Who We Go to Bed With
Who is our biggest Arab ally in the Middle East? Saudi Arabia. And who has by far the world’s biggest oil reserves? Right again. Saudi Arabia is a fairly new country, one of many whose borders were drawn by the British and French after WWI, from the remains of the collapsed Ottoman Empire. The Arabs had been allies and had done much of the fighting against the Turks, having been promised their independence after the war. They had let themselves believe this meant all the Middle East, but these new nations like Syria, Palestine, and Jordan, would be under either British or French control. The Arabs were left with the desert peninsula of Arabia. After tribal conflicts had been settled, Abdulaziz ibn-Saud eventually gained power when he invaded the holy city of Medina in 1926 and proclaimed himself King. After a 1932 treaty with the British it became the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. So perhaps we can understand a little more about the Arabs’ distrust of the West. Oh, and there was that whole Crusades thing a thousand years before that.
By the end of the war the developed nations were all converting from coal to oil. We’d had prospectors in the Middle East since January 1914, several months before the war. In 1926 Standard Oil of California was granted extensive concessions to the Arabian oil fields, and we’ve been locked in a long kiss ever since. It’s not as if we were their smack whore, “Oh, daddy, I got me the shakes so bad, can you shoot me up with a couple million barrels?” We import less than 10% of our oil from them; most of it comes from Canada and Mexico. They also happen to be one of the biggest customers of our defense contractors. We did a $68 billion deal with them in 2010, 84 F-15 fighter jets and over 100 attack helicopters. A few months ago we sold them 202 Patriot missles. Back in 1990 they revamped and let us use the Prince Sultan Air Base, after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Incidentally, allowing infidels to occupy holy ground upset many Saudis, one of them being Osama bin-Laden.
Before continuing, a brief note that helps us comprehend the current mayhem in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. There are about 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide, and only around 120 million are Shia. The rest are Sunnis. The rift goes back to the Prophet, and who should follow as supreme ruler of Islam. One side says direct descendants, and the other favors appointment of a successor. I don’t care which is which, but they’re both fanatic about it.
With all that as prologue, let’s take a close look at our ally in the sunlight, to see with whom we’ve crawled between the sheets. But as Bette Davis once said, buckle up; it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. The country is a theocracy, a religious monarchy, and 95% Sunni. Ibn-Saud came from central Arabia, the birthplace in the 1740s of the most fundamentalist sect of Islam, founded by Muhammad ibn-Abdul-Wahhab. The Wahhabists called for a return to the original Islam of the Prophet, absent “subsequent accretions and developments,” such as shrines or depictions of the human form. They even destroyed the tomb of the Prophet himself. Ibn-Saud was the hereditary Imam of the Wahhab, and that bond with the royal family might as well be set in stone. The Wahhabists targeted not so much Jews or Christians, but other Muslims who refused to accept their absolute authority (like the Shia). They consistently maintain a puritanical disapproval of alcohol, tobacco, and other luxuries. The Saudis believe they have a monopoly on Islamic truth and purity, and they enforce it with great gusto. 95% of the Saudi population is Sunni.
Their cops on the beat are the religious police, always on the lookout for some offense. They can and do stone adulterers (women only), and sever the hands of thieves. They routinely circumsize young girls (genital mutilation is a more accurate term), so they can never experience sexual pleasure. Recently, 34-year-old Raif Badawi was arrested for a blog he started, calling for open debate on political and religious matters. He was convicted for “insulting Islamic religious leaders” and sentenced to ten years in prison, a $266,000 fine (in U.S. $), and 1000 lashes. On January 9th he was administered the first 50 lashes, which was to continue every Friday for 20 consecutive weeks. Fortunately, he’s received medical exemptions for each Friday since. Allah is merciful and compassionate.
We’ve all been shocked by the filmed beheadings by ISIS, including a couple American journalists. But last year the Saudis had beheaded 59 people by the end of October. They’re carried out in a public square, always after mandatory Friday prayers. No filming is permitted. In August alone, 19 people were beheaded, 8 of them for non-violent offences like drug smuggling or the ultimate sin of apostasy. One of the victims was a schizophrenic woman, beheaded for sorcery. In January parts of the country got snow, uncommon but not rare. Some people made snowmen, until an outraged cleric ruled: “It is not permitted to make statures out of snow, even for purposes of fun or play.”
