Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Saudi Arabia's Threats, 9-11 and President Obama

You may recall that there was a Saudi connection to 9-11. Fifteen of the nineteen men who committed the attack were Saudi Arabian citizens. Saudi Arabia practices, underwrites and exports a fierce puritanical brand of Islam, one which is implacably hostile to all other religions including other versions of Islam. Thomas Friedman gets it mostly right when he writes that  Nothing has been more corrosive to the stability and modernization of the Arab world, and the Muslim world at large, than the billions and billions of dollars the Saudis have invested since the 1970s into wiping out the pluralism of Islam — the Sufi, moderate Sunni and Shiite versions — and imposing in its place the puritanical, anti-modern, anti-women, anti-Western, anti-pluralistic Wahhabi Salafist brand of Islam promoted by the Saudi religious establishment. It is not an accident that several thousand Saudis have joined the Islamic State or that Arab Gulf charities have sent ISIS donations. It is because all these Sunni jihadist groups — ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Nusra Front — are the ideological offspring of the Wahhabism injected by Saudi Arabia into mosques and madrasas from Morocco to Pakistan to Indonesia. And we, America, have never called them on that — because we’re addicted to their oil and addicts never tell the truth to their pushers.
So I wasn't that surprised to learn that the Saudi Arabian government, alarmed at the possibility that the Congress might pass a bill allowing exceptions to foreign governmental immunity in the case where American citizens have been murdered, made some crude threats about selling off US assets were that bill to become law. "Nice economy you got here kid. Be a shame if anything were to happen to it. You savvy??"

Saudi Arabia has told the Obama administration and members of Congress that it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American assets held by the kingdom if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. 

The Obama administration has lobbied Congress to block the bill’s passage, according to administration officials and congressional aides from both parties, and the Saudi threats have been the subject of intense discussions in recent weeks between lawmakers and officials from the State Department and the Pentagon. The officials have warned senators of diplomatic and economic fallout from the legislation. Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, delivered the kingdom’s message personally last month during a trip to Washington, telling lawmakers that Saudi Arabia would be forced to sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets in the United States before they could be in danger of being frozen by American courts. 
Several outside economists are skeptical that the Saudis will follow through, saying that such a sell-off would be difficult to execute and would end up crippling the kingdom’s economy. But the threat is another sign of the escalating tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United States. LINK
While I don't like ambulance chasers or attorneys/organizations who seek nothing more than to shake down institutions with big pockets, I also don't care for foreign nations trying to insert themselves and their interests into US politics. Saudi Arabia is hardly the first or worst offender but it seems as if their concerns might have been better addressed privately. If there is evidence that some additional Saudi citizens, in or out of their government, knew about, planned, financed or assisted in the 9-11 attack then I would certainly want them held accountable, preferably criminally but civilly is fine. I have relatives and friends who worked in or visited the World Trade Center. It could just as easily been some of them there that day. This contretemps also shows that somehow Saudi Arabia has forgotten who is the superpower and who is not. It might be time for the President to remind Saudi Arabia of that rather than run interference against 9-11 families who want answers and/or possible recompense. This is a larger problem than Saudi Arabia. There is something wrong with our political establishment and foreign policy when so-called allies from Tel Aviv to Ridyadh feel free to inject themselves in American politics, skim off billions in financial and military aid, insult our leaders and tell our legislators what they'd better not do. This needs to be fixed. One way that the President could respond to the Saudi threats is to declassify the 28 pages from the Joint Inquiry Intelligence Committee report on 9-11 which, according to former Senator Bob Graham, outlines a Saudi network which allegedly aided and assisted in the attacks. For what it's worth, as a candidate Barack Obama promised to fully declassify this report but as President, he hasn't done it. So it goes. The President will be in Ridyadh on Wednesday. I hope that he has something positive to report afterwards but I'm not sanguine about that possibility. It is important to remember that no matter what, each country has and will pursue its own interests. Saudi Arabia is no exception to that rule. This would be an excellent time to redefine our relationship with that country.
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