The Case for an Overhaul in U.S.-Saudi Relations

By Michael Krasna, @mkraz24

 

(photograph by Carolyn Kaster, AP. Courtesy of NPR.)

 

As was reported by The New York Times on February 3, 2015, al-Qaeda member and 9/11 terrorist Zacharias Moussaoui, came out with information implicating the Saudi royal family in financing al-Qaeda terrorist attacks at the end of the 1990’s, and very possibly, 9/11. This news brings with it an opportunity for Americans to pause and take in the reality that the US is allied with a regime that may have paid for the most devastating terror attack to ever happen on American soil; a country that our president took time out of his busy schedule to attend their King’s funeral. So, while you are pausing and reflecting, consider the following reasons to completely revamp our cozy relationship with The Kingdom.

 

First, lets take a look at Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. In Freedom House’s annual report on human rights, Saudi Arabia deservingly won a spot on the “Worst of the Worst” list of human rights abusers alongside great beacons of freedom such as North Korea, Syria, and Somalia. In Saudi Arabia, a woman cannot represent her country on an international stage, and gays live in fear of being stoned to death on a daily basis. Waleed Abu al-Khair is a lawyer and human rights activist who was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison for “incitement of public opinion against authorities” for representing his client, Raif Badawi, who was charged with blasphemy. Badawi was later found guilty and was sentenced to 1,000 lashes. Al-Khair is only one of the thousands of Saudis who are being unfairly penalized for voicing their grievances with the Saudi regime. Most harrowing of all is the regularity and the methodology by which Saudi Arabia executes its citizens. According to the State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report on Saudi Arabia, a total of 26 executions were carried out that year by beheading. You read that correctly. Taking that into account, that means that as millions of Americans are decrying the heinous beheadings perpetrated by ISIS, those same Americans apparently look the other way when Saudi Arabia commits the same crimes. As a nation that prides itself on civil liberties and promotes critical discourse, the US should expect its closest allies to hold themselves to a similar standard.

 

Additionally, Saudi Arabia’s support for radical Islam and internal anti-American sentiment are both very troubling factors in America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. If Zacharias Moussaoui’s allegations are proven correct and the Saudis did indeed fund al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabia will qualify as a state sponsor of terrorism. Until we find out for sure, we can take a look at what we already know about Saudi support for terrorism. In an article written by Owen Jones in The Guardian, he points to a memo that was secretly signed by Hillary Clinton, and later leaked by Wikileaks. In it, Clinton states that Saudi donors accounted for “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” The fact that the Saudi government allows for this funding points to a serious trend of anti-American sentiment prevalent in Saudi Arabia. If it turns out that the Saudis had any role in financing al-Qaeda, especially if they provided funds for 9/11, the United States must distance itself from Saudi Arabia at all costs. A country that supports any terror, specifically against the United States, is no friend to the United States and should never be treated as such.

In assessing the US-Saudi relationship, many are often fearful that the US needs Saudi Arabia because the US is dependent on their oil. This was clearly apparent in 2003, when the US imported an average of 1,726 barrels each day, around 630,000 barrels for the year. However, the US is currently working to grow its energy independence, by harnessing its own oil reserves through fracking and other methods, and investing in alternative energy such as wind and solar power. One must only look at the recent plummet in gas prices across the US for reason to continue to invest in domestic energy production. The expansion of domestic energy can create countless new jobs that would otherwise be outsourced, and would open up the prospect for the US to become an energy-exporting nation. Until now, the Saudis have been able to strong-arm the US into turning a blind eye on its repressive regime. However, as the US reduces dependence on Saudi oil, I believe that now is an opportunity for America to finally dictate the terms of this relationship.

 

I’m not proposing cutting all ties with The Kingdom – doing so would greatly diminish the US’s power and influence in the Middle East, not to mention losing an integral partner in the fight against ISIS and a nuclear armed Iran. What I am asking is for the US to put pressure on Saudi Arabia by continuing to reduce its oil imports as well as use diplomatic pressure at the UN Human Rights Council to put an end to the repressive policies coming out of Riyadh. Do we really want to be bedfellows with a country that arrests political dissidents and beheads its citizens?

I hope that we will soon see a day when the answer to this question will be a resounding no, and that the US will do what is necessary to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its actions.

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