September 15, 2015
It is long past time for a campaign to end the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia and all of the cruel grasping hereditary dictatorships in the Persian Gulf. While U.S arms merchants are making billions selling weapons to these dictatorships, U.S. taxpayers are underwriting the expenditure of trillions of dollars on military bases, troops, contractors, weapons systems, and fleets, all in support of tyrannical regimes, unending wars and cruel occupations.
Saudi King Salman decided that a 10-vehicle motorcade in Washington, D.C., was too small for his needs, so his people rented 400 black Mercedes S-class automobiles to make it bigger. There was no place to put them all, so the White House housed them at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland until they were needed. Wall Street Journal correspondent Carol Lee snapped a picture. Salman was in D.C. earlier this month for a meeting with President Obama. To house his retinue, he rented the entire Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown. The lavish hotel evidently wasn’t decorated up to his standards, so gold furniture and red carpets had to be wheeled in to spruce it up.
Salman does live large. At the end of July he vacationed on the French Riviera at his royal villa in Vallauris. The public beach was fenced off for the occasion and a temporary elevator built to bring the 79-year-old ruler down to the sand. As big as the mansion was, it couldn’t contain his entire retinue. Forbes reported that the 1,000-strong collection of officials, aides, “courtiers, hangers-on, and wannabes” had to be housed elsewhere.
In Yemen, where the monumental vanity of the Saudi regime caused it to interfere and invade, conditions are far less opulent. UNICEF said in August that 10 million children need urgent humanitarian assistance. “Ten million children” is an abstraction, hard to understand. Instead think about one child crying all night in pain or hunger and multiply the sound 10 million times.
What a collection of heroes the Saudis have gathered to make war on Yemenis! It includes Persian Gulf monarchs whose construction and domestic work is done under conditions of near slavery, the Egyptian dictator who holds the one-day record for slaughter at a sit-in and the Sudanese president whose travel options are limited because he’s under indictment for genocide and crimes against humanity (think Darfur). Let’s not leave out the U.S president, who has kill notches on his Nobel Peace Prize for missions ranging from Libya to Pakistan.
As Barack Obama met the Saudi king, scores of protesters stood in front of the White House with signs and banners. Among them was a man in striped prison garb with a King Salman mask. The activists were mostly Yemenis residing in the U.S and members of the anti-war group Code Pink. Some had signs displaying the hashtag #KefayaWar, meaning “Enough War.” One photo shows the man masked as Salman giving a mock flogging, a favorite regime punishment. In June, blogger Raif Badawi’s 1,000-lash sentence was upheld by the Saudi Supreme Court. (My interview with Medea Benjamin of Code Pink about the weekend protests are on YouTube.)
The demonstration took place at a time when an effort has started to end the 70-year U.S.-Saudi alliance. A new website was unveiled with that demand on its home page. The initial sponsors of the campaign are the Institute for Gulf Affairs, Code Pink, Massachusetts Peace Action and the Middle East Crisis Committee (which I chair). The site links to a simple petition that says: “The U.S. has spent trillions on military forces in the Persian Gulf. Washington supports tyrannical regimes, wars and cruel occupations without making us safe. Close the U.S. bases and bring the fleet home NOW.”
That phrase “spent trillions” may be surprising. It’s well known that the U.S. sells the regime immense amounts of weapons. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Reuters that Obama and Salman had discussed “fast-tracking of the release of American military technology and weapons systems” at their White House conclave. Arms sales bring in money to the U.S. (or at least to merchants of death who own U.S. weapons factories). However, there’s also the cost to U.S. taxpayers that for some reason is rarely mentioned. Back in 2011, Princeton University professor Roger Stern estimated that since the time of Jimmy Carter the U.S. had spent more than $8 trillion on military measures in the Gulf. An earlier study by the University of California at Davis said that if there was no oil in the Persian Gulf, “defense expenditures might be reduced in the long run by roughly $27-$73 billion per year [in 2004 dollars].” Military bases, soldiers, sailors, contractors, weapons system, fleets, CENTCOM—they’re all financed by a flood of dollars. Without the Saudi-U.S. alliance, there could be an enormous peace dividend.
Yemen is the most obvious location of Saudi troublemaking, but its money-fueled ambitions are regionwide and beyond. It supports the most extreme sectarian forces in Syria and the thousands of volunteers who rally to their call. At a crucial moment after the 2013 Egyptian coup led by Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi—when Western nations temporarily cut off funding—the Saudis gave the general a cool $12 billion in aid. They sent tanks into Bahrain in 2011 to help the Sunni king there continue to oppress the majority Shiites. In 2010 The Times of London reported that the Saudi air defense system had practiced procedures to allow Israeli jets free passage over the Saudi heartland in order to blitzkrieg Iran. The Jerusalem Post reported on the claim with the headline “Saudi airspace open for Iran attack.” Saudi plans go beyond the Middle East, however. The kingdom’s funding for Wahhabi madrassas worldwide is notorious.
Breaking the U.S. alliance with the Saudis would also free Americans from the stain of being partners with a hideous human rights abuser, nicknamed the Kingdom of Horrors. Its executions by decapitation often occur in public spaces for public edification (or gruesome amusement). In a new report, Amnesty International says at least 175 people were executed by the Saudis between August 2014 and June of this year. The list of crimes that result in capital punishment is long and includes drug offenses, witchcraft and sorcery. Its farcical ban on female driving is well known, but its fanatical devotion to “female modesty” practically knows no bounds. In 2002, morality police blocked a rescue of girls in a school fire because the girls were “not wearing the headscarves and abayas [black robes]”. Fifteen burned to death in the school.
Obviously, trying to break a longstanding alliance is a major, major battle, but it’s not hopeless. Just before Salman’s visit, New York Times pundit Tom Friedman wrote a column calling the Saudis the main purveyor of radical Islam in the world. Forbes magazine followed with a piece calling the kingdom “the world’s most un-American country” and suggested that “thanks to the oil glut President Obama need not kowtow to King Salman.” The Washington Post had a piece about the near-identical views on justice held by the Saudi regime and Islamic State at the start of this year. Even among the establishment, there’s unease with the alliance.
The left is generally quiet about all this. Even after it saw warm relations develop between Israel and the kingdom, not much was said. The muted reaction is no doubt motivated by fear of helping those who try to spread hatred for Islam. Yet the fear is misplaced. Take a look at hater sites like that of Pamela Geller and you see that they don’t go after the Saudis at all. The bigot sites are not going to criticize allies of Israel.
So there’s no reason to hold back. It’s time for an unrelenting campaign to break with the cruel and grasping Gulf hereditary dictatorships.
Postscript: On Sept. 8 we learned that Saudi Arabian authorities banned the August issue of National Geographic’s Arabic version. The cover has Pope Francis standing in the Sistine Chapel, and this was deemed an offense for “cultural reasons.” Kooky, but not so surprising in a country where the grand mufti has called for the destruction of all churches on the Arabian Peninsula.