Time to re-evaluate Saudi relationship

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Secretary of Defense Ash Carter places his hand over his heart as the National Anthem is played during an honor cordon welcoming the Minister of Defense of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud to the Pentagon for a meeting May 13, 2015. DoD Photo by Glenn Fawcett (Released)
Photo by Glenn Fawcett (Released)

Mister Bone Saw. That’s what many people around the world are calling Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince

Mohammed bin Salman (or MBS). Growing evidence from various sources, including the CIA, indicate that he ordered the assassination of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It seems that Khashoggi was lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he was tortured and strangled to death by a hit squad of 15 Saudi government operatives. One of them was a medical examiner who brought a bone saw to dismember the body.

An unnamed State Department official told ABC News that the U.S. government knows who is responsible. “The idea that it goes all the way to the top (in Saudi Arabia) is blindingly obvious,” the State Department official told the TV network. “There’s overwhelming consensus that the leadership is involved — no one is debating it within the government.”

Not exactly. Donald Trump, who happens to be president, is debating it. Trump admits that MBS might be responsible but argues that America shouldn’t alienate the Saudi regime too much because he says it’s spending $110 billion on U.S. weapons, which Trump has variously claimed will generate 450,000, 500,000 or 600,000 American jobs.

According to a report by William Hartung of the Center for International Policy, a Washington D.C. think-tank, these figures are vastly exaggerated. Actually, the State Department puts the total at $14.5 billion, and that many of the potential jobs created would be in Saudi Arabia itself.

Hartung argues that Saudi Arabia needs the U.S. much more than we need them. Trump has claimed that other arms suppliers like Russia or China will quickly take any business turned down by the U.S. But Hartung says that Saudi armed forces are so dependent on U.S. hardware it would be very onerous for them to change suppliers selling totally incompatible equipment.

“The preponderance of U.S. equipment used by Saudi forces also makes it difficult for another supplier like Russia or China to replace the United States as a major supplier to Riyadh,” Hartung’s report says. “It would take decades for the Kingdom to wean itself from dependence on U.S. equipment, training and support, and new equipment might not be easily interoperable with U.S.-supplied systems.”

So we could easily pressure the Saudis about human rights. But Trump isn’t interested. He has a simple message devoid of the usual high-minded presidential talk of democracy and justice — if you help American capitalists make a lot of money, you can do whatever you want.

Minnesota’s newly elected Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar remarked, “Once again, our president proves that you can’t buy a moral compass. Saudi Arabia proves that you can, on the other hand, buy a president.” Hawaii’s Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said, “Being Saudi Arabia’s bitch is not ‘America First.’” Even some Republicans expressed dismay. Tennesee’s GOP Senator Bob Corker grumbled, “I never thought I’d see the day when a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.”

Khashoggi started out as a member of the Saudi elite but became a critic and moved to Washington, D.C. He became a permanent resident of the U.S. and a regular Washington Post columnist. In his last column, which was published posthumously, he emphasized the need for a free press and the free exchange of ideas in the Arab world.

“The Arab world needs a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events,” Khashoggi wrote. “More important, we need to provide a platform for Arab voices.

“We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education,” he said. “Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face.”

In a column in September, Khashoggi urged the crown prince to end the horrific war in Yemen, which was started in March 2015 by a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

The bombing campaign by the coalition is responsible for most of the deaths. Many thousands of civilians have been killed and many more have become homeless. 85,000 children are estimated to have died from malnutrition and disease since the war began.

Many millions of people are on the brink of a famine, which the United Nations says would be the worst in more than 100 years. The Saudi-led coalition is using starvation as a weapon. A report by Martha Mundy of the World Peace Foundation says that the coalition’s bombers constantly target agricultural land and fishing sites, dairy farms, food processing factories, and markets where food is sold.

The United States is deeply involved in this war — providing bombs the coalition is using, refueling their planes before they drop those bombs, and assisting with intelligence.

The war has strengthened Islamic terrorists. A 2016 State Department report found that the conflict between Saudi-led forces and the Houthi insurgents had helped Al Qaeda and the Islamic State’s Yemen branch “deepen their inroads across much of the country.”

After Khashoggi’s murder, questions are being raised about the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia from figures across the political spectrum. It’s about time.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.