Saturday, June 23, 2007

US effectively paying the enemy by giving aid to Saudi Arabia

"With poor countries all over the globe begging us for help, why are we giving money to this oil-rich nation?"
The U.S. State Department has routinely criticized Saudi Arabia for religious intolerance, disenfranchisement of women and arbitrary justice. While our soldiers are dying in Iraq, millions upon millions of Saudi dollars are flooding into Iraq supporting the Sunni insurgency, hundreds if not thousands of Saudi jihadists are martyring themselves, murdering countless noncombatants, women and children in Iraqi cities and towns while Saudi imams, funded directly or indirectly by the Saudi state, preach their venomous hatred of Shiites, Christians and Jews.

U.N. committees and groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also have been critical of the Saudi legal system and its rights record, including punishments such as flogging and amputation.

Riyadh tends to dismiss the criticism by saying it follows the traditions of Islamic law.

Saudi Arabia is home to the two holiest sites in Islam -- Mecca and Medina -- and to a conservative Sunni Muslim ideology often called Wahhabism.

Despite the efforts by the lawmakers to cut off aid, the United States has had a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia in terms of energy and security.

But recently Saudi King Abdullah has asserted a more robust leadership role in the Middle East, putting himself at odds with Washington over Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abdullah made a statement late in March that the
United States' presence in Iraq is an "illegal foreign occupation"

According to the Energy Information Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Energy, crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia are the third largest after Canada and Mexico.

Until 2003, the United States kept up to 10,000 soldiers in Saudi Arabia to help enforce a no-fly zone over southern Iraq that was put in place after the first Gulf War in 1991. Most of those forces have been withdrawn.

In the past three years, congress has passed bills to stop the relatively small amount of US aid to Saudi Arabia, only to see the administration of George Bush, the president, circumvent the prohibitions.

Contentious aid

According to supporters of the legislation, the United States provided $2.5m to Riyadh in 2005 and 2006.

The money has been used to train Saudis in counter-terrorism and border security and to pay for Saudi military officers to attend US military school.

"With poor countries all over the globe begging us for help, why are we giving money to this oil-rich nation?"

Shelley Berkley, Democratic congressman
"Saudi Arabia propagates terrorism," Shelley Berkley, another Democrat, said, highlighting that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudi.

She added that Saudi youths had entered Iraq to "wage jihad" against US forces fighting there.

Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of the al-Qaeda group that carried out the September 11 attacks, was expelled from the kingdom in 1991 for anti-government activities.

Members of the House of Representatives also complained that with Saudi Arabia's vast wealth from oil revenues, US taxpayers do not need to subsidize training Saudis.
Book Recommendation:

Sleeping with the Devil

According to Robert Baer, the center of the global economy is a "kingdom built on thievery, one that nurtures terrorism, destroys any possibility of a middle class based on property rights, and promotes slavery and prostitution." This kingdom also sits on one quarter of the world's oil reserves, thus ensuring that it receives the full support and protection of the U.S. government. Sleeping With the Devil details the hypocritical and corrupt relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and the potentially calamitous economic consequences of maintaining this Faustian bargain.

As Baer makes clear, the U.S. has been aware of problems within the bitterly divided Al Sa'ud family for years, but has ignored the facts in order to keep lucrative business deals afloat. (The amount of money the royal family spends to influence powerful American politicians and lobbyists is staggering.) Particularly damning are his details regarding Saudi Arabia's support of militant Islamic groups, including al Qaeda. The ruling family funnels millions of dollars to such groups in order to dissuade them from overthrowing the monarchy--a protection scheme that is shaky at best, given the hatred most citizens feel for the ruling family. To prevent economic disaster that could come from either a local uprising or an interruption in the flow of oil due to terrorism, Baer raises the possibility of the U.S. seizing the Saudi oil fields and forcing a regime change on its own terms: "An invasion and a revolution might be the only things that can save the industrial West from a prolonged, wrenching depression," he warns.

Baer spent 21 years with the CIA, much of it in the Middle East, so he is an informed guide to this complex subject. His alarming book deserves to be read for raising many important and troubling questions. --Shawn Carkonen

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