPs while being grilled on UK arms sales.
"The human rights situation in Saudi Arabia reflects widely held conservative social values and as such needs to move at a pace that is acceptable to its society."
"We believe that it is more effective to work with other countries to improve and reform their systems, rather than criticise from the sidelines," Ellwood added.
In October last year, Britain's most senior Foreign Office official Sir Simon McDonald admitted to media that human rights were no longer a "top priority for the government".
His comments were interpreted to mean that the Foreign Office had changed course since Philip Hammond took over as Foreign Secretary in 2014, but UK's close relations with Saudi Arabia span decades with previous administrations also penning billion-pound deals with Riyadh.
CAAT estimates that the government of Cameron's predecessor Gordon Brown, also oversaw the sale of more than £2bn ($3bn) worth of arms in two years.
"Two-thirds of UK arms exports go to the Middle East, and that's unlikely to change. We know that Saudi Arabia is arming a number of groups in and around Syria, but we've no idea what weapons are being sent there. Once a weapon enters a war zone there's no such thing as arms control," Smith said.
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