The Saudi military intervention in Yemen was launched, according to Riyadh, to “restore the legitimate government” and protect the “Yemeni constitution and elections.” This sudden desire to fight for constitutions and elections sounds odd, coming from an absolute monarchy which is consistently combating efforts at democratization at home or in its neighborhood.
As Ali Alahmed, once the youngest political prisoner in Saudi Arabia (at 14) explained in a CNN commentary on April 12, the real Saudi objective in Yemen reflects its determination to prevent the rise of any popularly supported government in the region. The U.S. has adopted the Saudi-Gulf narrative on Yemen, effectively placing Saudi ambitions to control that country above previous American priority of destroying al Qaeda’s safe haven there. This was underscored when State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki endorsed Saudi bombing (the “Saudis have legitimate concerns about the possible impact of current events in Yemen on their security”), thus implying that any country “concerned” about its neighbors can bomb them. “[T]he excuse of ‘resisting Iran’s influence,’ meanwhile, appears to be nothing but sectarian bluster,” Alahmed concludes. “By supporting a self-interested Saudi campaign, the U.S. may actually empower an al Qaeda with the potential still to do great harm to the United States.”
This view is shared by a number of U.S. special forces and Special Operations Command (SOCOM) officers, who oppose American support for the Saudi-led intervention because its target, “the Shia Houthi movement – which has taken over much of Yemen and which Riyadh accuses of being a proxy for Tehran – has been an effective counter to Al-Qaeda.” Michael Horton, a Yemen expert who has previously consulted the U.S. and U.K. governments, told Al-Jazeera on April 17 that he was “confounded” by the intervention, noting that many in SOCOM “favor the Houthis, as they have been successful in rolling back [Al-Qaeda] and now IS [Islamic State] from a number of Yemeni governorates,” which hundreds of U.S. drone strikes and large numbers of advisers on the ground had failed to accomplish:
“These constant reports that the Houthis are working for the Iranians are nonsense, but the view is right out of the neocon playbook,” he said. “The Israelis have been touting this line that we lost Yemen to Iran. That’s absurd. The Houthis don’t need Iranian weapons. They have plenty of their own. And they don’t require military training. They’ve been fighting Al-Qaeda since at least 2012, and they’ve been winning. Why are we fighting a movement that’s fighting Al-Qaeda?”
THE REAL THREAT TO Saudi Arabia’s long-term stability is not the Houthis on its southern border; it is its dysfunctional political system. The members of the royal family – whose numbers exceed 30,000 – are unwilling to end their addiction to a lifestyle of parasitic idleness and adversity to change. It lacks political resolve to undertake pressing domestic reforms critical to Saudi Arabia’s future stability. If and when the Ibn Saud dynasty collapses, a populist Islamic regime is more likely to rule Saudi Arabia, rather than a reformist, modernizing movement – with catastrophic geopolitical consequences. The Kingdom is postponing that moment by running a police state at home, and by courting continuous U.S. support abroad, facilitated by the well-known capacity of the Saudis to purchase influence in Washington’s high places.
Their close connections to powerful families like the Bushes is well known, their spending on top law, PR and lobbying firms less so. The result is a decades-long conspiracy of silence on Saudi Arabia’s role in abetting Islamic terrorism. One of the few former senior officials to break the ranks after 9-11 was Samuel “Sandy” Berger, President Clinton’s national security advisor. “The veil has been lifted and the American people see a double game,” he declared in early 2002, a rare case of a Washingtonian insider telling the truth. Berger noted that the Saudi regime is repressive with respect to the extremists that threaten them, “but more than tolerant – indeed, the more we find out, beneficent – to the general movement of extreme Islamists in the region.”
Tens of thousands of Saudis have completed terrorist training or received combat experience abroad since 1979. Saudi Arabia is not nearly as populous as Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, or Bangladesh, but the initiated Jihadi volunteers originating from the Kingdom are proportionately over-represented everywhere. At home they planted a bomb in Riyadh that killed five Americans in November 1995. In June 1996 they bombed the air base in Al Khobar, killing 19 American airmen and wounding hundreds more. Fifteen of the nineteen 9-11 attackers were Saudi citizens. From Chechnya to the Philippines and Bosnia, there gave a distinct Wahhabist imprint on the proceedings, such as the ritual decapitation of 26 Serb POWs captured on videotape in Bosnia. They participated in the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. The bombing in Yemen of the destroyer USS Cole in October 2000 was masterminded by a Saudi, Tawfiq al-Atash.
