Apr 21, 2011

Obama’s dilemma in Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia is an exceptional ally of the United States where American values and interests collide, and where Washington’s sincerity in supporting democracy and human rights is open to question. The Human Rights Watch reported today that the Saudi authorities have arrested since February 2011 over 160 peaceful protestors in violation of international human rights law. Like the three monkeys, though, the Obama administration publicly pretends to be deaf, blind and mute.

“It’s the oil,” tells me Peter Bergen, a terrorism analyst and author of Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Bin Laden. “Countries are not people. The relationships are mostly based on interests. We’re going to stick with the Saudis.” The reason is obvious. They have the world’s largest oil reserves. And the U.S. is heavily dependent on its relationship with Saudi Arabia to keep oil prices manageable and to help fight terrorism.

The problem, however, is that we have been calling the Saudis “moderate” – defying what being “moderate” really means when it comes to religious practices. In this context, all it means is that the Saudis are a committed ally of the U.S.

When the majority of the 9/11 hijackers turned out to be Saudi nationals, however, many realized that calling Saudis moderate did not do justice to the term.  The U.S. media felt completely free to strongly criticize the Saudis, and the Kingdom’s image soared. The Saudis created a full-court press of public relations, but it turned out to be ineffective. So they came up with a cunning diplomatic plan.

The Saudi initiative, later accepted as the Arab initiative, aimed to bring a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the Saudis showed themselves to be key in solving this long-term conflict, they also knew how to silence their American critics – and suddenly the negative press subsided. It’s clear that this issue is being used as a distraction for numerous reasons.

When the Middle East is transforming so rapidly, however, it is not clear what will save the Saudi Kingdom this time. “Who thought that Libya was immune from the Arab awakening,” says Bergen. “Two years down the road, it is possible [that they are forced to make changes.] There are ways for these monarchies to change. They can become constitutional monarchies. There are no constitutional dictatorships, right? They’re also able to bribe their citizens.”

Indeed, King Abdullah ordered a massive development and state welfare payment for the people in February easily excessing 35 billion dollars. Still, time will show whether money can buy everything. But one thing is clear: When the Israelis go to the polls next time to change their government, it will be a routine practice for them.

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