Our Ally, Saudi Arabia

The pretense that we are now embarked upon a crusade to vanquish “hate and destruction...from the Earth” becomes difficult to maintain when one of our partners is one of the most odious regimes, well, on Earth.

The following are not exactly household names in the United States, though perhaps they ought to be, given the coalition partners President Obama has lined up to assist in the fight against the Islamic State: Ahmed al Ghamdi, Hamza al Ghamdi, Saeed al Ghamdi, Hani Hanjour, Nawaf al Hazmi, Salem al Hazmi, Ahmad al Haznawi, Ahmed al Nami, Khalid al Mihdhar, Majed Moqed, Abdul Aziz al Omari, Mohand al Shehri, Wail al Shehri, Waleed al Shehri, Satam al Suqami.

The fifteen aforementioned are the names of the 9/11 hijackers who hailed from Saudi Arabia. There were nineteen hijackers (including one from Egypt, one from Lebanon and two from our other anti-ISIL ally, the United Arab Emirates) in all.

Last Wednesday, it was reported that Vice President Joe Biden placed a call to the Saudi Arabian minister of foreign affairs, Prince Saud al-Faisal, in order to apologize for telling an assembly of Harvard students the truth. Not since George W. Bush was obliged to kiss and hold hands with King Abdullah for the cameras has a high U.S. government official been so abjectly humiliated by our Saudi friends. According to a statement released by Biden’s office, “The vice president thanked the foreign minister for Saudi Arabia’s strong support in the shared fight against ISIL [ISIS] and he clarified his recent remarks regarding the early stages of the conflict in Syria. The two agreed that the issue was closed.”

However, far from being closed are efforts by the families of the victims of 9/11 to bring the government of Saudi Arabia to account for its role in the events of that day. In July the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia could in fact be named as the object of a complaint filed by the group 9/11 Families United for Justice Against Terrorism, reversing the 2005 decision of a lower court that dismissed Saudi Arabia as a defendant on the grounds of sovereign immunity. The revised pleading, which runs to 156 pages, was filed in federal court in New York on September 15. It alleges the Kingdom supplied nearly $35 million a year to Al Qaeda for “more than a decade leading up to September 11, 2001” and names both Saudi Arabia and the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina as defendants. The complaint continues:

“Although representing themselves to the West as traditional charities…these organizations are more accurately described as Islamic da'awa organizations, created by the government of the kingdom to propagate a radical strain of Islam throughout the world…”

Meanwhile, in a rare show of bipartisan pushback against the reigning Washington consensus with regard to the Wahhabi Kingdom, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) have co-sponsored a resolution which would oblige the Obama administration to de-classify the now infamous twenty-eight redacted pages of the 9/11 Joint Congressional Inquiry. Lynch, speaking to The New Yorker’s Lawrence Wright, claims the missing pages raise a “real question” as to whether 9/11 “was sanctioned at the royal-family-level or beneath that, and whether these leads were followed through.” Yet as of this writing their bill, H. Res 248, introduced last December, has only ten co-sponsors.

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In Thinking the Twentieth Century, which was to be his final book before his untimely death in 2010, the historian Tony Judt noted that “any engagement with a political decision has to be triangulated through three different questions.” First, is what he termed “the consequentialist question,” meaning: is the outcome of a given decision likely to set a dangerous example or precedent? Second, according to Judt, is the “realist conversation,” as in, will we or will we likely not benefit from this or that policy choice? And finally, there is the moral question: “is this a good, or right, or just thing to do—independent of my previous considerations?”

In Bush-Obama era Washington (and in terms of foreign policy, they are of a piece, with the latter introducing, here and there, only minor variations on the theme of American primacy), it would be delusional to think that the first two considerations play even a marginal role in the deliberations of our policy makers. More often than not, the administration and the Congress, which should have more than a nominal say in such matters, couch their justifications for decisions relating to war and peace in moralistic terms. The recent series of presidential pronouncements over the new White House strategy in confronting, “degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL” are just the latest in a long line of similar justifications.

Speaking from the White House on September 10, President Obama framed his justification for airstrikes over Syria and Iraq in starkly moral tones:

“…these terrorists are unique in their brutality. They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage.

Our own safety—our own security—depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation and uphold the values that we stand for—timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.”

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