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Monday, March 30, 2020

Saudi must stand firm against US insults and threats

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© Shutterstock

Congress is hurling daggers at Saudi Arabia, America’s staunchest Arab ally since 1933. Several presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton and her rival Bernie Sanders, have positioned their own darts ready to strike. Some 15 years have gone by since Al Qaeda attacked the United States for which Afghanistan and Iraq paid and is still paying a terrible price.

Yet, Congress has chosen to regurgitate this issue with a bill permitting the Kingdom to be stripped of its sovereign immunity so that lawyers acting for the families of 9/11 victims eyeing massive payouts can drag the Saudi government through US courts alleging Saudi participation.

Those lawmakers championing the passing of this scurrilous law designed to entrap Saudi in lengthy litigation are not only casting unacceptable slurs on the integrity of the Saudi Royal family, they are risking the serious erosion of already frayed US relations with the Kingdom, Arabian Gulf States and their Sunni allies.

According to a report in the New York Times, they are also placing America’s economy at grave risk, whose ripples could negatively impact the global economy. It does not help that there is another bill working its way through Congress aimed at curtailing weapons sales to Saudi due to its intervention in Yemen on behalf of the legitimate Yemeni government.

The Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir has warned that to avert the risk of his country’s treasury securities and assets in the US being frozen by courts, the Kingdom would be obliged to sell up to $750bn of its holdings. Bernie Sanders is yelling ‘blackmail’. “Saudi Arabia is one of the most powerful and wealthiest families of the world; that’s why they can threaten to withdraw hundreds of billions of dollars from our economy,” he said. What he fails to understand is that there is no attempt by Saudi to threaten. Which country on earth would leave that amount of money vulnerable to the whims of American politicians on election campaigns!

If this measure goes into effect it could well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It comes on the heels of revelations by Jeffrey Goldberg writing in The Atlantic that President Barack Obama considers Saudi and other Sunni Arab states as “free riders” and when asked “aren’t the Saudis your friends”, he responded saying, “It’s complicated”. Adding insult to injury, he expressed his belief that Saudi must learn to share the neighbourhood with Iran.

On 20 April 2016, Obama is scheduled to arrive in Riyadh on a charm offensive; he will need every ounce he can muster, especially when he is responsible for rearranging the regional geopolitical deckchairs with a deal with Iran, the largest sponsor of terrorism, whose main target is destabilising the security of GCC States, which is why Saudi has formed a 34-nation Muslim anti-terror coalition and has given its blessing to a Joint Arab Force.

Admittedly, Obama is greatly opposed to the Congressional bill and is furiously lobbying against it, but he is doing so solely because he is concerned about its potential diplomatic, military, intelligence, legal and economic repercussions and is right to be so, particularly if all GCC member states decided to follow suit by liquidating and repatriating their own US bonds and other assets. Furthermore, a precedent would be established encouraging Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to sue the United States for the deaths of hundreds of thousands as well as for the civilian victims of drone strikes.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, however, support it, saying they stand with the 9/11 families notwithstanding that Congress approved a $7bn compensation fund for the families of the fallen, the average payout over $2m. Sanders has accused Saudi of spreading a “horrific fundamentalist ideology”, going as far as accusing Riyadh of supporting the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations. In addition, Clinton told ABC News, “Obviously, we’ve got to make anyone who participates in or supports terrorism pay a price…”

Enough is enough! The Obama administration has done all that it can to undermine the forward trajectory of Egypt since its Muslim Brotherhood friends were removed from power and now Congress has launched an offensive against Saudi Arabia, which unlike Iran, was not indicted in the 9/11 Commission Report that reads “no evidence” was found “that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization” or conspired with or funded the attackers.

That same report did, however, evidence that there was increased contact between Iran and Al Qaeda and confirms that several of the 9/11 terrorists were allowed to travel through Iran without receiving the usual stamp in their passports. More recently a US federal court entered a ruling to the effect Iran and its Lebanese sidekick Hezbollah “materially and directly supported Al Qaeda” in the attacks on America and are responsible for paying damages to stricken families. Are those lawmakers who cooked up this bill implying that regional foes and rivals, Saudi and Iran, were in collaboration? That is not only insulting, it is laughable.

It is true that many of the hijackers were Saudi nationals. Then again, many of the suicide bombers and shooters involved in the attacks on Paris and Brussels were Belgian and French nationals, so are we to conclude that the Belgian or French governments were pulling their strings? Of course not! Likewise, several of the Islamic State’s decapitators are British. Is there anyone stupid enough to take the UK government to court? As a matter of fact, a substantial number of Americans have long asked US governments for greater transparency on events surrounding 9/11 but to date their questions remain unanswered.

I would love to know the real reasons why Congress is ignoring the established Iranian connection to go after Saudi. Why is the Kingdom the preferred target? I have found it hard to believe that US politicians of all political stripes are out to weaken GCC states and other majority Sunni countries, but the proof is building daily. The Iranian President gets bouquets and billions. Saudi gets slanders and snubs. Such double standards can no longer be brushed under the rug.

Some of the blame for the circumstance in which we find ourselves should fall to us Arabs and Gulf nationals. We have been far too quick to forgive and too willing to be convinced that the mighty US is our forever friend and has our interests at heart. Now, more than ever, we need tangible proof that Washington is on our side or else we should study alternative options. President Obama will be treated with courtesy and hospitality during his visit to Riyadh this week. But this time his red carpet should not be strewn with flowers but with hard truths.

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