Saudi Arabia Can Go Fuck Itself, Part 2
President Obama received a rather lukewarm reception from Saudi royals when he landed in Riyadh on Wednesday. Saudi social media commentators noted that he was met with a reception led by the city’s mayor instead of King Salman, who greeted regional leaders with a great deal more gusto right after they landed. Nor did Obama exchange kisses with the Saudi leader, as his predecessor George W. Bush once did. But the alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United States is not quite what it used to be.
Tensions have reached new heights in recent weeks among suggestions that the Kingdom’s money was used to fund the 9/11 hijackers – three-fourths of whom were Saudi nationals. A proposal in Congress that might allow victims of that attack to sue the Kingdom if it’s found to have supported terrorism has further chilled relations. Saudis also feel snubbed by Obama’s suggestion that they could be among the “free-riders” he mentioned in an interview who benefit from the U.S. War on Terror but don’t contribute their fair share to the fight. More open relations with the Kingdom’s sworn enemy Iran haven’t helped either.
President Obama’s fourth visit to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council comes as human rights organizations have been pressing Congress to block arms sales to the kingdom in the wake of Saudi-led coalition strikes in Yemen. The United Nations estimates more than 3,000 civilians have been killed since the Saudi bombing campaign began last March.The Ugly, with a nice fat 33:
To talk more about the significance of President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia, we’re joined by Bill Hartung, senior adviser to the Security Assistance Monitor, also director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Bill. The significance of this, President Obama’s fourth trip to Saudi Arabia?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, the thing that amazes me is that since he met with the GCC leaders in May at Camp David last year, he’s approved $33 billion in weapons sales to the Gulf states, mostly to Saudi Arabia, at a time when the Saudis have been engaged in a brutal bombing campaign in Yemen, accused of possible war crimes, using cluster bombs, at least 3,200 civilians killed. And it’s not clear to what degree he brought this up, to what degree he’s threatened to cut off arms supplies. So, to me, that colors the whole event, because, basically, in the name of reassuring the Saudis about Iran, they’re allowing this to go on and actually facilitating the Saudi killing in Yemen.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Bill Hartung, you wrote a piece in The New York Times earlier this week headlined "Obama Shouldn’t Trade Cluster Bombs for Saudi Arabia’s Friendship." Now, in the piece, you write that Saudi-American arms deals are a, quote, "continuation of a booming business that has developed between Washington and Riyadh during the Obama years." So could you elaborate on that and also on the pressure that’s being put on the Obama administration, especially with respect to the use of cluster munitions in Saudi Arabia—in Yemen by Saudi Arabia?
WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, under the Obama administration, we’ve made more arms deals with the Saudis than in other—any other time in history. And it’s been the full gamut. They’ve been combat ships, missile defense systems, fighter planes, attack helicopters, guns, bombs, missiles—basically, an entire arsenal. And on top of that, they are providing targeting information to the Saudis, refueling their aircraft. So they’re right in the middle of this conflict. And I think there’s a couple reasons for that. One is this notion of reassuring the Saudis about Iran. One is the underlying issue of oil politics, which I don’t believe has gone away. And one is the fact that it benefits large numbers of weapons contractors, like Boeing and Lockheed Martin and others.