All along the Islamic “charities” that financed terrorists include prominent members of the royal family on their boards. Since 1992, one such Saudi charity, the Al Haramin Foundation, has distributed hundreds of millions of dollars, with money often ending up in extremist coffers. Saudi state-sponsored program of building thousands of mosques and Islamic centers all over the world continues unabated. The Muslim World League was founded in Mecca in 1962, and a decade later the Organization of the Islamic Conference, with its headquarters in Jeddah. Both organizations are richly endowed by Saudi petrodollars. The MWL runs the world’s largest printing presses, producing tens of millions of Kurans every year for worldwide distribution.
Almost 15 years later, the role of Saudi Arabia in the 9-11 attacks still remains hidden from the American public in those famous 28 pages of the Congressional report. The Kingdom’s rulers differ from their brainchildren, such as ISIS, only in degree. Saudi religious establishment claims that extremists “distort Islamic teachings,” but beyond such declarations there is silence. There has been no public repudiation of recent mass executions of Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians by ISIS. The Saudi establishment does not object to Islamic terrorist violence, provided it is directed against the “right” people.
SAUDIS, THE DOLLAR’S PROTECTORS – Short of an extraordinary paradigm shift, the Washingtonian policy-making “community” will continue to insist that Saudi Arabia is a “valuable ally.” To the advocates of continued global hegemony Riyadh is hugely important as a means of ensuring that the bulk of the world’s oil trade will be carried out in dollars for years to come – which requires a Middle East controlled by the U.S. and able to effect regime changes to nip possible anti-dollar alliances in the bud. To that end, the neoconservative PNAC has always favored America’s open-ended engagement in the “Greater Middle East”:
However, ‘dollar imperialism’ is fundamentally a highly unstable construction… On the one hand, it keeps alive a gigantic apparatus of violence in the U.S. at the expense of (and ultimately financed by) the whole of humanity. On the other, this construction is based on chaos, violence, and civil wars, particularly in the oil-rich regions that may therefore collapse at any time, plunging the world into serious crises.
To examine in detail the flawed assumptions behind this policy is long overdue. The Saudi regime is a playground of great wealth protected by a large investment in theocratic excess. America needs to set herself free from the need to pander to Saudi whims, including the “right” of its government to bankroll thousands of mosques and Islamic centers around the world that preach Wahhabist intolerance and provide the logistic infrastructure to extremists. America also needs to reassess the long-term domestic consequences of an ultimately untenable global economic system with the dollar as its reserve currency. That system is based on a financial hocus-pocus. It breeds an ever-expanding U.S. public debt which will never be paid, and which finances enormous military spending (45 percent higher now than before 9/11, and greater than the next seven countries combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). It is unfortunate that neither major party will field a candidate in November 2016 able to grasp those twin necessities and willing to propose specific policies that would address them.
Decades of support for Islamic movements and regimes whenever they were deemed useful to U.S. short-term foreign policy and financial objectives have been an unmitigated disaster. Operationally, this policy still requires not only overlooking the nefarious activities of the supposedly friendly Muslim states – notably Saudi Arabia’s crucial early support for ISIS in 2013-14 – but also a consistent American bias in favor of the Muslim party in virtually every conflict with Christians, and for the Sunni side against the Shiites.
WASHINGTON’S BACKING FOR Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen sets the stage for a new set of problems with Iran, with Riyadh strongly siding with Israel’s leaders and the War Party in Washington in their desire to see the U.S. involved in a new, potentially disastrous Middle Eastern war. For some years now Saudi Arabia and Israel have had a common foe in Iran and its zone of influence (Hezbollah in Lebanon, Bashar in Syria, Shiites in Iraq). “This once-unthinkable alliance has become possible,” Robert Parry wrote last week, “and the Saudis, as they are wont to do, may have thrown lots of money into the deal.” In retrospect, it is clear what Netanyahu had in mind when he declared in a speech before the UN General Assembly in October 2013 that “the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran and the emergence of other threats in our region have led many of our Arab neighbors to finally recognize, that Israel is not their enemy. And this affords us the opportunity to overcome the historic animosities and build new relationships, new friendships, new hopes.”
Washington cannot fight ISIS and “violent extremism” while appeasing Saudi-financed Islamist designs around the world – including its partnership with Netanyahu in promoting an all-out U.S. war against Iran – and at the same time allowing mass immigration of Muslims into America’s borders. The problem is whether our decision-makers have the capacity to reassess the Saudi “alliance” in the light of the U.S.’s sanely defined strategic and economic interests, and whether they will do so before the Saudi connection results in a comprehensive geopolitical, economic, and military disaster. The prospects are not good.
[Click here to read Part I]