This is our great ally, and with our human rights record since George W. Bush, we’re really in no position to make moral judgments, are we? Bush held hands with and even kissed King Abdullah, a custom there. President Obama stopped by in February to pay his respects for the just deceased King. All this, in spite of the Saudis’ numerous connections to terrorism in general, and to 9/11 in particular.
15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi citizens. In the few days after the event, when all flights were grounded, several members of the royal family were flown out of the U.S. The New York Times confirmed it in a March 27, 2005 piece, adding that they were aided by the FBI. The 9/11 Commission Report examined if and to what extent the Saudi government or top officials had been involved in the funding for Al-Qaeda. That 28-age section is still classified. One of the secret diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks was from December, 2009, by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She warned that Saudi donors were “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
There’s been an ongoing lawsuit by families of 9/11 victims against the government of Saudi Arabia. On Feb. 4th Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called “20th hijacker,” testified. He’s been held at the Supermax prison in Florence, CO, since 2003. He said he’d been tasked with compiling a database of donors, and named several top officials, among them Prince Turki al-Faisal, Prince Alwaleed bin-Talal, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan. They are all related to the royal family in some fashion.
Prince Turki al-Faisal is the late King Abdullah’s nephew, and was head of Saudi intelligence from 1977 – 2001. He had also managed Riyadh’s (the capital) relations with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban’s Mullah Muhammad Omar, during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. You may or may not remember that the Reagan people were helping a group called the Mujahedeen, including Osama bin-Laden, in their resistance. The film “Charlie Wilson’s War” details the whole story. Reagan even flew some of them to the White House and praised them as “freedom fighters.” They later became a group known as Al-Qaeda.
Prince Alwaleed bin-Talal is the grandson of Saudi Arabia’s founder ibn-Saud, and is the wealthiest member of the royal family. For years he was the second biggest stockholder, (after CEO Rupert Murdoch) of Fox Corp, parent company of Fox News. Mysteriously, he sold off most of the stock the day before Moussaoui’s testimony.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan is a real piece of work, and our intimate relations with him go way back to the Reagan days, when he helped us sell arms to Iran for the release of our hostages in 1980. He’s nephew to both King Abdullah and the present King Salman, and for years was the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. He’s been nicknamed Bandar Bush for his dealings with that family, going back to President G.H.W. Bush. He was chief of Saudi Intelligence from 2012 until April 2014, when he was removed. Why? It might have something to do with a couple American war-hawks, Senators John McCain and Lyndsey Graham. They’d gone over in January to meet with him and beg for money to help the Syrian rebels. “Thank God for the Saudis!” was McCain’s quote to CNN’s Candy Crowley. As it turns out, they’d also met with him in Istanbul in September of 2012. But by April, 2014, a great deal of that Saudi money, and also from Qatar, ended up with a group calling themselves ISIS. Thanks a lot, Senators.
But wait, as late-night TV ads say, there’s still more. From the UK’s Independent, dated July 13 2014, we have a piece by Andrew Cockburn: “Iraq Crisis: how Saudi Arabia helped ISIS take over the north of the country.” Iraq is 65% Shia, and they have been the majority of casualties. Remember the Wahhabists’ dedication to go after other Muslims who fail to heed their authority? Syria’s Assad is an Alawite, a sect of the Shia, although 74% of Syria is Sunni, so ISIS is fighting there, too. The article details a conversation between Bandar and then head of British Intelligence unit MI6, Richard Dearlove, in which Bandar is quoted as saying: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will literally be ‘God help the Shia.’ More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.” This meeting took place before 9/11!
Many questions pose themselves. Why should we believe Moussaoui, a pretty unsavory character? Why would he lie? Why can’t we see those classified 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission? Altogether, much of this may be circumstantial evidence, but there seems to be a pretty hefty weight of it, and it all smells to high heaven. These are the people we’ve soiled the sheets with (and we didn’t even think to bring protection). If after reading all of this you feel you need to take a shower, I understand. Of course we have our own version of fundamental religious fanatics right here at home, the Christian Right. Some of them, like Rick Santorum, have too much power, too. The only difference is one of degree. I don’t know how to sum it up, except by the old adage that if you lie down with dogs, you should expect fleas.