Most meaningful business is hammered out behind closed doors at the embassies and kept secret. Quite frankly, Trump is neither intellectually nor politically up to that kind of negotiation.
Despite the bizarre, even farcical pageantry of Trump’s Saudi Arabia trip—like the orb, the sword dance, the curtsey, the “drive them out” speech—what happened there is quite significant. It’s unlikely, with Trump being present, that much was accomplished at the three meetings he held—one with Saudi leaders, one with officials of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the third a so-called summit with leaders from nearly 50 Muslim countries. Most meaningful business is hammered out behind closed doors at the embassies and kept secret. Quite frankly, Trump is neither intellectually nor politically up to that kind of negotiation.
What Trump’s visit did do was publicly declare and renew the symbiotic relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States. He did not alter that relationship but cement it against an avalanche of criticism because of Saudi Arabia’s egregious human rights crimes like beheading dissidents.
Saudi Arabia is a construct of British and American colonialism, not unlike the state of Israel. It’s the state that US oil enterprises built—from the physical infrastructure to extract and transport oil to the consolidation of the Saud clan as a state to the formation of the working class. It does not, however, have a one-sided vassal-client relationship of dependency on the US but is entirely a reciprocity—something like a death grip. It has long been true that Saudi Arabia can impact the world economy and throw it for a loop by producing more oil or withholding it from the market. The Saudi government can use the price of oil as a strategic weapon on the world market even though the US is no longer dependent on Saudi oil. But it is the geopolitics that makes Saudi Arabia a linchpin for US politics in the Middle East. It is not an exaggeration to claim its importance now to the US, especially after the Arab revolutions of 2011-2012, probably outstrips that of Israel as a fortress against the democratic aspirations of the Arab peoples.
But again, there is a reciprocity. The last thing the Saudi rulers want is an Arab Spring in Saudi Arabia and they know it’s coming. As formidable and powerful as it looks, Saudi Arabia is a fragile state ruled by a corrupt, self-serving clan; it’s artificially propped up by militarism; plagued by internal opposition to autocratic rule; using violence and repression to broker the relationship with an unorganised but volatile working class; sustaining massive levels of desperate poverty; and trying to manage cleavages between and with extremist and politicised religious conservatives. That’s why a huge percentage of foreign military aid goes to maintaining the 33,000 personnel in the Saudi Arabian Royal Guard Regiment, the personal security force for the House of Saud. That’s how many body guards it takes to prop up a predatory repressive monarchy.
From the point of view of counter-revolution, Saudi Arabia could not be more ideally and strategically located in the Middle East and in proximity to parts of Africa, South Asia and Central Asia. In that regard if also not in size, Israel’s strategic importance is dwarfed, not in terms of overcoming Palestinian resistance but in terms of overall US goals in the region. With the spread of revolution against autocracy in the Middle East, Israel is no longer a sufficient bulwark. So the heart of Saudi geopolitical importance is that interdependent relationship between US interests in the region and those of the Saudi regime.
… fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 conspirators were Saudi nationals … by 2001 the CIA probably knew the players in terrorist networks up close and personal. They had probably trained and worked with most of them.
The Iranian Revolution in 1979 against the US-backed Shah was a factor of the greatest importance for that political relationship because it was the first revolutionary thrust against the autocracies established by British & US colonialism in the region. It was also in 1979 that the US and Saudis joined forces in trying to force a withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. The US operating through the CIA (from 1979-89) and the Saudis through Osama bin Laden provided over $40 billion of money and weapons to 100,000 mujahedeen anti-communist guerrilla fighters from several Muslim countries; bin Laden engaged the Pakistani military and ISI secret service to provide military training. Out of that experience, bin Laden formed Al-Qaeda.
The Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991 demonstrated how vital Saudi Arabia was to the US militarily—and vice versa. It was a turning point when 550,000 US troops were garrisoned in Saudi Arabia to protect the Saud rulers against Iraqi soldiers amassed on the border and when Saudi pilots flew thousands of sorties against Iraq. It appears however that the primary collaboration of the US and Saudis is in fostering covert activities, as in Afghanistan, Iraq during the 2003 Iraq war, and Syria. At least that was true until the 2015 Saudi-led coalition against Yemen.
It confuses many that fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 conspirators were Saudi nationals and were apprehended so quickly after the take-down of the Twin Towers but by 2001 the CIA probably knew the players in terrorist networks up close and personal. They had probably trained and worked with most of them. It still confounds many that the US doesn’t take issue with Saudi involvement in terrorism, doesn’t take distance from execution by beheading, doesn’t put up a stink about Wahhabi influence like human rights activists do. That’s because the US and Saudis are partners not in fighting terrorism but in creating it and both operate from the principle of realpolitik, not Wahabiism. It’s a dangerous relationship between the two countries.
Wahabiism is a theological current within Islam and reportedly quite a strict, puritanical current. There has been a politicisation among its adherents, but who hasn’t been politicised in the Middle East by war, revolution, and counter-revolution? Despite the hate and war mongering of Islamophobes, the problem is not a theological doctrine but rather the politics of authoritarianism and the manipulations Saudi political forces use to win support in a fractured society with a fragile regime. There is no indication from reports about the private lives of the Saud clan that they ascribe to any religious principles, let alone puritanical ones, or any kind of restrictions on their behaviour.
The Arab uprisings of 2011-2012, collectively called the Arab Spring, thundered across the Middle East and North Africa. This is not what the US and Saudis had in mind when they began collaborating to create terrorism and foster conflict. Before our very eyes, we watched commentators try to morph these revolutions into sectarian conflicts between Sunnis and Shias and the other denominations within Islam. That has been played out in Egypt, Bahrain, and most disastrously in Syria and Yemen. The conflicts between autocracy and democracy, between exorbitant wealth and destitution, played no part in these counter-revolutionary analyses. The sole propaganda purpose of this is a racist attempt to make Arabs seem irrational, primitive in their animosities, obscurantist. This has been crescendoing and has created an alarming rise in Islamophobia and the persecution of Muslims in countries around the world. By engaging in the dirty tricks of undercover operatives, using car bombs, suicide bombers, attacks on civilian venues, they have made religious differences appear to be immutable rather than the strategy of counter-revolution.
In response to the machinations, there is a defence. We need not be daunted. There can be no temporising or concessions with Islamophobic hysteria. We defend religious freedom and dignity. We demand no foreign military intervention in the Middle East and we demand the end of bombing civilians.